Mindset is everything

After assisting with classes one day, I was reviewing how the classes went and I recalled one moment I had with a student that I thought was worth sharing.

This student had a particular way of doing something, and the class taught him a better way to do that thing. The student was getting frustrated with himself because he kept falling back into habit instead of utilizing the new, better technique. I told him not to focus on the frustration, on the old technique, but instead to focus on the new technique. To me, it’s a matter of mindset and how that will affect your performance.

Having 3 children and spending a lot of time around and working with kids, I’ve learned that if you want someone to do something in particular, the best way to get them to do it is to tell them exactly what you want them to do. I know that sounds simple, but you’d be surprised how much we don’t it. For instance, let’s say the child is running and instead you want them to walk. What I hear most people say to the child is “DON’T RUN!”. This doesn’t work. There’s an infinite number of things the child could do. By saying “don’t run” you’ve now narrowed down this infinite list by one thing. The child still needs something to do, they will now pick from this “infinity minus one” list of things to do, and statistics will favor the child still not doing what you want. So, if what you want the child to do is walk, then just say “WALK!”. The key is to convey to the person what you want them to do. This isn’t as simple as positive vs. negative phrasing; in fact, they’re orthogonal concepts. For example, “don’t touch the stove” (it’s hot), or “don’t go in there” (something dangerous is in there). Those are negatively phrased, but they are stating exactly what you want the person to do. Yes, you’ll mostly use positive phrasing in this conveyance, but the important thing is to convey what you want them to do.

Getting back to class then, that student was getting onto himself about not doing his old habit. All he kept focusing on was not doing his old habit. So what do you think he did? His old habit. Why? Because his mindset was focused on the old habit. Sure it was also “don’t do that”, but the thing was he wasn’t telling himself what he should do. So once I got him focused on “do the new technique” instead of “don’t do the old habit”, everything changed. His brain was focused on “new technique”, and sure enough, by the end of the day I was only seeing him using the new technique. Good deal!

Going with the gun thing, I hear the stories about people getting shot. I hear about people that got shot multiple times with big guns and managed to live to tell the tale. Then I hear the stories about people that got shot once with a pea shooter in some non-fatal way and fall over and die. Usually the moral of the story is the same: the people that died made up their minds to die… their mindset was “you get shot, you die” and so they gave up; the people that lived made up their minds to live… there was no other option, they were going to live all other things be damned. 

If you focus on failure, that’s that’s you’re going to do — fail. If you want success, focus on success. Focus on what to do that will lead to success. Your mindset is your first step in whatever direction you choose to go.

Updated: An article/study lending support.

Updated 2: Further support.