Here’s Why It’s So Hard To Change Mindset
In our professional lives we constantly talk about mindset. Positive mindset, worth mindset, goal-oriented mindset, focused mindset. This list is long. We all have mantras, affirmations, activities and favorite quotations we use to shift our state of mind. Of course, a positive mindset is a good thing. But ever wonder why we struggle with mindset in the first place? Why is it a constant battle for us to stay efficient, focused and effective?
What if our primary mindset started out as simply focused on survival? What if rather than focusing on our desires, we had to focus on literally staying safe? What if rather than pursuing joy, we had to manage our fear and pain and stay hypervigilant? For those of us that grew up in abusive families, minimizing harm became priority number one. Picture the little girl, blonde pigtails tied with pink fabric ribbons, eagerly sharing the flower she just picked in the yard only to be spanked for getting dirt on her dress. She wanted to share her joy with her mother and instead she was punished. If this little girl experiences this enough times, she will come to believe that what matters to her is not okay and she will modify her behavior to minimize harm. She may decide unconsciously that what brings her joy is actually unsafe for her.
It can even be more subtle than that. Maybe the parents simply ignore or dismiss the girl’s attempts to share with them because they are too busy returning an email or watching a TV show. Or maybe they’re drunk. Or maybe she’s home alone as usual so there is no one to share with. The little girl might learn to only share things she knows her parents like and at times when they are less dangerous. This is especially true if we had parents with narcissist tendencies. It’s all about them all the time.
In my case the best place for me to connect with my father was in the garden tending a tomato plant or harvesting a plump yellow grapefruit. He dismissed or attacked anything that mattered to me so I had to meet him on his turf. I came to believe I was worthless at my core because he was never interested in what mattered to me. Imagine how that affected my mindset.
A Survival Strategy Is Born
As soon as children start adapting their behavior to minimize harm, a survival strategy is born. That can look like stuffing emotions, staying quiet, appearing perfect, or being a caretaker or all of the above. Those are just a few possibilities. My preferred survival strategy was being a good girl. My mother always bragged that I never rebelled as a teenager. Like that was a good thing. Being a good girl meant liking what they liked plus being a good student and doing what they wanted me to do. I became a chameleon always ready to take on someone else’s vision of me. I might have looked good on the outside but I was totally inauthentic. That’s a survival mindset born out of a very necessary survival strategy. Picture me as an 80s college student in Los Angeles wearing a camel hair blazer and an A-line turquoise plaid wool skirt. So not my authentic style. Yuck!
So What Do We Do?
So what do we do? Of course, we want to have a generally positive, success-oriented mindset. If we want to truly change our mindset, we have to address the survival strategies driving our current, ineffective mindset. When we effort to change our mindset, it’s like trying to fix a flat tire by changing the oil in the car. We’re not actually addressing the real problem and we feel stuck. We then feel frustrated and really critical of ourselves so we try harder to change our mindset and that just makes things worse. We keep beating ourselves up because nothing seems to work.
Think about this for a minute. How well has it worked for you to keep trying the same things over and over? What if there’s another way? What if you can shift out of survival mode and into your authentic mindset by unraveling the leftovers from this old survival mindset. I can help you with this. Intrigued? Let’s talk.