Mindset Is A Mindfuck

I've spent the last month hanging out with some of the world's most brilliant, up-and-coming coaches. Online, of course. A mentor of mine holds a couple events each year he calls "Intensives," and we get 150 or so coaches in a room for 4 days. Since that wasn't possible in the time of COVID-19, he took it to Zoom and extended it to 21 days in smaller bites.

In talking with the participants, there were some common questions. One word came up in virtually every conversation.


"What's the mindset behind taking more risks?"

"Hmmm...I have some mindset work to do around that."

"What are the common mindsets of the people you work with?"

Lots of mindset talk. Developing mindsets about mindset. Changing mindset. New mindsets. Old mindsets. Right ones, wrong ones, productive ones, unproductive ones. Every flavor.

There's just one thing about that...

Mindset Is A Mindfuck.

There. It had to be said.

Hear me out.

The whole idea behind mindset is to develop a different set of thoughts or beliefs to shift your patterns of thought. On paper, it makes sense.

But here's the thing. The change around mindset happens at the thinking level. 

You're thinking in order to change your thoughts.

If there's one thing I've learned in 25 years of my own personal development, it's that you can't think your way out of a problem you've thought yourself into.

One more time, because this is key.

You can't think your way out of a problem you've thought your way into.

So when people ask me about mindset, I get curious. What will changing their mindset do for them? What happens when the new mindset is challenged? When the old one recurs? What if the new one falls flat and doesn't feel right - will you power your way through that "off" feeling because you've created a belief that this new mindset is the "right" one?

The spirit of changing one's mindset is shifting to one that can't be messed with. Or at least to be less mess-with-able. 

The unintended consequence is that thoughts that arise counter to the new mindset become a thing. A thing to be avoided, a thing to be fought, a thing to be eliminated.

I don't want this to be true for the sake of people who believe in their hearts that mindset shift is the way for them. 

And I keep seeing it time and time again. 

Yesterday, I was in a meeting of brilliant executive coaches. They've all been at this for years. They bring this same mindset work to their CEO and CFO and COO clients. 

Mindsets were imploding in the room as we spoke about the fallout from the murder of George Floyd and how to be better allies in creating racial equality. There was this overarching mindset that there's a "right" way to do it, and a ton of fear around getting it wrong. One person was trying to nail down the exact words. It was painful to watch this person, who obviously cares about doing better, struggle in the bear trap of mindset.

So what's the alternative to mindset?

Here are a few ways you can shift your relationship (and thus, your thoughts, feelings, etc.) with anything and everything in the world:

1. Truth-check yourself. When a thought feels troubled, unproductive, or whatever your flavor of undesirable is, start with the question, "Is this true?" 

Sometimes that can be a tough question to work with because we tend to commingle fact with opinion and dump it all in the fact box. It's important to question each piece and strip away the stories.

For example, a client of mine had "a moment" during an in-person session once. We were talking in a hotel lobby, and the hotel staff sprayed a cleaning agent nearby. My client became visibly irritated and frustrated and stayed that way after we moved to a different part of the lobby. I asked what the issue was, and they responded that the smell of the cleaner would have given them a headache. But we'd moved, and my client didn't have a headache. What else was going on here?

Digging deeper, my client was still frustrated about another incident earlier that week which caused a headache and brain fog that lasted a couple days. And the story was, "the staff from earlier in the week fucked up and ruined the rest of the week." 

Ah, okay. NOW we've got something where we can question the truth of that. The story quickly unraveled and my client was able to begin to apply the question to all sorts of perceived obstacles, slights, and recurring thoughts that weren't serving them.

Bonus question if you want to explore your own seeing more deeply: How is the opposite of my thought true?

2. Experience instead of thinking. A good example of this is the common advice of "developing a mindset of gratitude." Which usually leads to something like daily gratitude journaling or affirmations. There's nothing inherently wrong with either of those things, but they both are efforts to think your way out of a thought trap. 

Sticking with the gratitude example - instead, take time to be in the experience of gratitude. If you are grateful for your partner, spend a few quality, undistracted moments with them. Touch their hand, sit close to them on the couch, enjoy their presence. Without forcing it, let yourself experience the naturally occurring gratitude. 

And it's okay to try something and NOT feel gratitude. Not everyone is ready to feel grateful for everything right away. 

You can translate this to just about any other feeling or mindset you desire to create more of in your life..

3. Seek perspective. A friend of mine was angry the other night about herd mentality - seeing people close to him doing the same things out of fear that everyone else was doing. He asked me if I've ever done that. 

My response: "Of course! I do it extremely rarely today, but for the first few decades of my life, that was the default."

There was a moment of silence, and he responded, "Wow."

I said, "You sound disappointed."

And he said, "No, not at all - it opened up a new insight for me. The idea that people should always do their own thing is based on my experience - I had no choice but to be different at every turn. But that's not the norm. Acting out of fear is a very human thing."

For my friend, hearing another perspective is a game-changer - it opens up a new way of seeing the human experience, and helps him to move from reactive judgment to empathy.

What might a fresh perspective open up for you?

Take any of these tools. Apply them to your own world.

Let me know how it goes.

To your brilliance,


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