I’m currently working on a book called Mindset for Authors: How to overcome procrastination, perfectionism, and self-doubt. I’m writing the book because apparently less than 1% of the people who want to write a book actually ever get it done.
I mention this here because this statistic can be put down to several factors including negative beliefs that first-time authors have about their abilities in particular, and their place in the world in general.
I come into contact with people all of the time who know their stuff, and are totally literate and articulate, but there’s something holding them back. In fact I know the feeling well from my own experience.
In fact trying to become an author with a mindset that doesn’t support you is not only an exercise in futility, but it’s also an opportunity for deep healing, because scrutinising what’s underlying your writer’s block will enable you to hone in on negative beliefs that function to keep you stuck not only in relation to writing, but in fact in relation to any area in your life in which you’re struggling to make progress.
What you need to take on board from the get-go is the fact that your ability to accept responsibility for what you achieve in your life is key to moving forward.
I know that some of the people reading this article will feel like that’s a bit of a no-brainer, whilst others will have a lot of trouble accepting it.
That’s the way it is because as Carol Dweck points out in her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, there are essentially two overarching paradigms that our lives are played out in, and our ability to come to terms with the question of personal responsibility depends on where we sit on the fixed/growth mindset continuum that Dweck is well known for.
People who mostly operate from a fixed mindset believe they are born with talents in some areas and not others, and that the strengths they are born with lead to a set of capabilities that are more or less the ones they go to the grave with.
You’ll hear people with fixed mindsets say things like “I could never write a book, I’m just no good at writing”, or “I’m terribly scattered, I could never organize my thoughts well enough to write a book”.
Thinking about the difference between fixed and growth mindsets reminds me of something I first heard when I was just a little kid. In fact it was my dad who said to me that “we can’t do anything about the cards life deals us, but we can do something about the cards we choose to play”.
This kind of world-view implies both opportunities to improve, as well as responsibility for taking the steps required to allow improvement to happen, whether that means taking a writing course, signing up for cooking classes, hiring a personal trainer, or going back to university to retrain for a new career that requires specific qualifications.
It’s worth noting how dynamic this matter of mindset actually is.
If you think about it objectively you can probably recognize yourself approaching some areas of your life from a growth mindset and not others, and you can probably also recognise that your approach to a certain area of your life is from a fixed mindset on some occasions, and then from a growth mindset on others.
So I want you to think about which mindset you’re in, in relation to an important part of your life that you’re feeling stuck in right now.
And then I want you to ask yourself, what beliefs support that mindset, and in turn what other beliefs that mindset keeps you cut off from. It’s a chicken and egg situation really.
A lot of my clients come to me because they can’t seem to get started with writing a book that they know in their heart they need to write. Often times they describe what they are experiencing as chronic procrastination.
So I ask them to sit with the feeling that comes up when they think about procrastinating.
After doing that they often say something like “I’m not ready”, or “I’m not qualified enough”, or “What if nobody buys my book” or something like that, and these statements open up a whole can of worms around their unconscious need to avoid vulnerability.
I was an expert at avoiding vulnerability myself back in the day. It’s only since I’ve became aware of the extent to which a reasonably common condition called Impostor Syndrome was driving all of my decisions, that I’ve been able to break out of a fixed mindset and more fully embody a growth mindset in relation to almost every aspect of my live.
I see an awful lot of Impostor Syndrome in my coaching practice. I’ve worked with many high achieving clients over the years who are crippled with chronic self-doubt and feelings of inadequacy no matter what they might have achieved in their personal and/or professional life.
People struggling with Impostor Syndrome tend to be particularly risk-averse, and go out of their way to over-perform for fear of ‘being found out’. They’re also likely to be cutting themselves off from opportunities that less capable people end up grabbing over them.
The shame of it is that these less capable people are only able to do this because they’re not encumbered by the kind of fear of being found out and self-doubt that creates a glass ceiling for people suffering from Imposter Syndrome.
Obviously people suffering from Impostor Syndrome are operating from a fixed mindset. No matter how much evidence there is to the contrary, they’re convinced that they’re at risk of being exposed as not being as smart as everyone thinks they are.
No matter how much positive feedback they get, they’re simply unable to establish a realistic appreciation of their abilities.
Certainly I’m not implying that everyone who’s procrastinating is suffering from Impostor Syndrome, but I do want to urge you to take the time to reflect on exactly what it is that’s stopping you from moving forward, and to get help if there are any entrenched negative beliefs about your abilities holding you back that you’re unable to shift.
Unlike people operating from a fixed mindset, people operating from a growth mindset approach challenges with a high degree of curiosity, and remain open to learning how to do new things throughout their life.
They regard themselves as being empowered to improve no matter what their starting point is. Sure, they might never be able to make it to the Olympics or become a Rhodes Scholar or whatever, but they know they can improve in relation to anything they put their mind to.
It’s about improvement for people with a growth mindset, not perfection.
As Dweck explains, it all comes down to the question of how we react to challenges.
Do we just give up when we’re challenged because we can’t bear to risk failing, or do we keep working away in the knowledge that our failures are just stepping stones to success, and hard work and persistence always pays of in terms of our ability to continue to increase our skills in relation to any and all areas of our life.
The good news is that no matter where you are on the fixed/growth continuum, you can develop a growth mindset if you’re prepared to do what it takes to shift your perspective.
According to Dweck, strengthening your growth mindset starts with becoming aware of the voice of your fixed mindset, and recognizing that you ultimately have a choice in relation to how you react to the circumstances of your life.
After establishing and believing that, whenever you hear yourself saying something like “what’s the point of even starting a book when I know I’d never be able to get it finished anyway”, rather than giving in to that story and giving up, you need to deliberately engage the voice of your growth mindset to refute what your fixed mindset is saying.
And then most importantly you need to go on to take the kind of action a person operating from a growth mindset would take. If you continue to be persistent in this regard, you’ll slowly but surely reprogram your brain and change your life forever.
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Jane Turner – Woman’s Health Expert