A Coaching Power Tool By Mariam Alloush, Growth Mindset Coach, CANADA
Fixed Thinking vs. Growth Oriented Mindset
There is a famous quote by the stoic Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius who said
the happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts.
Let’s unpack this nugget of wisdom and get to the bottom of what it means and why it matters. We can safely say that everything starts with a thought, whether we are reflecting on our past, making choices at the moment, or developing plans for the future, our thoughts elicit emotions that guide our behaviors and influence our actions. One could argue that everyone’s ultimate motivation in life is in the pursuit of feelings of happiness, peace, joy, and bliss. Whether it is cultivating great relationships, building a successful business, earning more money, purchasing a home, or taking a vacation, we seek out these things because we think that they will ultimately contribute to a positive emotion in some way, shape, or form. Most people think that happiness comes from things and people and not thoughts and feelings, but this quote clues us into seeking out our happiness internally rather than searching for happiness externally in other people or things.
Our minds are powerful machines, they can work for us and propel us forward or they can work against us and hold us back. Neuroscientist Dr. Joe Dispenza explains that we have 60,000 to 70,000 thoughts a day, yet 90-95% of these thoughts are unchanged from the previous day. If we are thinking the same thoughts then surely we are generating the same emotions which in turn makes us lean towards making the same choices which leads to the same behaviors and actions which ultimately results in very little change or forward movement in our lives.
Our mind plays an influential role in what we believe and how we think. As the famous saying goes, what we think about we bring about, meaning what we focus on is what we ultimately end up bringing into our lives. This concept in fact has been explained in the scientific realm as the Reticular Activating System (RAS). The RAS is basically a cluster of nerves in our brainstem that are responsible for filtering useful information from unnecessary information. By directing our focus on certain thoughts, we will activate our RAS to seek out and filter information that supports and validates these thoughts (also known as confirmation bias). A simple example could be someone wanting to get a tattoo, as they think about getting a tattoo, researching tattoo designs, and looking for tattoo parlors, all of a sudden they start noticing more and more people around them that have tattoos on their bodies. This is not a coincidence, these individuals have always been around us but the mind or the RAS was filtering these details out of their conscious awareness because there was no focus or significance placed on this detail at the time (i.e. the mind did not deem this information as important and thus filtered it out) and our mind is a meaning making machine. The mind is so powerful, one’s mindset is the framework within which one’s mind thinks, associates, perceives, focuses, interprets, and reacts to situations. This is why it is so important for a coach to move a client from a fixed to a growth mindset. If we want to change the filter of our mind we must be willing to shed the thoughts, emotions, and beliefs that have been clogging up the filter and invite new thoughts, emotions, and beliefs that better support our RAS in focusing on the desired life that the client wants to achieve.
What’s the Difference Between Fixed Thinking vs. Growth Oriented Mindset
Individuals with a fixed mindset tend to be very set in their ways and highly resistant to change. They would be individuals who think and believe their intelligence and capabilities are fixed, they are born with these qualities and are accepting of their limitations. Individuals with fixed mindsets shy away from adversity and challenges, mainly because they don’t believe that they can overcome them since their intelligence and capacity cannot be challenged and stretched. Fixed mindset individuals tend to give up too quickly because they lack the self-confidence to keep trying and persevere despite their failures. Quite often, a fixed mindset will come in the way of a client finding themselves not achieving their desired outcomes and seeking the support of a coach to get them unstuck in their thoughts, emotions, beliefs, behaviors, and actions in order to create their desired results.
Individuals with a growth mindset believe that the brain is highly malleable. They understand that if they apply consistent effort in pursuing knowledge or learning a new skill, they can improve their intelligence and capabilities. These individuals have the ability to maintain momentum and focus on and acknowledge their incremental progress over time instead of fixating on the gap that exists between where they are now and their ultimate outcome. People generally spend most of their time in the pursuit of goals and dreams, and it takes years of effort and dedication to achieve things in life, thus placing one’s focus on the forward progression of that journey instead of the destination is an intelligent strategy to stay motivated and committed towards one’s goals. In the pursuit of one’s goals, it is only natural to experience challenges and setbacks. An individual with a growth mindset learns to embrace adversity and leverage setbacks as useful information and lessons they can learn from in order to refine their actions and behaviors to yield better results moving forward. Without failure, there is no progress, and growth minded individuals know that they will learn more from their failures than they will ever learn from their successes. Developing a growth mindset also means acknowledging that one’s current mindset is not perfect and is open to changing their thoughts, emotions, and beliefs about themselves and the world around them in ways that are more self-empowering and aligned with their vision of the future.
Transitioning the Client From Fixed to Growth Oriented Thinking
As a client is coached during a coaching session, it is the responsibility of the coach to evoke awareness within the client by asking powerful questions. In many cases, the client may not be self-aware that they are harboring fixed thoughts, feelings, emotions, beliefs, behaviors, and actions that have been holding them back from making progress toward their desired results. Everyone holds a mix of fixed and growth oriented thoughts, the goal is to allow the client to recognize which fixed thoughts are holding them back and replace them with thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and actions that will propel them forward.
The following coaching questions will help evoke awareness in the client in order to help move them from a fixed to a growth oriented mindset:
- How long have you had this thought/feeling?
- What is the underlying belief that influences this thought/feeling?
- Why do you believe it to be true?
- Can you identify an example that could prove the contrary?
- How is this thought/feeling disempowering and not serving you?
- To what degree do you believe that your thoughts influence your reality?
- If your thoughts/feelings were merely data or information, what would you think they are trying to tell you?
- If you could separate your sense of self from this thought/feeling, could you as an outsider see any opportunity from this experience?
- What would happen if this thought/feeling didn’t exist?
- Can you replace this disempowering thought/feeling with a more empowering one?
- How can you learn from this experience and pivot to a growth mindset when a similar situation occurs in the future?
- Can you identify some actions that can help support you in cultivating a growth oriented mindset?
How to Shift Into Growth Mindset Thinking
Humans are creatures of habit, the way we think, feel, act, react and respond become a result of years and years of our unconscious programming riding on auto-pilot. This programming has allowed us to live within our comfort zone and be able to better predict the future. Unfortunately, if these thoughts, feelings, actions, and habits have not yielded the results that we are seeking in the past, it is very unlikely that they will yield the desired results in the future. Growth oriented thinking allows us to perform a pattern interrupt, in order to allow us to better examine ourselves and intentionally seek the lessons and opportunities that will benefit us in the future instead of keeping us stuck in a recurring loop that continues to produce the same results and lack of forward movement.
Our thoughts can be invasive, intrusive, or destructive or they can be informative, eye-opening, insightful, and constructive, we do not want to weaponize our thoughts against ourselves, instead, we want to leverage them by extracting every piece of useful content that affords us the opportunity to assess, reflect, learn, grow and evolve.
It is not always easy to quiet our inner critic and sometimes thoughts/emotions can have significant power over us and can become roadblocks and create setbacks to our life without us being conscious of it. Reframing one’s perspective in this instance becomes imperative in being able to interrupt existing thought patterns. The growth mindset perspective allows us to extract meaning and utility from things that are no longer serving us and help us overcome these thoughts by reframing them in ways that serve us. By assigning utility to these thoughts we give them a sense of meaning and purpose which allows us to shift our perspective towards more constructive ideas and outcomes.
By investing our thoughts, emotions, time, and energy into the process of learning, upskilling, and shifting our focus towards the process of change, we are able to better capture our incremental improvements and build our momentum over the course of time. Re-wiring the brain into a growth mindset “default” requires time, effort, repetition, consistency, and commitment. Evoking awareness by asking powerful growth oriented questions will be fundamental in utilizing this power tool to help shift the perspectives of the client in the ways that best serve them in their growth and attainment of their desired state.
As Les Brown puts it into powerful words:
In order to do something you’ve never done, you must become someone you’ve never been!
A growth mindset is a way to transform one’s personality in terms of how we think, feel and act, into the desired life we want to experience, lead and live!