I had a baby this year after many years of fertility treatment. He’s the chicken in the middle below.
Charlie was born two months after I won a grant from the National Science Foundation to get my start-up, the Young Leader Project, off the ground. This was all while operating a 35 therapist psychology practice in Philadelphia (thankfully I have a strong team running the day-to-day of that business) and a global leadership development & coaching consultancy.
So, two businesses, a start-up and a baby start-up. Oh, and Charlie doesn’t like to sleep. He really prefers to eat his way through the night. Cue: screaming.
Many days, I felt the same as his expression in his chicken suit.
As an organizational psychologist, executive coach, and leadership development entrepreneur, I talk about mindset all of the time … in a nice, neat, theoretical, academic way. Now, however, life was urging me to truly recognize, harness, and apply the power of mindset. And I get it now. I get its power.
Your mindset shapes your behavior and your productivity, without question. In order to juggle breastfeeding, a barrage of emails, conference calls, fires to put out, strategy meetings, you name it, all on very little sleep, I had to keep my mindset positive and focused on the task at hand. If I let my mindset stray for a second, overwhelm would immediately flood through.
It’s not easy, and I didn’t perfect it, but I felt the positive – and productive – effects of maintaining my mindset versus letting it run amok.
When it comes to cultivating a positive mindset, there are two core components that lay the foundation.
Part I – Gratitude
To plow the field, so to speak, for a positive, growth mindset, get in the habit of feeling gratitude for everything in your life. Get in the habit of feeling gratitude for your life.
You may not be where you want to be in your career, but you’re breathing. You’re alive. You have friends and family. You have shelter, you have food, you have clothes. Maybe you have someone who loves you. You have some money in your pocket. Your brain is in good standing.
Those are the basics, but they’re huge because many don’t even have those basics. We often take them for granted but bringing your awareness back to the basics can help calm the impatient waters of ambition, envy, and greed.
From there you can add to the gratitude list anything and everything that is extra: your job, your car, your home, your country.
It might feel silly at first but focuses your mind on what you have as opposed to what you don’t have. If you perform a gratitude checklist in the morning, this points your mindset in a positive direction.
And if you're the scientific type, neuroscience has also linked the expression of gratitude with an increase in happiness.
Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., at the University of California at Davis studied the effects of gratitude on an individual’s overall wellbeing. Over a 10 week period, he had one test group record the events of their life for which they were grateful, a second group record the events of their life that displeased them, and a third record the events of their life without a positive or negative emphasis.
The gratitude group reported higher levels of happiness and optimism, less trips to the doctor, and more energy for physical activities than the other groups.
Emmons concluded that the expression of gratitude has profound and positive effects on our health, our moods and even the survival of our marriages. To get started on the gratitude train, Emmons recommends keeping a gratitude journal or making gratitude lists on a daily or weekly basis.
Part II – Mindfulness
As you go through your day your thoughts are going to steer you in specific directions. It’s your job to pay attention to where they’re taking you and redirect them to work for you if need be. Steer the boat carrying your thoughts.
Whether it’s washing the dishes or creating a PowerPoint presentation, be fully engaged in the task at hand. Your mind will wander. You’ll get a text message. You’ll check Facebook. You’ll want a snack or a coffee. You’ll go to the bathroom. Keep bringing your mind back to what you’re doing.
Mindfulness takes a lot of practice. Staying in the moment, fully engaged in the task at hand is difficult. Over time, it gets easier. The less you let your mind wander into the past and future, the happier you’ll be and the easier it will be to feel gratitude.
Mindfulness and Gratitude are the pillars that hold up mindset.
Tips for getting in the trifecta zone:
- When overwhelm strikes, break your tasks into bite-sized, manageable bits. Think about it as if you are running a race. How does the marathoner scale the wall? She sets small, incremental goals she can accomplish: left foot, right foot. Ten more steps. Just to that next stop sign. Okay, now to that bend in the road. All of a sudden, you look up and you’re at the finish line.
- Skip the negative self-talk: Rather than go down a pity hole, be practical about negative self-talk: you simply don’t have time for it. A helpful exercise is to examine how you’re talking to yourself and ask if you’d let a friend talk to themselves that way. If not, why is it ok to talk to yourself that way?
- Dopamine up. Sometimes you need to change the circuitry immediately in your brain to get in the zone. Watch at a kitten or puppy video. Look for something that makes you smile. Indulge yourself so your mind is in a positive state.
- Have an all-out WTF moment. Have your pity party if need be. Scream about how much you have to do and how you won’t be able to do it. Throw a private tantrum and then snap out of it. You've got s–t to do!
Mindset, Mindfulness, and Gratitude are the trifecta for happiness and success.
The more you focus on what you don’t have or what you can’t do, the more energy you waste for what you do have and what you can do. Thinking through a lens of abundance tricks your mind into a state of ease and satisfaction.
Thinking through a lens of deficit feels like that horse from the neverending story, the saddest scene in all of Hollywood.
If all else fails, when you start saying “but this, but that, but this” put the word hairy in front of it. Now you’re imagining a hairy butt and honestly, it’s gross to imagine and if you let it, it has the ability to distract you from your unproductive thinking.
I’m an organizational psychologist specializing in leadership and organizational development, consulting and coaching. I help leaders and companies expand their insight, impact, and influence. I’m the author of two books, “Y in the Workplace” and “What Keeps Leaders Up At Night.” I have a doctorate in clinical psychology (Psy.D.), Master of Business Administration (MBA), and Master of Criminal Justice (MACJ) – I initially wanted to be in the FBI but I think this was largely fueled by my dream of “working” with Agent Mulder in the X Files. I love coffee, my cats, traveling to new cities, fall weather, boots, meeting people, and coming up with new business ideas, which my GoDaddy account can attest to.