Screen Shot 2015-01-05 at 4.57.42 pmFrom the desk of Nick Mills

I recently had the privilege of speaking at the Future Leaders Forum in Brisbane. It made me think a lot about the differences between those who live actually live successful lives and those who don’t — even though they are just as well-trained, ambitious, and promising.

In my investigation, I learned that even though there are all kinds of factors at play, it comes down to one simple thing: the brains of successful and unsuccessful people are separated in how they view personal change.

Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck has discovered that true success is all about mindset. Successful people tend to focus on growth, solving problems, and self-improvement, while unsuccessful people think of their abilities as fixed assets and, therefore, avoid challenges. More importantly, successful people don’t view failure as failure. Instead, they see it as an opportunity for learning, adapting, and becoming better.

She calls these two mentalities the ‘growth’ and ‘fixed’ mindsets.

Unfortunately, there are several things that can keep us in a fixed mindset:

  • According to recent research, our brains attend to and learn more from negative information than positive information.
  • Brains don’t like change and conspire to keep us ‘set in our ways’.
  • Too frequently, we prime ourselves to give up at small setbacks.
  • Feedback is all too often an unpleasant experience.

However, according to Trevor Blake, the author of Three Simple Steps, by tapping into the brain’s capacity for neuroplasticity, you can move from a mind rigid with the fear of failure to one capable of embracing it, thereby setting yourself up for a lifetime of success. Here are a few practical ways to help you switch from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset.

Control your environment. The brain cannot distinguish between real and imagined practice. By watching sensationalised news stories or listening to the complaints of others, the effect on the brain is the same as if we had lived those experiences ourselves. The good news is that the negative effects of stress can not only be stopped, but also reversed once the source — psychological or physical — is sufficiently reduced. Limit your exposure to negativity by staying away from people, environments, and sources that bring you down.

Resist the urge to use self-defeating language. We’ve all experienced a colleague saying, “You look tired.” All the air goes out of our sails and suddenly we feel tired and depleted as we respond, “Yeah, I guess I’ve been under a lot of stress lately.” We do the same thing to ourselves. If you don’t feel well, never say it aloud to anyone. Instead, say, “I could use more energy.” Also avoid the use of limiting words. Never say cannot when referring to yourself. Instead, reach for a higher-energy statement such as “When I can…” Other limiting words include hopefully, perhaps, one day, and maybe.

Begin and end all communications positively. Today, this is especially important when using electronic media, as your messages live in cyberspace forever and continue to define you. It’s imperative that the last thing you type is a positive word leading to positive thoughts. Try “Cheers” or “Best” or “Keep smiling.” Your brain reaps the benefit of this positive thought, and the recipient will have an upbeat impression of you.

Begin and end your day positively. Before you go to sleep at night, thank yourself for a great day. When you wake up, the first words in your head should be something like, “I feel absolutely fantastic, glad to be alive. I know today will be successful for me.”

Make use of superlatives. In business, we are supposed to be subdued. But when someone asks you how you are, notice the difference between saying, “I’m fine,” and “I feel absolutely amazing and vibrantly healthy.” Using superlatives bumps your energy to a higher level.

Look beyond the goal. If all you really want is to land a specific client, by setting this as your intention and thinking of it every day, you will no doubt get it. But if you set your intentions much larger than your core desire — say, to acquire ten new significant clients this year — you trigger several positive psychological benefits. As you daydream and imagine a larger scenario, your core desire starts to feel easy and much more attainable.

Learn how to give (and receive) effective feedback. Feedback is the breakfast of champions, but sometimes it tastes awful! However, feedback increases our self-awareness and encourages development, so it is important to learn to give and receive it effectively. View feedback as an opportunity for refining skills and methods. It should be considered to be welcome guidance with specific examples that help to illustrate the feedback. Always acknowledge feedback that you agree with; “Yes that would be useful to develop”.

Become more self-aware. Self-awareness changes your brain for the better. It unlocks neuroplasticity, which in turn enhances your ability to learn and to ‘roll with the punches’.

Failure is fantastic as long as you understand why. The bottom line is that it offers an opportunity to learn something new, do something differently, and become a better, more successful you.