I’ve been surrounded for years by the assertion that if you want to have a successful career you have to change your mindset. For some folks, this work seems easy and magical, leading to sudden and astronomical success.
But for me, that hasn’t exactly been the case.
When things feel easy
In my 20s, I was pretty happy. I had tons of optimism about my career as a dancer and then an actor. I felt good about how I was spending my time. I could easily go into an audition, get a callback or get cut and still feel pretty good about myself.
Some days were harder than others, but if I felt disappointed or upset about how things went, I let myself feel it and then I moved on. I was ready to go back out there.
I had a similar experience with my early experiences of being an “entrepreneur” in my 20s.
Shortly after I moved to NYC, I got certified to teach Pilates. There was a boom and I found myself with a full schedule of teaching 30 hours a week within a month of looking for a job. I hadn’t even finished my certification yet! (This was in the early 2000s when Pilates was the next hot thing. There were a ton of studios popping up in NYC and not enough teachers.)
About 6 months in, I started having trouble making it to my evening hours on time (I was scheduled to work from 3-8) because of auditions that I was going to. So, by the end of the year, I decided to go out on my own and enough clients decided to follow me that I was still able to make plenty of money and work less.
Around the same time, I created my first website for myself as an Actor & Dancer. I had always enjoyed design and had briefly been a computer science major in college. I purchased a program called Dreamweaver and given my facility with a bit of coding, was able to create something that looked pretty good.
Very few Actors had websites at the time so when I began to share it, I started to get inquiries. It was fun and creative work. I could do it in between auditions. I went to a few networking events for actors where I met more clients. I was satisfied with the number of projects I had coming in and was making more than enough money to pay my bills and afford the classes I wanted to take to continue to grow as a performer.
The challenge came when it was time to uplevel
My resilience in the early days of my career and my entrepreneurial life was directly related to low stakes. I didn’t have big dreams or super high expectations for myself.
I was content to make “enough” money with my business and at that time also happened to have an extremely low cost lifestyle, living in a rent stabilized apartment with my boyfriend in the East Village.
I always assumed that if I kept showing up that I would eventually start to receive the success I desired, and the money that came with that.
But without investing energetically in bigger goals, that simply wasn’t true.
When I decided it was time to “make money as a performer” and uplevel and formalize my businesses, that was when all of the obstacles started showing up.
Unfortunately, I had been subconsciously conditioned throughout my childhood to avoid challenges. If something upset me, I was encouraged to quit.
While I didn’t listen to that directly, it did affect my actions when things got tough until I began to recognize that the level of success I desired could not exist without obstacles.
So why the impulse to avoid or walk away from challenges?
In Carol Dweck’s book Mindset (and her popular TED Talk which you can watch here), she identifies two prevalent mindsets and the impact that these mindsets have on the way we show up around challenges that occur in our lives.
The first, fixed mindset, refers to the belief that we are born with a fixed level of talent, intelligence, or ability in a certain area. (It is possible to have a fixed mindset about one thing and not about another.)
The second, growth mindset, evolves out of the belief that talent, intelligence, and abilities can be cultivated through learning and hard work.
If you have a fixed mindset then you might find yourself incredibly driven to prove yourself and your abilities. Your entire self-worth is built on knowing that you are good enough, smart enough, and talented enough to be successful.
If you operate from a fixed mindset and experience failure or a challenge, that is a huge beating to your self esteem. Over time, you tend to seek out opportunities that will reassure you of your self-worth and avoid any experience that might diminish that.
Those with a growth mindset don’t have the same problem. A failure or a challenge actually excites them. The more challenging and difficult something is … the more they want to do it, because they are inspired and motivated by the ability to learn and grow.
What to do when you recognize you have a fixed mindset
The first time I read Dr. Dweck’s book, I wasn’t able to fully hear it and that was in large part a consequence of the fact that I had a fixed mindset. The very nature of being confronted with my fixed mindset, triggered that same fixed mindset.
The subconscious thought that showed up was:
If I have a fixed level of intelligence or my mindset is fixed (and by nature of my beliefs is unable to change), then I am forever doomed by this mindset.
No wonder I was only able to take limited action on this information at that stage of my life! I had built my entire identity around being talented, intelligent and having things come easily for me. In support of this mindset, I readily looked for and found evidence all around me of all the folks who had experienced quick and easy success.
My whole identity was wrapped up in this belief. When confronting a shift in our belief, we are also confronting a shift in who we are which can feel particularly painful and difficult.
Interestingly, Dr. Dweck does talk a bit in her book about how she too had a fixed mindset when she began doing her research and discusses a little bit about how to change it.
We have to begin to recognize our thoughts when we are in a fixed mindset and then make a conscious choice to take a more growth mindset oriented action.
But what happens when recognition of our thoughts triggers a strong emotional response, making us feel powerless to change?
When cognitive Mindset Work is not enough
I re-encountered Dr. Dweck’s book a couple of weeks ago when I began researching this very blog post. I discovered life coaching and Embodiment practices because I’ve found that my body puts up a very strong resistance whenever I attempt to work on mindset from a purely cognitive vantage point.
Cognitive techniques for shifting mindset tend to be either painfully slow for me, don’t work at all, or leave me feeling even more triggered.
Case in point, just through reading the book, I found myself emotionally triggered all over again.
How could I have read this book and had it not impact my life at all?
I would be so much better off if I had been able to fully adopt a growth mindset at that stage and not avoided doing the deeper work.
I am never going to be successful.
After a brief journey down this shame spiral, I remembered all of the Embodiment tools that I’ve been learning and implementing over the past few years. I recognized that the binary right-wrong thought pattern that I was entrenched in was a trauma response (ie. any response that triggers our nervous system to go into survival mode, like fight, flight, or freeze). The nervous system healing strategies that I’ve learned could help me detangle from my triggered response by regulating my nervous system.
After a few minutes of breathwork and the emotional release that accompanied it, my nervous system calmed down and I was able to come back into a growth mindset.
Here were some of the new thoughts I had:
- I had indeed implemented a lot of what I learned from Carol Dweck at the time that I first read it.
- I hadn’t read or understood it as deeply at the time because I had a different set of life experiences. I hadn’t yet gone through the process of training to be a life coach.
- I didn’t recognize that I was triggered the first time I read it. Even if I had, I wasn’t equipped with the techniques I have now to de-escalate my own stress response.
- I hadn’t yet discovered how to read deeply and take notes outside of a school setting to fully integrate the things that I was learning.
How you can use Embodiment tools to shift your mindset
My experience re-reading Carol Dweck’s book reminded me of why I have found cognitive approaches to be insufficient to shift my own beliefs. But just because the cognitive approach alone doesn’t work, doesn’t mean we cannot shift our mindset at all.
Embodiment tools can help us restore a feeling of safety in our system allowing us to step into the very mindset we are hoping to create.
Now it’s your turn
What is your own relationship with mindset? Do you recognize areas of your life where you hold a fixed mindset? Have you tried to shift your mindset and encountered difficulties when using cognitive techniques?
I’d love to hear about any insights you have in the comments below.
If you would like to learn more about how Embodiment can help you tackle challenges on your own journey, I’d love for you to join me for my next free workshop Embodiment for Multi-Hyphenates