“Air you can wear” is a common description of weather in Florida. The oppressive humidity of summer can make you feel as if you’re breathing through wet cotton. It’s certainly not energizing – in fact it’s more likely to cause sluggishness and lethargy. Since I’m a native Floridian, I think I’m pretty acclimated to the heat. When you get used to something, you adapt and it becomes your “normal”. But when low-humidity, cool air moves in, it’s invigorating.
Mindsets influence our behavior far more than the weather ever will but we can get comfortable with them – even when they are dragging us down. If you’ve lived with a particular mindset long enough, many choices are made without conscious awareness of the deep-seated way of thinking that’s steering your decisions. Our mindsets frame what we consider “normal”. They become the filter for our reality. The troubling thing is, our mindsets can stifle growth and keep us chained to the past. The dictionary defines mindset as “habits of mind formed by previous experience”.
We all have mindsets. We can have mindsets about money, religion, politics, education, how to raise children, how to run a business… the list goes on and on. But how do you know when a mindset is holding you back or limiting your growth in a particular area?
Let’s consider a few mindsets you might be familiar with:
- Some people can never seem to make ends meet, no matter how hard they work. A poverty mindset can trap people into a pattern of living paycheck to paycheck.
- People who grew up in the 1960’s in the South might have a certain mindset about the meaning of the confederate flag. Prejudice is a destructive mindset and takes many forms.
- If you grew up in a home where emotional and/or physical abuse occurred, the chances you will repeat that pattern are far above average.
- If you have experienced failure in a particular area in your life, you’re likely to have a mindset about attempting anything like that again.
- When someone in your life repeatedly causes pain, you develop a coping response and a negative expectation regrading that relationship.
The most dangerous thing about mindsets is they can become a stronghold in our lives. A stronghold is a prison that can delay or choke out any advancement in your life. I developed a better understanding of the meaning of a stronghold after a visit to Europe where I saw the crumbling ruins where Richard the Lionheart was imprisoned in the thirteenth century. I was enchanted by Durnstein, a picturesque village nestled along the Danube in Austria. My sister and I climbed the rocky promontory overlooking the village to take in a spectacular view. Among the ruins was a dank cave fronted with the steel bars that held Richard captive for months on end. I reflected on how frustrating it must have been to see life carrying on, know your destiny, and feel the pull of possibilities when you’re a prisoner with no ability to take action. Limiting mindsets can be the steel bars that lock you in patterns of the past. You might be able to see through the bars, but feel impotent to change anything. We can have beautiful opportunities right before us, but we can shackle ourselves with small thinking and become prisoners of our own mindset.
So how do you recognize a limiting mindset? And how do you get free?
Recognizing Limiting Mindsets
A limiting mindset consists of a set of beliefs about who we are, our value, and what we are capable of. This belief system creates an invisible restriction around our life.
- 1. The first way to recognize a mindset is to look at areas in your life you are frustrated with. When I was approaching my fiftieth birthday, I found myself steadily gaining weight. Gaining three pounds a year doesn’t seem like a lot until you do that for six or seven years. Prevailing opinion is that it’s harder to lose weight after age 40 and I used that as my excuse. One day, I woke up to the fact I had bought into a mindset that was sabotaging my health and fitness level. Sure, it was harder to lose weight than when I was twenty. But that doesn’t make it impossible. I realized I’d better change my mindset and I got busy.
- 2. Identify any areas in your life that are accompanied by feelings of shame. You might not recognize it as such, but what are the things you don’t want to talk about with ANYONE? Even your spouse. Shame is usually a symptom of an unhealthy mindset.
- 3. Find a safe, small group of people you can be vulnerable with and explore this. I do this at small leadership workshops. You might work on it one-to-one with a coach.
Shifting a Limiting Mindset
The only influence a limiting mindset or negative opinion has over you is the power you give it. Revoke the permission of old ways of thinking to dictate your future.
- Gain clarity on your value and your identity. The best way I know to do this is to look to your creator – the one who designed you knows you far better than any person.
- Recognize the emotion that accompanies the mindset and bring it into to the light to process it. The heart is like the biocomputer that connects your soul and spirit. John Garfield, author of Desire to Destiny writes, ““Our hearts have led us, and keep us, in exactly the station of life where we are currently. We may think we can change by changing our minds or attitude, but 90% of what we do comes right out of our hearts and is very resistant to change.” This explains why you can’t just decide to shift into positive thinking and experience different results overnight. Change on the heart level is a process. Be intentional about keeping the process going.
- Start hanging out with people who are going where you want to go.
- Create new habits that support a new way of thinking. What you repeatedly do ultimately forms the things you believe. Beliefs are rooted in experience. Intentionally changing what you think about and actions you take every day creates a new experience.
- Expect obstacles but reframe them as opportunities to build your strength. Develop a strategy for dealing with roadblocks instead of being taken by surprise and running into the ditch. Train yourself to rise and press on.
It’s a new season. It’s time to breathe deeply of the invigorating air that can clear your head and energize your life. It will recharge your life to get free from limiting mindsets.