How to manage your mindset

Tigger and Eeyore are characters from the Winnie the Pooh stories by AA Milne. Based on Milne's son, Christopher Robin Milne, the stories incorporate Christopher's childhood toys including Tigger, Eeyore, Piglet, Kanga and Roo. In the stories, Tigger is the ever-enthusiastic, bouncing, happy character (he's a tiger, but calls himself a tigger). Eeyore, on the other hand, is a pessimistic, gloomy and depressed donkey, passive and accepting whatever comes his way ("Thanks for noticin' me" is one of his catchphrases). The two develop a close friendship, and it is this contrast in their personalities that allows them to learn about accepting others' flaws and shortcomings.

As much as we would like to be the ever-happy, ever-positive Tigger, we sometimes can't help feeling like Eeyore. We're told that we should think positive, develop a positive attitude and take life by the horns, have two cups of coffee and go and kick some ass.

In effect, we're told to manage our mindset. But what exactly is mindset, and how can we manage it - if at all?

What is mindset?

When someone mentions the word "mindset" we automatically think of our outlook on life. Do we look at the world from a happy place, or from a depressed, sad place? In other words, are we positive or negative? It's not nearly that simple of course, and there's at least one other meaning that we need to know about.

In her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Carol Dweck shows how people with a fixed mindset - those who believe that abilities are fixed - are less likely to flourish than those with a growth mindset - those who believe that abilities can be developed.

So mindset is also about beliefs. These beliefs are things we may know about, but often they're things we don't know, or things we assume to be true that aren't. In the coaching world, these are known as limiting beliefs, and one of the roles of a coach is to discover the limiting beliefs holding you back and helping you break through them.

When someone asks "how can I manage my mindset" they're really asking "how can I develop and maintain a positive outlook". But as you can imagine, our success at developing a positive outlook is closely related to whether we have a fixed mindset or a growth mindset.

How're ya doin?

The first time I heard this North-Americanism I was puzzled. Do you really want to know how I'm doing? Do you want to know that my day is going pretty awfully, thank you very much, I have an itch in an embarrassing place and my car broke down this morning and my shoes are hurting me and I can't wait to get this meeting over with?

And yet we always answer with something along the lines of "great thanks, how about you?"

I still haven't quite figured out whether people are genuinely interested or whether the greeting is just the way people say good morning. I'm sure the answer is a bit of both, but I still wonder whether complete strangers are really interested in the personal ups and downs of my life.

So, you're having a pretty shitty day. Things are not going well, you're not in a happy place and you're not looking forward to whatever you need to get done today.

If this is your normal state of being, I'm going to assume that you've consulted with someone who can diagnose and help with depression, or whatever the underlying problem is. And if you haven't, its probably time to consider it seriously. This is not a good way to live.

But if this is not your normal state, feeling depressed every now and then is quite normal. Your mindset - in this case your outlook on life and your general sense of well-being - is not a static thing. It is affected by our thinking patterns (our beliefs and the way we think about things), our body chemistry, things that happen around us, things that happen to us, the people we come into contact with and how our business is doing. And the weather. And the bloody politicians.

But you don't like being down and you would like to get out of it as fast as you can. What do you do?

So how do you manage your mindset to get out of a slump?

One of the most difficult things you can do is to pull yourself out of a slump when you're feeling depressed. You're already feeling down, and now you're expected to jump up and take life by the horns? Give me a break…

Seriously though, getting out of a slump - managing your mindset - is really tough when you're feeling down. So the first thing to recognise is that feeling down every now and then is completely normal, you should cut yourself some slack and when you're feeling better you will be able to look at it a lot more objectively.

Just cutting yourself some slack - not being so hard on yourself - is the first step in managing your mindset to get out of a slump. When you're too hard on yourself it's easy to create a vicious cycle; you're down, you're angry at yourself that you're down, you berate yourself for not getting up and making stuff happen which makes you feel more down… And so the vicious cycle feeds on itself.

So first, cut yourself some slack. Everyone has a right to feel down now and then.

It's when the down-ness becomes regular or seriously debilitating that you need to take steps to find a more permanent solution. Barring clinical depression (see your doctor please), you need to determine whether your mindset - your outlook on life - is being negatively affected by specific events or by your current circumstances.

Bad stuff happens - but it will pass

This is true for all of us all of the time. We lose a loved one, we have a fight with our significant other, we fail to make a sale, our team doesn't do too well in the World Cup.

When bad stuff happens, we can feel down about it. At least for while. But we know that these bad things are just things that happened and tomorrow something good is going to happen to make us feel better. You'll make up with your partner, you'll make another sale and your team is sure to do better next time round.

These things are temporary, and they will pass. Your mind already knows this, and it's getting ready to get out of the slump. You don't have to do a lot to manage your mindset.

So first, cut yourself some slack. Second, know that this too shall pass - and pretty quickly too.

I'm in a bad place - and I will be in the same place tomorrow

It's a lot worse when you're in a bad place, because you're going to be in the same bad place tomorrow. You're in a job you hate or a relationship that's causing you more grief than comfort. Or you're stuck in circumstances that are not good and there seems to be no way to get out of it.

If you have a fixed mindset, you're in trouble. Your mindset is that this is the way things are, you can't do much about it and bad stuff happens to you all the time. This is Eeyore at his best (or worst).

If you have a growth mindset, on the other hand, you can look at the situation and realise that you can learn from it, you can break out of it or you can turn it around. A positive outlook - as trite as that may sound - is going to make all the difference in turning this from "this is the way things are" to "what can I learn from this". This is Tigger at work - he's always ready to bounce back.

So how does this help if you have a fixed mindset and you're in a crappy place you can't get out of?

Quite simply, just being aware that there is another way to think about things is the first step in changing things. It may seem like a small step, but you're in the process of changing from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset. You've made a start.

So first, cut yourself some slack. Second, know that this too shall pass. Third, know that there is another way of thinking about things. It ain't easy, but it is a start. And that's already one step better than you were before.

Managing your mindset - one step at a time

So let's put all of this together:

  • One definition of mindset is your general sense of well-being and how you look at life.
  • Another definition of mindset states that we have a fixed mindset or a growth mindset.
  • Managing your mindset is tough when you're down.
  • Cut yourself some slack - we all feel down now and then.
  • When you're down, try to figure out if the cause is an event or your circumstances.
  • Know that events will pass, and circumstance can change.

And just in case you missed it, see your doctor if you believe you shouldn't be feeling this down for this long…

Are you more like Tigger or more like Eeyore?

Of course most of us (all of us?) would like to be more like Tigger than like Eeyore. You probably know someone who's very much like Tigger, bouncy and loud and happy all the time. And you probably know someone who's much like Eeyore.


But none of us are a Tigger or an Eeyore all the time. We all have our ups and our downs, and we're quite normal and we're allowed to cut ourselves some slack. The one thing we can do is spend some serious time looking at whether we have a fixed mindset or a growth mindset - this makes all the difference between accepting things the way they are, or knowing that we can change them and make the world a better place.

What you can do now

Carol Dweck's book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success is available on Amazon here.

Stephen Covey, the well-known author of The 7 habits of highly effective people, coined the idea of an abundance mindset. This article on Wikipedia has more on the subject.

So if you're down right now, cut yourself some slack. Know that this too shall pass, and know that there is another way of thinking about things. It ain't easy, but it's a start.

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