by Kathi Szabo
How often do you think about your mindset?
You may stop and take notice if you have a positive outlook or a negative outlook.
But is that mindset?
There’s a theory that there are two types of mindsets: growth and fixed.
A growth mindset is what many coaches and psychologists preach, to allow your mindset to develop and change with each experience.
The second is a belief that your strengths and beliefs are fixed and there is no way to change the way your brain processes information.
I can’t imagine anyone having a fixed mindset for their entire life. Maybe less growth and more stubbornness, but even the most stubborn people I know, can be influenced and change their minds. Look at jury trials. A juror comes in believing one thing and with the influence and arguments of his fellow jurors, changes those beliefs until a consensus is reached.
But I digress. Let’s get back to the question, what is mindset?
Merriam-Webster defines it as a mental attitude or inclination.
Dictionary.com states it as a fixed attitude, disposition, or mood.
The Collins English Dictionary refers to mindset as general attitudes and the way one typically thinks about things.
These all sound like they are describing the fixed mindset, don’t they?
So, if there is a difference between a fixed, stagnant mindset, and a growth mindset, one that is changing all the time, what is just mindset?
In my 5+ years now of studying mindset, learning from a variety of mindset leaders, I’ve come to my own way of defining mindset.
It’s how we process information and make decisions that influence our beliefs and actions.
How the Mind Works
Have you ever thought of your mind as if it were a computer? A computer receives data and through numerous if-then statements, it comes up with a way to process that information so that it is useful. It becomes fact, like our beliefs. Depending on the program, the computer may perform an action with that data. The way a computer worked prior to AI, was pretty fixed. A programmer set the code and that was how the computer functioned. But with todays AI technology, computers learn. They alter their programming based on more information and analyzing prior results.
If we relate this to mindset, well a fixed mindset would be yesterday’s computers. Data in, processed in the same way, getting the same results.
So how does the mind process information? In very simple terms, as data enters through our senses, it is received and relayed through a series of networks made of neurons, prompting you to store that information, act on it, or have emotions around it. A simple 1-minute explanation compares this network to R2D2 from Brainfacts.org.
Back to mindset. One could say that a fixed mindset processes the stimuli received from our senses exactly the same way every time. A growth mindset learns from experiences and trials and allows the network of brain neurons to constantly change.
Everyone, in my opinion, has a growth mindset. And we all go through stages of growth at different times.
Growth at Any Age
My latest growth spurt began in 2014, at the age of 50, when I started taking yoga classes. At the time I was a successful fashion executive, working in NYC and from what everyone could see from the outside, living a fabulous life!
But that was far from the truth.
I was living in what I call now, a scarcity mindset. Although I was earning a better-than-average living, I lived life through the eyes of it not lasting. As if at any moment it could all be taken away. I held on to money so tight that it would slip through my hands, and I had no idea how not to stop it.
Yoga did not change this thought process, my mindset. What yoga did, was help me relax, to engage the parasympathetic nervous system.
I’ve since learned that the more we can engage in rest and digest, the more aware we are of our conscious and subconscious thoughts. And when we are more aware of our thoughts, observing them instead of being them, we can then start to change the way we think. Change our mindset. Yoga helped me to relax so I could observe my own thoughts. Mindset was changing the way I processed those thoughts.
Two years later, Mark and I bought the Yoga studio we had been attending. This growth spurt of becoming more of who I really wanted to be was in full swing. I was observing, but I still had that scarcity mindset. That at any moment, the bottom would fall out.
Acknowleging My Current Mindset
Then in 2016, I went on a Yoga retreat with Yoga Bohemia (if you are ever on LBI in NJ, check out one of their 3 locations, or better yet, go on a Yoga retreat with the owner! It is truly life-changing.) and I found myself rushing to lunch and dinner, fearful there wouldn’t be enough, and I’d be hungry.
If you’ve never been on a Yoga retreat or any retreat for that matter, you form bonds with the other attendees, different than a Yoga class. On a retreat, you immerse yourself with these people and you start sharing your darkest secrets.
I found myself at one meal sharing my fear of the food running out. Instead of laughing, they helped me dig deeper, to discover it wasn’t just food, but it was everything about life! I feared being poor. I feared being alone. Even what people thought of me. And it all came from scarcity. That there wasn’t enough in the world for everyone and what if I lost everything I had?
After that retreat, I began noticing how this scarcity mindset was keeping me locked in a career I never loved. Locked in volunteering for organizations I no longer connected with.
I finally changed my mindset, the way I processed information, and made a decision to stop living in scarcity. Less than a year later, I manifested my way out of corporate life and decided to become the person I truly wanted to be.
That’s when the darkness set in.
When we start talking about mindset and personal development, many think of it as trying to be happy all the time. I soon learned that’s not the case at all.
Although we can train our brains to have more positive emotions, find gratitude and look at the glass half full rather than half empty, a true growth mindset sees the darkness and then learns from it.
As I immersed myself in helping run our Yoga studio and switched my volunteer activities from sorority to becoming the founder of a non-profit to help bring yoga to underserved populations, I found myself actually more confused and many times disheartened.
Changing Your Mindset is Not Without Pain
The Yoga industry, from the outside, looks filled with love and light. It’s not.
For many, it’s a business.
Sell more packages. Sell more shirts. More workshops. One of my first yoga teachers has been posting about this recently on Instagram and asking the question, are you a Yoga customer, which would make Yoga a commodity, or a Yoga student? Interesting perspective.
When I look back, the confusion I felt stemmed from an inner conflict between my desire to simply help others and my desire to make money.
And as an operator, not the owner of a brand this conflict was even more painful. The brand was focused on expansion and sales, and on the customer, not the student.
Our desire to help our students always won out for Mark and me. We made many decisions during that time that weren’t the best for our bottom line, but they were best for our students.
After five years of being Yoga studio owners, we were forced to close our doors. We still wanted to help people in other ways, but we had over $125,000 in personal debt from the studio, having signed personal guarantees, and had to abide by our non-compete agreement. We decide to expand our coaching business and help people in their health and happiness. Who could have foreseen this would be considered a competing business?
A year and a half later, and 6 months after our non-compete ended, the wolves came knocking. The lesson is not over. We are still learning, and at a very high cost, financially and emotionally. There must be light beyond the darkness.
And I wouldn’t change a thing.
Growth Can Be Hard
It is not always pleasant.
Growth can have you questioning and doubting your beliefs.
What I’ve learned from this experience is that it is in these times, when we question our own decisions, we question our beliefs, and our purpose, that we actually truly change our mindset. We change the way we think and process information. We grow and we learn.
If I had still been in my scarcity mindset, I would have done anything to reduce my financial risk. I would have continued operating a business that I was not aligned with.
But with a change in the way my brain processes information, I no longer fear financial loss. I know I will survive anything the universe throws at me and that there are many ways I can make a living.
The decisions I make now align with my values, yet they aren’t made wearing rose-colored glasses.
A growth mindset doesn’t ignore the negativity that disrupts our lives, but it also does not dwell in it.
It acknowledges the pain and learns from it.
A growth mindset decides that the future holds opportunity, even if it is currently shadowed by the current darkness.
A growth mindset takes responsibility that our choices brought us where we are today. The good and the bad. And it is our choices and our actions today that will move us to a better tomorrow.
The next time you find yourself struggling in your current circumstances, pause for a moment and notice your mindset.
Not your emotions. Not whether you are feeling positive or negative.
Instead, notice the thought patterns happening. Are they in a repetitive pattern? That’s your fixed mindset.
Can you explore other possibilities? Change the pattern of your neuro connectors.
What can you learn? What changes can you make?
At the end of the day, we control our lives, we control our thoughts. We control our mindset.
And even though we can change our mindset, sometimes we must walk through the darkness before finding love and light.