A few years ago, I listened to a young man complain woefully about his circumstances. He was well educated, had gotten to the top of his career at the time but was largely unfulfilled and felt stuck. He talked about how other people who were in circumstances similar to his had pivoted and were doing well. When I asked him why he didn’t do anything about his lot, he declared that he was already too old for that kind of thing. He was 35 years old.
A few decades, a young man decided that he did not like his circumstances. He wanted to be a lawyer but did not have his ‘papers’ (Ordinary level result) and so there was need to sit for the General Certificate Examinations (GCE). He was 35 years old but decided to give himself a fighting shot. He got his papers, passed the university entrance examinations and got the admission to study law. He graduated and then went to law school at 40 years, became a youth corper at the age of 41 years, faced his career and retired happily at the age of 65 years, having put in 24 years of service in his rerouted career.
The two stories above illustrate the difference between fixed and flexible minds and how this can significantly affect the outcome of our lives. Research has shown that flexibility of the mind is a key ingredient to success in life and relationships while a fixed mind usually leads to stagnation, frustration and underachievement in life.
The person who has a flexible mind is growth-oriented, improvement-driven and teachable, and has the willingness and confidence to explore new challenges and opportunities. Such a person sees mistakes as part of the learning process, understands that all masters were once apprentices, and uses failure as feedback to restrategise and win. This person also makes decisions easily and is hardly ever stuck in unpleasant circumstances.
On the other hand, the person with a fixed mind has a static idea of themselves, their abilities, talents, circumstances and does not believe that they can improve in any way. Such people are usually afraid or unwilling to learn or try out new ideas, they take mistakes and failure personally, feel stuck, have a low self-confidence, and are more susceptible to negative emotions and depression. They are usually the people who say, “This is who / how I am, and there is nothing I can do about it”.
The great news is that it is possible to re-train the mind to move from a fixed to a flexible state. It starts with the belief that it is possible to change by developing a new set of thoughts. Many of the negative voices we hear in our minds are the reason why fixity of the mind exists and each time negative suggestions pop up, we should counter and replace them with true, praise-worthy and positive words.
For instance, if there is a new opportunity you think you can apply for at work, and the negative voices remind you of how it is outside your scope of work and how you are likely to fail, you can respond by telling yourself that you have the capacity to learn and become a master at that task.
Another way of developing a flexible mind is to intentionally study those who think and live successfully. Observe how they talk about themselves, other people, circumstances and challenges. The more you do this, the more likely you are to pick up progressive thinking and doing habits which help you improve.
It is important to practice self-compassion because with awareness of the negative self-inflicted effects of fixed thinking usually comes regret and self-bashing. Be kind to yourself and start taking baby steps in new challenges, asking for feedback, and not taking any negative comments personally. It is important to detach our sense of self-worth from performance so that when we fail (as we will) we can easily extract the lessons needed to advance further.
Take a critical look at your life and begin to notice the areas where change and flexible thinking are needed. Make the changes. Success awaits you. Cheers!