Want to do something cool with your life? Awesome! The most important ingredient to living your best life is cultivating a growth mindset.
What’s a growth mindset you ask? Great question. The easiest way to describe growth mindset is in contrast to it’s opposite: fixed mindset.
A fixed mindset means that you believe that something is either one thing or another.
You’re either good at something or you’re bad it.
Growth mindset frames things as in constant progression. Instead of believing you’re good at something or not, you frame it as you’ve either mastered something or you’re learning how to do it.
If you want to do something cool with your life, you’re probably going to have to learn some new habits and ways of operating in the world. That’s really hard to do when you have a fixed mindset. It’s much more fun, and way less judgmental, to approach transformation with a growth mindset.
So how do you develop a growth mindset? There are a ton of ways to build a growth mindset. But there’s one that, as an engineer and a coach, I find to be particularly useful.
It’s checking your assumptions. And to explain how to do it, I’m going to take you back to 2006. I was sitting in Professor Freyberg’s office. It was in one of my first engineering classes and I was struggling. Not with the calculus or the physics, but with the methodology.
See, in engineering we get taught a very specific way to solve problems. Indeed, you had to write up your homework using this format.
By breaking the problem into these categories you were able to make a very big problem more solvable.
You also made it easier for other people, including your professor, to check your work (and in many of our cases, give us partial credit if we got the answer wrong).
For example, say you want to build a dam. In order to accomplish such a behemoth task first you have to design it.
That it involves deciding where to put it, what dimensions to make it, and what materials to use - to name a few.
But, how the heck do you figure those things out?
Well you work your way through what you know, what you don't know, and what you have to assume.
In this case you'll have to make some assumptions about how long you think the dam will last before it needs to be rebuilt or retrofitted (fun fact: typically we design for 50-100 years...which is concerning considering the average age of the U.S. dam is 52 years old).
We might also assume what the population growth and climate change will do to water demand and availability (i.e. will their be droughts) over that period of time.
That assumption will help us figure out much water we need to store and how big the dam will have to be. And on and on and on. You get the picture, Natasha.
Well, it turns out I hated making assumptions. They didn't feel intuitive to me.
Plus the idea that I could make the wrong assumption and build a bad dam, or worse yet lose points on my homework, didn't sit well with me.
It turns out that's why writing down our assumptions was such an important and useful part of documenting our design process.
When our assumptions are clearly written down someone who is further removed from the problem can help us out and check those assumptions for us.
Which is exactly why I spent so many hours sitting in Dr. Freyberg's office. I was often asking him to help me build and check my assumptions.
So what does any of this have to do with coaching and me sitting in my office right now?
First, Dr. Freyberg was a kindred spirit. He was an atypical civil engineer. One of the things I appreciated about his office hours was that he had a tiny fountain that made the most soothing sound as I worked through intimidating problems and crippling self-doubt.
Second of all, I'm doing for my clients now what Dr. Freyberg was doing with me then: helping them check their assumptions.
It turns out, our life is one epic problem set. In order to design it and make decisions we are constantly making assumptions.
Most of these assumptions are subconscious beliefs that we hold about ourselves, other people, the work that we do, and the life that we're trying to live.
We rarely highlight or articulate these assumptions or beliefs because of the volume of design decisions we have to make on a daily basis. It would be impractical. So they remain unconscious.
But, often when we're feeling "stuck" or "off" or "in a rut" it's because our assumptions aren't working for us anymore.
Our beliefs are holding us back or even hurting us. We need to check our assumptions, but we can't because we haven't written them down in a while...or maybe ever.
To make this a little more tangible here are five beliefs that I used to hold when I was 19 and going to Dr. Freyberg's office hours:
1. God is real.
2. Hard work guarantees success.
3. Chronic stress is the price you have to pay to achieve things.
4. I need to be married by the time I'm 30.
5. Yoga is sacreligious and weird.
LOL. At the age of 32 I still believe in #1 and that's it!
Over the past 13 years I've worked hard with a host of people to check and challenge these assumptions (including is God real).
Together they helped me ask the tough question, "Is this belief serving me anymore?"
When the answer was no, they helped me pick and install a new assumption so I could redesign a piece of my life.
Now that's the very process I get to support my courageous clients through.
The process of exposing old assumptions and beliefs, checking them, and changing them when necessary. That’s the birthplace of a growth mindset—a willingness to leave old beliefs behind and permission to let yourself to grow into new ones.
So now it’s my turn to ask you a question.
What assumptions are you operating under? Are they serving you? If not, what new assumptions would you like to make?
Shoot me an email and I’ll send you some of my favorite tips to help!