The Mindset Series: 3 mindsets for a healthier and a more effective approach to self-improvement.
A change in mindset is where the biggest change starts. Your mindset determines how you look at things and how you process it. You will get stressed. You will get pain. But suffering is optional. You will meet challenges. But your solutions are dependent on your mindset.
I wanted to share three shifts in mindsets that I have found over the years:
#1 Acceptance vs Improvement
#2 Personal vs Action
#3 Results vs Progress
They apply to your work and life. I have by no means perfected these three. But reminding myself of them, helps me stay sane. And they've helped me to get better, instead of getting stuck. Hope it will help you too.
First up is Acceptance vs Improvement. The next 2 will follow in separate posts. More might follow later.
Acceptance vs Improvement
As a competitive person, I want to achieve things. Set goals and reach them. And as someone who meditates, I want to be present and accept reality as is. But if I want to accept reality, why would I want to change it? Paradox-alert!
Mindfulness practice preaches the acceptance of the now. That seems to contradict wanting to compete and improve things. In itself, there is absolutely nothing wrong with having goals or wanting things. They can drive change to improve your life.
However, these goals need to come from a healthy foundation. So, acceptance becomes a prerequisite. It is a state from which you can start with improving. Let me explain what I mean.
Life constantly changes. It’s incredibly unpredictable. But on some level we all want to be sure that our basic needs will be met. We want the stability of food and shelter. We want to be significant. We want to be loved and connected to others. And just when you have your life in order, things will change again. So these constant changes are scary because they make it uncertain whether or not our needs will be met. Thus our need for more security.
Plus, everyone else’s life seems to be epic! Everyone’s always traveling. Launching super cool startups. Getting babies. You know, living the life!
When we see that, of course, it can be very hard to be ok with our own 'simple little' lives. When everyone else’s life seems so much cooler, we fear that our current state of being is simply not good enough to earn the love and happiness we want.
Our minds react to this need for security and this competition by setting goals. To make sure that we get better. So we’ll be certain of love and that we’ll always have enough. We want to become better versions of ourselves. Because we think that only then we’ll be worthy of security, happiness and love.
However - and here is the paradox - it is precisely this wanting and this thinking that makes us disconnected from the present. Not connected to the present feelings. Not being able to appreciate what’s going on now. And being disconnected makes us more lonely and insecure. Thus in turn wanting more security. So the more security you get by setting a goal and thinking of the future, the more you shall want it. It’s a very ironic negative spiral.
It is only what it is
So, to feel more secure, we must try to stay in the present. That requires to see what is really going on. And to be ok with that. No better. No worse. And yes, that’s hard.
And while it may not be easy. It’s beautifully simple. You simply are in the current state. You are what you are now. And nothing else. This will always be true. The now never goes away. Thinking that you are something else doesn’t make that true. You still are only what you are at this moment. Nothing more, nothing less.
And because there’s only this one state of being, there is no use in judging or disliking it. It’s not like that will change it for the better. So be kind to your current state of competence (or incompetence). You are entirely in charge on what effect your state has on you. Pain is going to be inevitable. But suffering is optional. Appreciate where you are now. There is always beauty to be found.
Plus, if you can’t appreciate the present. Does reaching your goal really give you happiness? Won’t you just find new goals that need to be met to be happy? The horizon constantly shifts when you get ahead. So appreciate now, not when you “get there”. Getting there doesn’t exist. Lead a life from appreciation, not expectation!
There is plenty
Then there is the competition for attention and love. All those epic lives you see. Everyone’s got it so much more together.
Well, not quite. Never forget that, when you are on social media, you are in a filter bubble. A part of the group decides to share the epic part of their life. And thus, social media is entirely filled with epicness. But that doesn’t mean that every moment of everyone’s life is epic.
Everyone struggles just as much as you. Doesn’t have a clue what they are doing. And wants exactly the same things as you. And because you are no different than the rest, you are just as much deserving of security, happiness and love. You are good enough as is. This is always true. Whether or not you reached a goal won’t change that.
Plus, we get into this competition mindset, by thinking that love and happiness are scarce resources. That when others are loved, you can’t be loved as well. But love is not a scarce resource. In fact, everything that truly matters in life is here in abundance.
To appreciating the present fully, we have to be able to be honest with ourselves. Our perception or ourselves is often clouded with believes of what we are and how we should be. While it is comfortable thinking they are true, they’re often not. I know I'm guilty of this myself. I often believe that I’m good at something. That I don’t need to learn it. Or that simply because I’ve already spent a certain amount on time on something that that means I already know it.
But isn’t better to know that you aren’t yet good at something before you go head-first into a project. Or to really attack your skill level at something. Instead of looking for that quick fix because you think you’ve already covered all the bases. And isn’t it much better to try and see how good you are at something, before assuming you are not? You need to find out what level you’re at and accept that for what it is. Thinking that you are better than you are keeps you from growing.
Or put this way: Would you rather have yourself live in a lie? To have to tell everyone you meet that everything is great. "Couldn’t be better!” To always have to live up to that image? Or would you want to have your team or your clients stay for a lie? Because you can’t admit what the true state of your company is? That would just be so incredibly exhausting.
A mirror image of this is to stop fooling yourself into thinking you (or your circumstances) are much worse than you are. “Oh, I’m just not that smart.”; "I just need a bit more time to get going.”; or “The universe is just against me." This gives you an excuse to not even try. An out. But in reality it is you who is making a choice. Choosing the known unpleasantries of the present over the unknown possibilities of the future. “What if it doesn’t work?”; or “what if it does?” (often even scarier). And again you are thinking yourself to security that gives you more insecurity from the disconnection it creates.
So stop talking yourself up (or down). Stop proving to yourself and others that you are something that you are not. Stop taking yourself so seriously and just be you. Just be you!
And it’s ok to be shit scared. Facing that incompetence (or competence) is super scary. But it is better to be fully honest that you’re not quite there yet than to pretend. So try to be ok with the way things are now.
So now what?
Now, it might sound like this won’t lead to anything. That things are what they are and you should just be ok with that. But that’s not true. The buddhist have this saying: "This being so, so what?” The first part of that means: "It is what it is NOW." The second part asks: "What are you going to do about it?"
Things are what they are now at this moment. They can, and will, be different. It’s from an honest place of accepting where you are at, that you can start to move forward in a healthy way.
So, maybe you don’t like the state you’re in. You don’t make enough money. You would like a partner. You want to travel more. It is ok to want those things. But accept the now for what it is. Love that now as it is.
Balancing being kind to your incompetence and that you continuously want to improve. Accept and acknowledge what you don't know and look at the world with learning and growing eyes.
Observe yourself and be curious. It is very hard to be unkind to yourself when you understand yourself. You are where you are now. You had your reasons for doing things that didn’t work out. That’s ok. You’ve done things for the wrong reasons. That’s ok. You simply will do things differently from now on. And from that place, set a goal to achieve something.
The goals you set from this place will have a healthy foundation. The right reasons for change. Not because you have something to prove or because you want to belong. Not because it sounds prestigious or you feel guilty about something. There’s nothing to prove and you already belong.
The fear of failing is redundant. Because you are already fine the way you are. And because you’re honest with yourself and others you can grow and improve so much faster than before. Your competitiveness becomes an unleashed strive for excellence. Centered from a place of acceptance and even appreciation.
I would love to know what you thought. I hope this has helped you in any way. If it did, please consider sharing it with someone.
Inspired by (amongst others)
Brainpickings: Alan Watts on Happiness and How to Live with Presence
The Tim Ferriss Show: Brené Brown on Vulnerability and Home Run TED Talks
The Tim Ferriss Show: Tony Robbins on Morning Routines, Peak Performance, and Mastering Money
The Reboot Podcast: #23 – With a Little More Care… with Sherman Lee and Jerry Colonna
The Spark Session: Being fierce with Jerry Colonna