My Dad had just taken off the training wheels from my bicycle and I was finally going to learn to ride like the big kids. I was both excited and scared.

We got off to a great start with my Dad running alongside me, holding onto the back of the bike. I felt safe seeing Dad’s shadow as we made slow circles around the playground parking lot. It felt great to be riding “on my own” and I was feeling confident.

But then I looked down at the pavement and suddenly realized Dad’s shadow was nowhere in sight.

I promptly fell off my bike, skinned my knee and ripped my favorite pair of shorts. More than the physical pain of the fall was the shock that my trusty Dad was no longer by my side.

How could he abandon me at a crucial moment when I literally needed his support?

It turns out he had let go of my bicycle almost as soon as I started pedaling and was just running along with me for moral support. I had been riding my bicycle without help practically the whole time without knowing it!

So, what held me back wasn’t my physical ability. It was my mindset that “I can’t do this without Dad”.

Just as my mindset was what knocked me off my bicycle, your mental game is critical for staying on track in your career.

So how do you get in that positive zone, where your mindset is working for you instead of against you?

Here are three steps you can take:

  1. Notice your thoughts
  2. Notice how your thoughts serve you
  3. Choose the kind of thoughts you want to have

Let’s start with noticing your thoughts.

What kind of mindset do you have?

Your mindset affects your behavior which affects your results. So if your mindset is the way you think, then it’s useful to start noticing the kinds of thoughts you have.

Since we think more than 6,000 thoughts a day, you’ll have a lot to choose from. Sometimes it shows up as your “self-talk”. Other times they’re just thoughts that ping in and out, often without your noticing them at all.

Once you start noticing your thoughts, it will help you understand your default mindset.

Maybe your thoughts tend toward judging and blaming people, including yourself. Perhaps your thoughts are mostly about feeling inadequate and always deferring to others.

In my case, I was a master at fearing the worst. My “what if” machine churned out thoughts like, “what if I say the wrong thing in the meeting? People will think I’m incompetent. They won’t want me on the team. I might get fired.”

Coming from a mindset of fear had some negative impacts on my career. Which brings us to the next point.

Your mindset drives your behavior, which drives your results

So once you notice your thoughts, it’s time to notice their impact the associated mindset has on your career and life. Notice how these thoughts do or don’t serve you well.

As a result of my fear, I hardly ever spoke up in meetings, which made me look like I wasn’t “leader material”. It took me longer to get promoted while I watched others who talked a better game move up ahead of me.

And if you think being a “good team member” means sacrificing your own needs when work deadlines come up, then you won’t know when others would be happy to adjust the deadline if they only knew you had an important family obligation. The knock-on effect is that you’ll not only become resentful over time, you’ll also be getting more of those unrealistic deadlines since your boss will think it’s okay.

Being aware of how your thoughts serve you (or not) is an important step toward making better decisions in the moment. Which brings us to the third step.

Recognize that you can choose the kind of thoughts you want to have

As the saying goes, you’re not responsible for the first thought that comes into your mind, but you are responsible for what you do with it.

This is where the idea of “stop, drop and replace” comes in. It’s like the fire safety saying, “stop, drop and roll”.

When you notice that you’re having unhelpful thoughts, it’s time to stop that thought by thanking it for trying to help you, then drop it and replace it with the version that will better serve you in the moment.

What finally helped me begin the journey toward speaking up in meetings was to replace the fearful way of thinking with giving myself permission to treat each meeting as an experiment. So, instead of “what if I say something wrong”, I replaced it with “let’s see what happens if I say XYZ.”

Treating these meetings as a place to experiment and adopting a mindset of curiosity took the weight off of any one situation. Fast forward to today, I now have to rein myself in from saying too much in a meeting!

But what if you’re a skeptic by nature?

Whatever your mindset is right now, there was once a helpful purpose that cultivated it to be this way. So if you’re naturally a skeptic, embrace it because you’re better off going with your grain than against it.

Just temper it by adding a question: “is my natural skepticism helping or hurting here?” Then make any adjustments you need to make.

In the end, your mindset determines how you show up in the world. Make it a conscious choice.

Just don’t make the mistake of thinking your mindset is set in stone

Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck found that people with a fixed mindset were less successful and led less-fulfilling lives than those who adopted a growth mindset.

You don’t have to leave your mindset on the “default factory-setting”. You get to choose. And like your Android or iPhone, you can always reset to the factory setting if you want to, which hardly takes any work at all.

But once you experience the benefits of adopting a mindset that aligns with who you want to be and where you want to head, you’ll love it and won’t want to go back.

Adopt a mindset that helps you be successful

So, if things aren’t going as planned or you’re struggling with challenges, it’s time to give yourself the gift of a supportive mindset by taking these three steps:

  1. Notice your mindset – become aware of the thoughts you’re having, both when things are going well and when they aren’t.
  2. Notice how they’re serving you – your mindset can help or hurt your ability to perform and therefore your results.
  3. Choose the thoughts you want to have – remember that you get to shape your mindset and the “stop, drop and replace” strategy is one way to help you get there faster.

Whether you’re learning to ride a bicycle, going after your next promotion or trying to stay grounded in the face of challenges, it’s your mindset that will make the biggest difference to how things turn out.

Which of these steps will best help you adopt a mindset that will serve you well, especially in these challenging times?

Leave a comment and let me know.