We hear so much about the importance of mindset in business, don't we? It's become a real buzz word - and on the surface it makes absolute sense. Why would you not want to have your mindset in awesome shape? Well, there's one very big reason why mindset might not be all it seems - and why constantly focusing on having an optimal mindset in your business could sometimes do more harm than good.
Read on to find out more about the problem with focusing on mindset, or take a listen to the podcast episode below!
The Problem With Focusing On Mindset: Let's start at the very beginning
For years the notion of a 'success mindset' has persisted in the world of business and entrepreneurship. Take a look back at the 80s and it was ALL power suits, all-nighters and success signaling - flashy cars, slick suits and more hairspray and eyeliner than you can shake a stick at. It was about living to work, playing hard - and cramming in the hours now, so you could sit back and reap the rewards of your success in later life. That was all accessorised with a positive mental attitude - a 'can do' mindset. A mindset of growth and empowerment. People were able to take control of their own futures like never before, and they did so in droves.
The cult of relentless positivity and power thinking was born. Fast forward 40 years and we've learned lessons and evolved further.
We understand that the long-term financial rewards aren't always worth the sacrifice in terms of health and happiness. We know how important it is to take care of ourselves in the now, to achieve that elusive state of 'work-life balance' and really enjoy the ride - as well as making it to the destination. And we're careful to make sure that work never gets to rule the agenda, occupy our every waking moment and drive us to burnout. We're great at watching our diets, our sleep and our screen time. We make sure we prioritise family and fun. We're mindful of our thoughts and watch them, carefully, to make sure they're optimal, helpful and supportive of our goals.
You'd think we have it all figured out.
But... do we?
As a psychotherapist and mind mentor for entrepreneurs, I have to say I'm not so convinced we do.
Because whilst our modern version of a success mindset might look very well-rounded and healthy - in truth many people are still pushing themselves harder than ever in the relentless pursuit for positivity and perfection. Many of us are striving so hard to have the perfect 'mindset' - that we actually end up generating all sorts of additional, unnecessary stress and anxiety whilst doing so - and reinforcing the very problems we seek to overcome.
Whatever social media platform you're on, it's hard to move for motivational memes, blanket 'mindset' advice and the latest abundance hacks.
Personal development has become the new 'must have' accessory in the world of entrepreneurship - and indeed you can't grow a business without developing as a person (it kind of forces the issue!).
But could it be that we're all trying just a little bit too hard?
Let me introduce you to Anna (who's not a real person - she's an avatar I've put together for illustration purposes, based on many of my real-life clients).
Anna is 3 years in to her coaching business and it's going pretty well now.
It wasn't always - in the early days, she had a heck of a time trying to find clients, working out what she was doing with her marketing and trying to build a great strategy based on the freebies and other bits and pieces she came across in the online space. She eventually hired a coach, found a marketing system that worked, and started to grow more established and get referrals.
She's now turning over 10k a month and will probably hit the 6 figure milestone this year.
Now whilst that feels like the dream for many entrepreneurs, for Anna sadly it's feeling like anything but. She thought it would feel great once she got to this stage - she'd celebrate having hit that goal and life would feel easy. She'd be able to take her foot off the gas and just let her business do its thing, without constantly stressing about it.
On the surface, she's made it. There's nothing more she needs to do. But somehow, her big milestone achievement has almost passed her by - and she finds herself constantly occupied by thoughts and worries that steal her attention and mean she's never as present with her family as she'd like to be. It doesn't make sense - she has a successful business. She has a strategy that works. And she has a positive mindset.
So why is she feeling so unsettled - and, deep down - unhappy?
If we look at Anna's 'mindset', it's pretty flawless:
She lives and breathes her business - because she wants it to be a success and she's committed to that happening
She's always looking for solutions - always focused on how things could be improved - and great at spotting the holes that no-one else sees, and prioritising them before they become issues
She's really positive - great at setting goals and staying focused to achieve them
She's become resilient AF! Every time something gets thrown her way, she takes a deep breath and handles it
She optimises her productivity, using every hack she can get her hands on to juggle her time (though there still never seems to be enough)
She's an incredible networker - she's got all the tools, tips and contacts at her fingertips, constantly scans social media to see where she can share them and hangs out with all the people who are where she wants to be (even if she doesn't like them very much)
She has awesome boundaries - she has very strict rules around who she will and won't work with or speak to and never takes time out of her day for personal things
She's always thinking about the next move and doesn't let a day go by without building momentum and traction
She feels the fear and does it anyway - smashes through ceilings, takes on projects that push her, charges her 'worth' (which still makes her squirm) - and finds a way through the things that scare her silly - reframing things that make her feel icky and uncomfortable, even when it means glossing over her values
She's a one-woman mindset machine!
Only - she has no idea how stressful all of the above actually is. She might have swallowed the proverbial textbook on mindset for entrepreneurs - but in doing that, she's tuned out from listening to herself and what her intuitive, higher mind is telling her.
And that's never a recipe for satisfaction.
Because Anna has focused so hard on optimising her mindset for success, she hasn't spotted the clues that indicate her anxiety is out of control - and her way of running her business is leading her to burnout:
She wakes up each morning with a gnawing feeling of dread in her stomach when she looks at her diary for the day, sees just how much she has to accomplish and realises who she has to deal with that day.
She constantly feels like she's dropping plates as she remembers important things she has to cram in at the last minute.
She finds herself working much later than she planned and gives herself a hard time for her lack of organisation.
She panics when she thinks of taking on more clients or scaling the business, because it just feels overwhelming and like there's already too little time.
She lies awake, mentally scanning her to do list and looking for the holes and potential pitfalls she hasn't spotted.
And she's unable to relax when she's supposed to be enjoying time with her friends and family, because she feels guilty for taking time out of the business and like something will go horribly wrong without her undivided focus and attention.
She thinks she's doing brilliantly in the mindset stakes. But actually - her mind is running the show and sending her further and further into stress and struggle.
Let's turn the clock back.
In the early days, she learned pretty quickly that although strategy was important, mindset was maybe even more so... and so she started asking herself this question:
"How can I improve my mindset to help me grow my business?"
She started journaling, because she had read that was the best way to get in touch with yourself and keep growing. She started analysing her thoughts, fears and feelings to try and work out where they were coming from - and ended up uncovering some pretty distressing things about her past that she struggled to deal with. She had a few coaching sessions to try and get to the root of her problems - with mixed results.
She started looking into personality archetypes and reading personal development books and audiobooks to help, and along the way she also began wider reading into optimising her health & nutrition for success.
And she wondered where else she might be falling down... so despite doing pretty well financially, she also started to worry that she had issues with her money mindset and started investigating that as an area for improvement, too.
And as she got more and more lost in the land of personal development, she started to feel more and more worried and less and less like she was in control of herself and her situation.
In short, Anna's quest for a great mindset started to become an anxiety-inducing obsession which took her away from her values, her intuition and everything she already knew to be true.
But isn't working on your mindset a good thing?
Of course, personal development and cultivating a growth mindset is a wonderful thing! It's what sets the achievers apart from the dreamers after all - and it allows entrepreneurs to create opportunities and push on through circumstances that would make many people run for the hills or give up before they made it.
But like every good thing, it needs to be treated with care. Mindset isn't the be all and end all of true success - it's the icing on the cake; the boat floating on the water of your subconscious stress levels.
When we're feeling emotionally good and stable underneath, we naturally have a more positive outlook and naturally have a good mindset without really trying. Whereas when we're feeling less than great and we're trying to build a good mindset on a bed of panic, fear, uncertainty or worry, we can easily slip into what I call 'positive anxiety' - survival mode.
Constant doing mode.
False optimism mode.
I need more reassurance mode.
And mindset can easily become a hindrance rather than a help.
What I also often observe with my clients is that they've become so attached to the idea of positivity, resilience and self-betterment that they lose sight of how they're really feeling and responding in the present moment - in other words, the pursuit of better things becomes a further driver for anxiety about not yet being good enough, strong enough or 'there'.
And when we're constantly focused on the future and how we can get better, create more or solve the problems we might encounter down the line - we lose touch with our sense of control over the present moment and slip even further into panic and disempowerment.
In the entrepreneurial world, it's also not uncommon to become swayed by other people's ways of thinking and doing things and to start to tune out from your own, intuitive way of problem-solving - which can make us fall further and further into ways of thinking and doing things that don't really align with us and don't feel great. In short, things that create more and more anxiety!
So YES, it's great to work on your mindset - but I'd recommend you think about these questions too:
How can I minimise my background levels of stress?
Are some of the things I'm doing to better myself actually making me feel more stressed?
Am I listening to myself in terms of what feels good and the mindset shifts I think I need to make - or am I being swayed by other people's opinions of what's good for me?
And whatever you do, stay away from the shoulder pads.
If you'd like to learn how to manage your mindset (and much more) in the healthiest way to support your business journey, check out my book The Path to Purpose, Peace and Profit - it's the only personal development book for business you'll ever need!
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