I remember as clear as day my first time alone with a patient during my internship as a psychotherapist. I had been studying and learning during 5 years to be ready for that moment. There were study cases in theory, as well as in practice; a lot of textbooks, exams and live sessions. Yet I was shaking nervously inside. Can he see how nervous I am? Will I know what to say? What if I am not capable of helping this person?
How did I overcome all these intrusive and not helpful thoughts and emotions? I wanted to be there more than anything else. I craved for a new challenge, the opportunity of learning even if that would mean making mistakes. And yes, I went through my share of mistakes. With different patients, new doubts and questions emerged, but I kept working hard, learning and growing and learning some more. Curiously (or not!) I have resorted to a similar mindset since then – growth mindset – throughout different professional and personal experiences.
The beauty of a growth mindset is that you can use it for your advantage. If you think about last year’s challenges, what has been your outlook towards growth? Do you believe growth is simply not viable? Or do you believe it is still possible to grow in the midst of adversity and uncertainty?
There is indeed plenty out of your control. However, when does growing ever happen without a sense of unknown and uncomfortableness? Here are 5 strategies to help you expand your growth mindset no matter where you are at in your journey.
1. Cultivate a sense of purpose: Life without purpose seems rather dull. However, how does one find one’s purpose? It sounds a lifetime journey and in certain way, you are right. Probably you will not find you purpose around the corner when going for a walk or while you do your groceries….though you never know, sometimes life is surprising that way! But you can start by asking yourself ‘Does my life feel purpose driven?’. In other words, when you think about what you do since the minute you wake up until you go to sleep at night, are your actions driving you somewhere? Or do they feel just random? Not every single step has to be taken from a place of complete certainty and confidence, but you should definitely know where you see yourself in the future, where do you want to go. And make sure the steps you take are leading you in that direction. Also, it does not mean you cannot change paths or derail from the path you once were on. Life comes always with challenges and uncertainty leading us sometimes to question our decisions and ourselves. Regardless of the path you are on, take the time to reflect and connect to your sense of purpose, or perhaps part of it. What drives you forward, what are you passionate about, what makes you wake up in the morning with a smile on your face and a tickling feeling in your stomach. When you have a strong sense of purpose, whatever that may look like for you, your growth mindset expands beyond the limits of your imagination.
2. Turn mistakes into learnings: Mistakes are what makes us human. But you already know that. No one is particularly keen on making mistakes or feeling vulnerable, neither feeling as if we have failed. With failure though comes the opportunity to learn. Learning about ourselves, about what works for us and does not work. Learning also from the mistakes of others. Not through comparison, rather from a place of commonality. Turning mistakes into learnings is a chance to improve and grow in mindset and in attitude. Often we blame ourselves – and sometimes others – for our mistakes. Replacing blame with self-reflection and self-compassion enables you to move towards improvement and acceptance. You may not be able to go back and redo what you did wrong, though you can certainly look at the situation from different lenses and learn from it. Let’s say you messed up a sales pitch or you lost it with your kids. What have you learnt from these experiences? How can you do better next time?
3. Take on challenges: Step out of our comfort zone means opening yourself to the unknown and unfamiliar, which can feel scary. From a different angle, it is an opportunity for adventure. You may be wondering, ‘I am not so keen on adventures. I prefer to play it safe’. You can stay inside your bubble, looking from the inside out keep fearing the mistakes you will never get to make and the challenges you will never get to experience. Or you can burst the bubble to embrace new challenges and find out you have in you the ability to be extraordinary. You can try different tactics to coach yourself on how to approach a challenge regardless of what it entails. Maybe it is developing a new skill like learning a new language or attending a training. It could be expanding your social skills by meeting new people or sharing your ideas in a work meeting. Taking on challenges not only translates into new opportunities, but also into a more positive and confident attitude next time you are faced with unexpected circumstances. You get to discover talents and strengths you did not even think you had.
4. Stop seeking approval: We have a natural need to fit in, to be liked. There is nothing wrong with wanting to belong. Belonging to a family, a group, a community. It is our human need for connection, which is not the same as the need for approval. Why trying to please others when it is your life we are talking about? Perhaps it gives you an immediate sense of acceptance, making you feel good about yourself and your accomplishments. So, you keeping looking for outside validation pursuing these pleasing feelings that are nothing less than momentary. You can never please everyone and if there is someone who should be pleased, that someone is you. At the end of your journey, if you were to ask yourself ‘Have my life mattered?’, would it be about what mattered to you or to someone else? When you seek approval you are handing over the power to someone rather than yourself, about what matters the most in your life. Who else knows better than you? Next time you are about to say ‘yes’ when you want to say ‘no’ or you pretend to know something that you actually never heard before, try to stop for a minute and be truthful to yourself. Prioritize yourself and your chance for learning and growth.
5. Enjoy the journey: It is not the destination, it’s the journey. You have probably heard or read it a few hundred times. Sounds such a cliché, wise words nonetheless. Growth does not take place in a split second; it is a process. Often we get fixated on the outcome, rushing over to the finish line. Meantime life happens, new opportunities arise and you miss out on valuable moments. It is not that focus and determination should be set aside. Rather a reminder that life is to be enjoyed and lived through its everyday moments. If you are learning a new skill or working on your personal development, hurdles are bound to happen. Rome was not built in a day; neither will your skills and dreams. Despite your hard work and strong resolve, you should give yourself permission to enjoy the ride.
Some or maybe all of these strategies may feel uncomfortable at first as they put you in a place of vulnerability. Along with feeling vulnerable comes a deeper learning about yourself and a recognition of your abilities. While you embrace challenges and persist in the face of setbacks, you expand your growth mindset driving you wherever you want to go.