It is often said that the difference between successful and unsuccessful people is the way they think. Thinking is a critical first step before ‘doing’. Or at least it should be. Those who go ahead and do stuff before, or without, thinking end up being undone by stuff. There’s a reason why critical thinking is one of the highest-paid skills on earth.
Your regular thinking pattern forms into a mindset through which you begin to filter all information and life experiences that come your way. For example, to a child, everything is a toy. So you are advised to keep certain things out of the reach of children because they just want to play with everything. And, certainly, not everything is for playing. Not everything is a toy. Not every experience is a game. But that’s just the way they think. It’s a mindset that they would one day outgrow — hopefully.
As adults, there are mindsets that we cultivate due to years and years of horrible thinking. Sometimes they’re picked up from our environment. Other times they’re internal; based on our own fears and personal limitations. Nevertheless, we ought to overcome them because they are the mindsets that keep us struggling in areas where we could become successful. They are negative mindsets and all they do is keep us from achieving greater things in our lives. Many of them exist out there but, for now, let’s look at five of these mindsets that easily keep us down.
The Victim Mindset
One thing that baffled me as a boy was how many adults never seemed to take responsibility for the outcomes of their lives. I always heard that the reason this uncle lost all his money was because that auntie in the village had put a spell on him. But, looking closely, uncle never seemed to manage his money prudently. He always spent like he was all too eager to go broke again.
A victim mindset blames everybody but you for your own situation. It’s always the fault of someone else — the devil, the government, the system, your employer, your housemates and, of course, your haters. Never your own fault. After all, we cannot blame the victim. With this mindset, it is very difficult to move forward in life, because the only person who can move you forward is you. And if you never hold yourself responsible for that, then you will never get it done. Everybody’s responsibility is nobody’s responsibility. You have to take ownership of your own life and progress.
Instead of having a victim mindset, develop an ‘overcomer’ mindset. Realise that although other people may have put some obstacles along your way to success, it is up to you to overcome those obstacles, not by focusing on them, but by focusing on your goals instead, because obstacles are the things you see when you take your eyes off your goals. A victim focuses on his obstacles while an overcomer focuses on his goals.
The Fixed Mindset
This is one level up from the victim mindset. The victim mindset says “I can’t do anything” while the fixed mindset says “I can only do this thing”. A person with a fixed mindset is like an old dog who cannot be taught new tricks. With this mindset comes lots of limitations. Moving forward into success is very tricky here because you can’t expect different results from doing the same things. Instead of being comfortable with what you know, seek to know more. Seek to learn new things and even unlearn old ones that are no longer useful. Instead of having a fixed mindset, cultivate a growth mindset. Seek to expand your comfort zone.
A fixed mindset would say “I’m already great at this”, while a growth mindset would say “I’m on the right track”. A fixed mindset would say “I give up”, while a growth mindset would say “who can help me?” A fixed mindset would say “no, this is too hard”, while a growth mindset would say “yes, this may take time and effort”. A fixed mindset would say “but plan A didn’t work”, while a growth mindset would say “good thing there are 25 more letters in the alphabet!”
Having a growth mindset instead of a fixed one opens up many doors of opportunities and possibilities to you on the road to success!
The Scarcity Mindset
This is like the fixed mindset, except that those with a fixed mindset are well aware that there are many opportunities out there. They are just not willing to try because they’d rather stick to what they already know. Those with a scarcity mindset, on the other hand, believe that there are no other opportunities out there, so they cling onto what they’ve got. They become very fearful and insecure, holding on tightly to their friends, jobs, food and anything good they come across. These are the smothering girlfriends, the controlling boyfriends, the overly competitive coworkers, and the embezzling politicians. They believe that’s all they can ever get, so they’ll do anything to get all they can, can all they get, and then sit tight on the can!
This mindset takes you nowhere. You just stay right there, struggling to hold on to everything you have while they slip away from your grip. Instead of having a scarcity mindset, cultivate an abundance mindset. The scarcity mindset is one that can be picked up from your environment. You may constantly be bombarded with news stories about how there isn’t enough land and food to cater to ‘overpopulation’. How we’re running out of water and other resources and now have to recycle everything,. How the rich are getting richer and the poor poorer, or how we have only a short time left on earth because of climate change. These scarcity-based ideas could be very depressing and lead you to think that way about your own personal life. Instead, maybe disconnect from all of that and plug into God, the creator, who has filled this world with an abundance of resources, exceeding anything we could ever think of or imagine.
The Entitlement Mindset
When I was working in Lagos, I stayed with my sister’s family. I remember being on the phone with a close family relative one night on my way back from work. He asked if I had had anything to eat. I said no but that, thankfully, I would have something to eat when I got home, to my sister’s house, because they were so kind to feed me every day. His surprising response was “of course, by right, they are supposed to give you food!”
Now, that’s an entitlement mindset. Entitled people think in terms of rights, not privileges. And they often confuse the two. They mistake a privilege granted them for a right that they are owed. This is a major turn off to people who would potentially give them a hand-up the ladder to success. When people realise that you think they owe you the help they’re offering, they’re most likely going to withdraw that offer.
Instead of an entitlement mindset, cultivate a mindset of gratitude. In everything, give thanks. Don’t think you deserve it, even if you paid for it. Still thank the seller, thank the waiter, thank your boss, thank your parents, thank your spouse, thank the Lord. Be grateful, be thankful and you’d soon realise that people will become rather excited to do things for you just because of how grateful they know you’d be.
The Employee Mindset
This one is tricky because most of us are employees — including myself. There are certainly more employees out there than there are employers, so the employee mindset is pervasive and quite entrenched in society.
Being an employee and relying on a fixed salary for even a little while can do much damage to your way of thinking. If left unchecked, the kind of mindset you develop as a typical employee is one that embodies all the other 4 dangerous mindsets we’ve just discussed. For example, the typical employee is prone to feeling victimized. You’ll see that play out when they choose to stay in a job that’s just not for them or with an employer that treats them badly because they believe they have no other option. They are a victim of the system. A typical employee is also prone to developing a very narrow set of skills, usually from working in one area for a very long time. It then becomes easy to have this fixed mindset of thinking that they can never learn new skills or new technology outside of those afforded them by their experience. This leads them to cling onto their jobs with a scarcity mindset, believing that this is all they’ve got, as they can never be good at any other job. There’s also the case of easily becoming entitled. A regular salary, whether once or twice a month, leads you to become dependent and entitled. It’s really none of your business whether or not the company you work for made a profit. All you’re concerned about is your salary and its attendant benefits. There are even ‘entitlements’ that make certain jobs more attractive than others.
Unfortunately, the way we do one thing is typically the way we do other things. So, if we cultivate the employee mindset at work, we, most certainly, will carry it home and into other areas of our lives, filtering our decision-making through that dangerous mindset. Instead of having an employee mindset, even while remaining employees, we should cultivate a business owner’s mindset. We should think of ourselves as business owners and our employers as our customers. They are like one of our clients who have hired us to do a job for them. If we do the job very well, then they will put us on a retainer to secure our services when required, and give us more and better jobs to do. With time, they will trust us so much with more tasks and more sensitive information that it would only make sense to bring us into their inner circles and put us at the helm of affairs.
Thinking of yourself as a business owner instead of as an employee is a very powerful mindset shift that has the potential to break you free from all the other limiting mindsets we’ve talked about. It means that you take responsibility for yourself, your work, and the outcome of your life. It means you’ll no longer think of yourself as a victim stuck in a bad job situation but as an ‘overcomer’, willing to learn new tricks and skills to advance your career. You’ll no longer think in a fixed way but be ready to grow out of your role and broaden your horizon. It means you’ll see the possibilities out there, the abundant opportunities for you to serve others, and not a scarcity of jobs. It means you no longer feel entitled but realise that it’s a privilege for you to be able to serve others by meeting their needs with your best work all the time while remaining thankful for the huge returns you’d surely get! This is the reality of the typical business owner.
Once these mindsets shift — from victim to overcomer, fixed to growth, scarcity to abundance, entitlement to gratitude and employee to business owner — happen within you, you’d be well on your way to greater success. For, once again, the subtle but stark difference between successful and unsuccessful people is the way they think.