Shifting Mindset

Shifting Mindset
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“Once your mindset changes, everything on the outside will change along with it.” —Steve Maraboli

The word mindset refers to our attitude. It’s the mood or posture we hold toward something or someone. The problem arises when our mindset, especially one that causes us distress, gets stuck. We don’t realize we could shift it.

  • Maybe I can shift from “look at all the things I have to do today,” to “look at all the things I GET to do today since I’m alive and healthy.”
  • Maybe, instead of being a problem, the slow, dreamy child is a gift to the driven, speedy family.
  • Maybe instead of seeing my friend as a stick-in-the-mud because she never wants to go anywhere, I can see her as a steady rock, always there for me.

Last year the Arbinger Institute published an excellent new book titled, Outward Mindset, Seeing Beyond Ourselves. Reading the book, laced with stories and examples from work and personal life, it’s disturbing to discover how self-focused our mindset often is.

Arbinger defines the inward mindset as focusing on myself so much that I see the other person as an object, not a person. They describe three types of objects:

  • Vehicles (that I use)
  • Obstacles (that I blame)
  • Irrelevancies (that I ignore)

Do you know these types from being on the receiving end of them? Feeling used, or blamed for someone else’s problem? Have you ever experienced being irrelevant to someone? It happened to me recently at a social gathering where a man I was talking with kept looking past me, scanning the room… for someone more interesting? It doesn’t feel good.

When I’m in the inward mindset, I often blame others and justify myself. I feel judgmental and self-righteous. To solidify my position I recruit others who agree with me. The process drains energy. I’m unhappy.

The outward mindset, on the other hand, sees people as human, like me. Even when we disagree, I know they have hopes and dreams, struggles and burdens. In working out tensions with them, I pay attention to what matters to them, wanting to help. When I hold this mindset the world seems spacious; I am productive and happy.

The good news is that I choose: inward or outward mindset. Once I am aware that I’ve adopted an inward mindset, I can choose to shift to an outward mindset. It’s hard at first, because of my blindness to myself. But with practice it gets easier. I had this experience recently during an online class I teach. It was the first session, and one student kept interrupting. She asked questions so often I was irritated. I was wondering, “How can I shut her up?” Then I caught myself. I felt the tension in my body. I told myself I was concerned for all the other students, but really I was worried about myself as the teacher. It only takes a second to make a mindset shift. I remembered this woman from our introductory call. She was brilliant, seriously wanting to learn. She came from a culture that doubted women should be educated. She had had many negative learning experiences. In a nanosecond, my mindset and heart shifted. I began to see her as a brilliant seeker, on a serious journey to learn. Here’s the amazing thing that happened. When I shifted, she calmed down. I listened to her questions more fully and realized they were often profound. Over the next weeks and months, the other students and I benefitted greatly from her deep and thoughtful questioning.

Here is what seems to help a mindset shift:

  • See yourself with new eyes – noticing the ways you’ve invited what you don’t want
  • Open your heart - taking in the humanity of the other person
  • Ask yourself “how can I be more helpful?”


  1. With whom do you have an inward mindset?
  2. What might be that person’s dreams, struggles, burdens?
  3. How might you make things more difficult for them?
  4. How can you be more helpful?
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