In Emotional Intelligence (EI) training we use the word “mindset” a lot. By mindset we mean our way of thinking, which, in turn, is based on our attitudes and beliefs. Exploring our mindset is a keystone of EI development. Why? Our mindset determines how we relate to the world around us and how we live our lives. In a sense, it creates our reality. It is easy to say things like “we create our reality,” so let me explain what I mean by this.
There is fascinating research that provides evidence that our brain is “predictive.” Our brain tries to predict the future based on past experiences. It creates beliefs and then makes us act according to them. Over time, as our brain keeps thinking in certain ways, it creates habits and patterns of relating to the world based on these beliefs.
For example, if you have had a series of failures in your business or in your personal relationships, your brain will create the idea of a reality in which you are a failure. This will make you act as if you have already failed. Acting like a failure will set you up for more failures. Others will sense that you don’t believe in yourself and they will relate to you accordingly.
On the other hand, if you have a positive outlook and see yourself successful in the future, you will act in accordance with this belief. It will be more conducive to success. And if you experience failure, you will see it as a temporary setback and learning opportunity, and not as a confirmation of the belief that you are always going to fail.
In Emotional Intelligence training we learn to become aware of what we call “fixed mindsets” and the “self-limiting beliefs” (SLBs) that are part of them. We get to see that we have let these mindsets imprison us in a life that is based on unconscious and unquestioned beliefs and attitudes. Fixed mindsets make us feel like a victim that has no control over what is happening to them.
It takes courage to face our self-limiting beliefs and the fixed mindsets they create. To realize that our mind has put us in a prison might be very depressing, if there were no way out. Fortunately there is a way out! The truth is that we can escape from this prison. Why? Simply because it is possible to change our mindset! This is a key point to understand. When I think about this, I find this fact truly amazing.
When we understand this, recognizing a self-limiting belief or a fixed mindset is not depressing but becomes something positive. We can see discovering it as a positive accomplishment. The fact that we have become conscious of it allows us to do something about it. It is a first and necessary step to positive change
We used to believe that the brain completes its formation in our twenties and does not change much after that, but research in neuroscience has now shown that the brain is plastic. That it can change and reform itself. The scientific term for this principle is “Neuroplasticity.” It means that whatever we do and think has an effect on the functioning and even the structure of the brain.
Let’s make an analogy. Of course human beings are much more than that, but for simplicity’s sake lets compare the human operating system to a computer. Neuroplasticity tells us that we can not only change our software (how we operate) but also our hardware (the neural pathways of the brain and nervous system). The principle of Neuroplasticity is actually quite simple. If we want to change how our mind operates, all we need to do is think different thoughts, create new attitudes and develop new beliefs.
For example when you notice an unconscious self-limiting belief, like “I do not know how to be successful,” you can question it. You can ask yourself: “Is it really true that I cannot be successful?.” You can talk to others about it. Get different perspectives. And once you see that a belief is not true, you can consciously think a thought that expresses your new belief: “I am perfectly capable to be successful.”
If you keep doing this you will create a new belief and develop what we call a “growth mindset.” A “growth mindset” is based on the understanding that we can change our basic qualities. It motivates us to develop our abilities. It inspires a passion for learning. It gives us the resilience to face set backs that is essential for great accomplishment and success. Look at great people and their success stories and you will find most of them had these qualities.
While changing our mindset is simple, because it is just a matter of consciously thinking new thoughts, it is not easy. For one, a lot of our mindsets are unconscious. And secondly, even when we are conscious, initially our habits are strong. To create more positive and effective mindsets takes effort and inner work. We need to learn to observe ourselves and make a conscious effort to change our thinking. Developing new habits takes consistent practice. Based on my experience you need to dedicate 15-20 minutes a day to your inner work. And you also need to apply your new understanding and skills in your life.
I invite you to try this out for a minute. Think of a belief that is holding you back, maybe a belief that you are not good at something. Regardless of whether there is some practical truth to this, now generate the thought that you are good at this. Simply say to yourself: “I am good at …. .” You just proved that your mind is perfectly capable of thinking a new and different thought. If you systematically keep doing that you will change your belief, because they are created by repeated thinking.
Let me add one word of caution here: I suggest that you carefully reflect on what new beliefs you want to create. As it is said: “Be careful what you wish for!”
Of course, as I already mentioned above, to become good at this requires training. The first step is to believe that you can do it. This will make it much easier to be successful. Then it helps tremendously to have the right support. Dr. Daniel Goleman has said that based on his experience in order to be successful in developing EI competencies, “it helps to have the support and guidance of an expert and, ideally, a tutorial with personal feedback. That’s where coaching can make a big difference.”
You can read more about the personal EI coaching I offer here. Coaching is a very valuable investment. What you will learn will help you unlock your potential and enable you to be the best you can be in this life. I believe this is something invaluable.