I think we can all agree that 2020 was not, shall we say, a great year. But if you look around at the people you know, there are almost certainly more than a few that seemed to navigate the past year seemingly with little or no difficulty. How did they do it?
Are there some people who are completely unaffected by outside circumstances? I certainly don’t believe that’s the case. In my opinion it has everything to do with their mindset. And in this post I’m going to share some of the most profound truths I’ve learned over the last two decades about the importance of building a strong mindset.
I guess the first place to begin is here: what is mindset? Simply put, mindset is a collection of thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes that affects how we think, feel and act. It affects how we see ourselves, how we see others, and how we see the world around us; it even determines what we believe is possible in terms of success, health, happiness, relationships, etc.. In short, mindset is everything.
If I asked you about your current mindset what would you say?
How you think about these things will determine the course of your life.
Truth #1: Our lives are always moving in the direction of our strongest thoughts. What we think shapes who we are.
If that’s true, then why do we spend so little time working on mindset? We will spend hours and hours in a gym or doing some other form of exercise in order to build an outward body that we’re happy with. How much time do we spend building our inner body, our mindset? If you’re like I used to be, the answer might be not much time at all. And one of the main reasons we don’t spend much time working on it, is because we simply become accustomed to our own way of thinking. I hope to give you some reasons why this might not be the best strategy.
You see, there are two very basic mindsets that people tend to cling to. One is the fixed mindset. People are the way they are, things are the way they are, we can’t change ourselves or our mindset. Our talents and abilities are set in stone - you either have them or you don’t.
The other is the growth mindset. Everything is pliable. Thoughts, beliefs, actions, the world around me... anything can change and my skills and talents can grow if enough effort and/or repetition is applied to it. Carol Dweck, P.hD., wrote about these two mindsets in her book, “Mindset, The New Psychology of Success.”
In fact, she goes as far as to say that your mindset explains how you become optimistic or pessimistic, that it shapes our goals, our attitudes toward work and relationships, how we raise our kids, and ultimately whether or not we fulfill our potential.
When you cultivate a strong mindset, you’re able to create a positive, supportive, growth-oriented narrative. With a weak mindset, you will most often find yourself at the mercy of negative thoughts, emotions, and experiences.
Mindset can be taught and learned. It’s a skill, and like any other skill, in order to get better at it, we must engage in repetition. What we repeatedly do, we become.
Let’s take a look at the characteristics of a weak vs strong mindset.
It takes effort to change our mindset, and there are many things that can get in the way. We have to acknowledge the things that get in the way, or we ignore them at our own peril.
Start becoming aware of your state of being; where you put your attention, how you spend your time, what you put in your body. To cultivate an unshakable mindset, you have to prepare all parts of you. They all work together.
Truth #2: The human mind, left unattended, will always go negative. It’s part of our primitive wiring to keep us safe.
One thing you need to know when working to change your mindset is this: every thought is a pathway. A different way of saying it is “Where focus goes, energy flows.” Negative thoughts keep you stuck in negative experiences. From the moment we wake up, our minds begin thinking, processing, and worrying. Most people don’t have control over these thoughts; they just happen whether we like them or not. Then as we go through the day we continue to fill our minds with more input from sources that probably aren’t the most positive. We have to be more conscious of what we’re letting into our minds.
There is a concept in neuroscience called neuroplasticity. The basic premise is this: we can change how we think, feel, and act - and that as we do, parts of our brain actually change in size and shape. There are many studies over the years that reinforce this concept. As you think, so shall you become. We are what we repeatedly do.
Neuroscientists have a saying: the neurons that fire together, wire together. And the more often we hold onto the same patterns of thinking, the stronger that bond becomes and the more difficult it can be to change. But with repetition, we can form new neural pathways, and over time we strengthen them through repeating the new behaviors. The old ones weaken, the new become stronger.
Truth #3: Our brains are designed to find the path of least resistance. This means that many times throughout the day we will go on autopilot.
Our minds are constantly flowing with thoughts. Sometimes we are intentionally thinking about something (like a task at hand, something that we have to do, or about something that we’ve recently experienced). Other thoughts appear suddenly and without any effort from ourselves. Have you ever been doing something and suddenly a thought pops in your head? These are automatic thoughts.
Automatic thoughts are often influenced by our view of ourselves, others, and the world. Moreover, there is an interactive relationship between our thoughts, feelings, and actions.
Our brains crave certainty, predictability. Once a pathway is established, it’s easiest to let it continue - even if that thought pattern isn’t good for us. And the main problem with that is this: in the long term, you cannot out-behave your thinking.
In the business world, there’s an old adage called the Peter Principle, that says people rise to their level of incompetence. But I believe there’s something much more powerful at work in our lives, and that is that “People rise to their level of conditioning!” And the way you think is 100% a result of your conditioning in life.
You may be asking yourself some questions right about now. So where do I begin? And how? Will it work? Is it too difficult? Is it too late, am I too old? Well, there’s an old proverb that says “The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. And the next best time is right now.”
You need to know is this: simplicity is the key. Complexity is the enemy of execution. Don’t make it harder than it has to be. We have this funny way of thinking that says, “If it seems too easy, it won’t work.” Well, none of this is easy. It is simple, just not easy.
Step 1: Awareness is a huge component of shifting your mindset. If you’re not aware of how you think, there is no pathway to change. Become aware of your state of being, what you’re thinking, what you’re putting into your body, how you use your time. You have to begin to elevate your awareness and get out of the rut of automatic thoughts
How I think determines how I feel. How I feel determines what I do. What I do determines what I become.
Your thoughts are the story you’re telling yourself at any given moment. Become aware of the stories you’re telling yourself as you go through your day. Notice how you’re feeling in the moment (awareness) and then ask yourself, “What is the story I’m telling myself about this situation/event/person?” Challenge those thoughts. The truth is you’re in charge of your stories. If you don’t like the story you’re telling, change it.
Step 2: Another huge component of shifting your mindset is your physical health. How are you sleeping? Do you get regular exercise/physical activity? What do you eat? How much alcohol do you consume regularly? Are you overwhelmed with activity both at work and at home? How exhausted are you at the end of each day? It’s almost impossible to have a healthy mind if you don’t have a healthy body.
Move your body daily. Walk. Lift weights. Do yoga. Anything to elevate your heart rate and increase physical well-being. Exercise releases endorphins in the body that lead to feelings of positivity and happiness.
Step 3: Another aspect of building a positive mindset is your spiritual connection. This isn’t about religion; it’s about being connected to nature, the universe, God, whatever you want to call it. There are a few ways to do that. Spend time in meditation and/or prayer. I’ll tell you that this one thing has had more impact on my mindset than almost anything else. I spend an hour minimum each day in prayer and meditation, and it sets my mind on a calm, positive pathway. I avoid social media, news, TV, or any other outside input until I’ve spent time cultivating a positive outlook.
You can also spend time in nature. Hiking. Walking. Just being outdoors. Find something and do it regularly. Repetition is key in all of these areas.
Step 4: Finally, you must become a master of meaning. We are creatures of meaning. Everything that happens in our lives we give meaning to. It’s how we make sense of the world around us. But know this - nothing in life has any meaning except the meaning that you give to it. Here’s the thing: as soon as you give a meaning to any event, that meaning becomes your experience. If you say, “That meeting was humiliating,” then you will feel humiliated.
In his renowned book, Man’s Search for Meaning, author Viktor Frankl talks about the need for the human mind to assign meaning to everything that is occurring in our lives. Frankl was an Austrian-born Jewish psychiatrist who, along with his pregnant wife and parents, was imprisoned in Nazi concentration camps during World War II. While there, he noticed that some prisoners succumbed to the conditions while others were able to withstand the brutal conditions. He noted that those who were able to find meaning in their circumstances were the ones that thrived, or at the very least survived. He would later say, “Those who have a 'why' to live, can bear with almost any 'how'.”
To me, the most powerful thing he says in the book is this: “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
And just as we need to begin to challenge our own thoughts, we also need to question the meaning we give to events. When we learn to master meaning, we gain true agency over our minds and true freedom over our lives.
Ritual is the key: To cultivate this strong, positive mindset, it’s critical to establish daily rituals to support you. Just like getting in physical shape requires repeated trips to the gym, developing a strong mindset requires daily repetition and practice. Remember, “Repetition is the mother of skill.”
My days are forever changed since I began doing this. I wake every morning, 7 days a week, at 5:30AM and spend the first hour in meditation and prayer. Then I move my body with some form of physical exercise. The difference these have made in my life is immeasurable.
Mind. Body. Spirit. Commit to working on these and your mindset will change.
And let me be clear about something. You’re going to “fail.” You’ll struggle, waver, have difficulties from time to time. Isn’t that how we learn any new skill? Don’t let that stop you. If anything, that should get you to double down on your effort, because it means your mind is actively resisting. You can push through that resistance. Whatever is in the way, is the way.
All of this to say, mindset is the most important thing you can work on in your life. It drives every aspect of your life, and can make for a wonderful experience or one filled with suffering and negative emotions.
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WARNING: Spoiler alert! If you haven’t seen the AppleTV show, Ted Lasso, this article contains some spoilers.
One of the pleasant surprises for me this year has been the AppleTV show Ted Lasso. I have watched with delight this fish-out-of-water story of an American small-time college football coach who is hired to coach an English Premier League Soccer team. Did I say he knows absolutely nothing about soccer? Yeah, so there’s that.
Jason Sudekis plays the title character, and his comedic timing and delivery are near flawless. But that’s not what really stayed with me as I continued to watch season one unfold. It was the undeniable leadership lessons contained in the show. These are the lessons that made the biggest impression on me.
Be authentic. Being authentic means being aligned. I am who I say I am. It doesn’t mean people will automatically like you. But it does mean they might actually feel as though they know you. And that is a critical component when you are seeking to build relationships and instill trust.
Throughout his interactions with the team, ownership, the press, and local fans, Ted is unmistakably and awkwardly authentic. His “aw, shucks” homespun style comes through along with his unbridled optimism. And it completely gets on the nerves of everyone around him. But Ted stays true to himself, gradually peeling back more layers so that people see beyond the exterior and begin to see more – his heart.
“Authenticity means erasing the gap between what you firmly believe inside and what you reveal to the outside world.” – Adam Grant
Brené Brown writes about the importance of authenticity, and says, “Choosing authenticity means cultivating the courage to be emotionally honest, to set boundaries, and to allow ourselves to be vulnerable… even when it’s hard, even when we’re wrestling with the shame and fear of not being good enough.”
The reason why it is important to be authentic and vulnerable is because it can ultimately make you feel more understood. But what good is being understood by others if the thing they are “understanding” isn't even your true self?
Reward effort, not just results. This is a recurring theme as the season progresses, mainly because Ted is managing a team of seeming underperformers. So much so that we learn if they don’t win enough games, they are going to be “relegated,” meaning they will be demoted to a lower division for lack of performance. In the world of British soccer, it is the most unkind and humiliating of circumstances.
In an early episode, Ted is overseeing practice and one of his players, Sam Obisanya, makes a critical mistake for which he berates himself. Ted pulls him aside to talk with him, and this is what ensues:
“The artist who aims at perfection in everything achieves it in nothing." -Eugene Delacroix
In today’s world of performance-based initiatives and reward systems, this type of guidance might seem counter to the way we’ve been taught to correct unwanted outcomes. We’re taught, “find a problem, fix a problem,” which causes us to take a short-term view of success. Ted is in it for the long haul, and he wants to develop his players to become their best selves on and off the field. He knows that there is almost nothing he can say to Sam that is worse than what he’s already saying to himself. So instead of piling on, Ted chooses to find the lesson, and in doing so he preserves Sam’s sense of self and helps grow his confidence.
Surround yourself with people who know more than you. When Ted arrives in England, he knows little to nothing about the sport he’s about to be coaching. Undeterred, he realizes that he doesn’t have all the answers and that he will have to lean on others for support as he navigates the situation.
His assistant, Coach Beard (played brilliantly by co-writer Brendan Hunt), has been Lasso’s trusty sidekick throughout his coaching years, and he pours himself into learning as much as he can about the sport. And Ted has no problem deferring to his knowledge and expertise throughout the season, even allowing the equipment manager, Nate, to help design plays and give the pre-game speech.
It’s the same with any team – they need to know that there is a future worth working toward. And they need to know that you believe in that future. Otherwise, what are they working for? If you’re optimistic about the future, they will be too. If you’re anxious and pessimistic, you can bet they’ll feel the same.
There are many more leadership lessons sprinkled throughout this show, so if you have the opportunity, I encourage you to watch it and look for them. At the very least, I believe you’ll be entertained, and at most you just might learn some valuable lessons that can help you become a better leader.
What are your thoughts? What are the biggest leadership lessons you’ve learned from watching Ted Lasso? Share them here, because that’s how we all benefit and learn from each other.
One of the keys to not only surviving, but thriving in the world, is resilience. And these days who couldn’t use a little more of that? But what constitutes resilience, and how exactly can we cultivate a bit more to help deal with all the uncertainty of 2020? I mean, come on already! Global pandemic, economic devastation, and racial tensions beyond anything we’ve seen since the 1960’s. If this isn’t a call for us to become more resilient, then I don’t know what is.
Let’s take a look at three keys to cultivating more resilience in your life and leadership.
The first key is known as reframing. We are creatures of meaning, and we assign meaning to everything that happens to us (and around us) in life. The truth is, nothing has any meaning except the meaning that you give it. And whatever meaning you give to an event becomes your experience. By reframing, you are creating a new meaning for life’s events and providing yourself with the opportunity to find a more empowering meaning for the things that occur.
“I think we build resilience to prepare for whatever adversity we'll face. And we all face some adversity - we're all living some form of Option B.” – Sheryl Sandberg
As we navigate this global pandemic so many of us have been negatively impacted on multiple levels. For example, the feeling of isolation being created by sheltering in place and social distancing is enough to make even the most introverted of us beg for some form of social interaction. But how do you interpret this situation? Take a moment to check in and get clear on how you’re framing this in your own mind.
What is the story you’re telling yourself about this? What are your thoughts? I know that for me, being a very social person, the shelter in place and social distancing created a sense of separation and isolation that I hadn’t felt in years, or maybe ever on this level. I felt lonely, sad, and I realized I was telling myself I was powerless to do anything about it.
Here is my reframe: I have the opportunity to build stronger relationships than ever with my kids, my friends, and myself. This is an opportunity to get really clear on the most important things in life. For me, relationships are the foundation of a fulfilling and meaningful life.
So I’ve spent time working on those relationships, and have benefitted from it immensely. It wouldn’t have happened in the same way had I not challenged my own assumptions about the situation. That reframe alone has helped me to feel more in control of myself, my thoughts, my actions, and ultimately my leadership and life.
“When it comes to our collective health, how we deal with the multiple crises and problems around us also depends on the power of context - in other words, our resilience.” – Arianna Huffington
One of the truths I remind my clients of all the time is, “Just because you think it, doesn’t make it true.” We become attached to our thoughts, and many times we fail to actually examine them. Is this true? Does thinking this thought help me to face the day? Does thinking this thought make me more resilient, or less so? Start looking to reframe your thoughts, and challenge the meaning you give to the things that occur throughout your day. I am certain you will discover that many times you’re simply operating on autopilot, thinking a certain way because “that’s how you’ve always done it.” Learn to ask yourself, “What else could this mean?” And seek a more empowering meaning.
The second key is compassion. This can be a tricky one. I’m noticing a very distinct lack of compassion all around me as the world continues to be impacted by the ongoing crisis. People are losing patience with each other and with all of the rules and regulations being enforced.
“Our human compassion binds us the one to the other - not in pity or patronizingly, but as human beings who have learnt how to turn our common suffering into hope for the future.” – Nelson Mandela
Cultivating compassion means understanding and wishing to alleviate the suffering of others. It’s a non-judgmental approach to life’s disappointments, and provides us with the ability to move forward in a conscious and loving fashion. Being compassionate means I am not seeking only my own needs, but also considering the needs of others. And when things go poorly, as they inevitably will, it means not taking offense but rather seeking understanding and if necessary, forgiveness.
The most difficult part just might be that true compassion begins with extending it to yourself. How adept are you at doing that? What do you say to yourself when you make the inevitable mistake or misstep? If you have a difficult time extending compassion to yourself when you fall, it certainly will not be any easier when others disappoint you.
By adding compassion to your daily practices, you become more peaceful and less angry, more patient and less stressed, more forgiving and less defensive. And all of these things contribute to building more resilience.
“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” – Dalai Lama
The third key is optimism. I’ve written previously about optimism versus pessimism, and one of my core beliefs is that optimism is the engine that drives creativity, innovation, and achievement. Optimism is the ability to maintain a positive attitude in the face of adversity and to remain hopeful despite setbacks. However, it is not simply believing that everything will turn out for the best no matter what. That is magical thinking.
“Resilience isn't a single skill. It's a variety of skills and coping mechanisms. To bounce back from bumps in the road as well as failures, you should focus on emphasizing the positive.” – Jean Chatzky
The psychologist Martin Seligman, widely recognized as the father of the positive psychology movement, says there are 3 major attitudes that distinguish the optimist from the pessimist. The first is that they tend to view adversity as temporary events. The bad times certainly won’t last forever. It’s a momentary setback, a blip on the screen, and it won’t prevent them from achieving their aim. It merely will delay it.
Second, they tend to see the misfortune as pertaining to a specific situation. It’s not “more of the same” doom and gloom that pervades their life. And third, they don’t tend to shoulder all the blame for the event. They look for causes, including potential external causes and they take those into consideration.
Having a sense of optimism makes you more likely to forge ahead in the face of challenges, and provides the fuel required to keep going when things get difficult. Without it you will be at the mercy of your emotions, and that is never a good place to operate from.
So work on these three areas, and see how much more resilient you can become. The simple fact is that once this crisis is over, there will be another… and another… and you get the idea. Building the skill of resilience will not make you impervious to life’s challenges, but it will provide you with enough armor to withstand the challenges and come out the other side feeling calmer, stronger, and more confident in your ability to weather the storm.
2019 has been filled with momentum and growth
It has been a pleasure to train hundreds of members of businesses and organizations across the country.
Working closely with all levels of an operation is an honor. I get to challenge leaders to dig deep, removing old habits and renewing their spirit for the company. I get to share the basic but complex tenets of human psychology, and practice under pressure with the day-to-day operators. Whether working with a receptionist or a fire fighter, the lessons revolve around finding better and easier connections with the people we serve each day.
I am abundantly grateful for the opportunity to serve my clients and their companies and organizations.
In the year-end hustle and bustle, I challenge you to take account of the gifts you have received in 2019, and the gifts you would like to share in 2020.
I appreciate you taking the time to connect with me here, and look forward to connecting more in 2020!
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Kevin Ciccotti, Human Factor Formula
Helping companies create sustainable, effective teams that are committed to the success of their projects, the organization, and the individuals with whom they work