My daughter and first child was born 15 months ago — an amazing gift. She’s changed everything about my life, particularly the what and how of my thinking. And as I watch her grow up I can’t help but imagine all of the amazing possibilities for her. I can’t wait to see her unleash her gifts on the world.

What is it about children that makes parents so hopeful for them? Is it their endless exploration? Their boundless energy? Their intrigue and deep desire for continuous learning? Whatever it is, you can’t help but feel optimistic as you watch them grow.

I believe that children are born with a growth mindset: the feeling that the future is malleable based on our potential as human beings to change and grow. But somewhere along the way that outlook — that fire that creates success — has wet blanket after wet blanket thrown on top of it.

Our ability to flicker and shine is gone, replaced with the helpless nature of the ashes left behind. And the wind — that external force that used to provide the vital oxygen we thrived on — now carries us aimlessly through life, depositing us wherever it chooses.

What the hell happened?

Mindset is everything. The success triangle teaches us that mindset is the third key; the missing link. Information, research, facts, knowledge, literature — it’s all meaningless when fed to a pile of ashes.

Our Mindset Voice

Our mindset is influenced by our emotional self — which is influenced by our experiences and relationships — and manifests as our “Mindset Voice.” This mindset voice talks to us throughout the day and influences the actions we take…or don’t take.

For some people, their mindset voice is a motivational one, driving them to take positive action day in and day out. These people turn to solutions instead of excuses. They give other people credit for their victories. They accept responsibility for their failures, learn from their mistakes, set goals, and embrace change. They want others to succeed. Their fire still burns and they continue to shine.

For others it’s a completely different story. If you have a fixed mindset — the ashes of your former fire — you easily succumb to the negative messages that fill your head: “I’m not strong enough,” “I’m not smart enough,” “I don’t deserve that,” “See, I told you it wouldn’t work.”

You even think negatively about others because that’s the only mindset that equalizes your position with them: “I hope she fails at that new job she got,” “I hope he gains weight on that new eating program,” “I found the answer but I’m not going to give it to anyone else.”

To be clear, some of these negative thoughts creep into all of our heads. But when our fire is alive and flickering, we quickly let those negative thoughts pass and we take action in the opposite direction of them.

If your fire is extinguished and remains that way for too long, these negative thoughts make your world darker and darker. You don’t just put up walls, you build a prison — your Personal Alcatraz.

What a lonely place.

The human mind remains powerful though. And no matter how long you dwell in your Personal Alcatraz, escape is possible. There always remains a small ember at the pile of ashes, glowing and waiting for the opportunity to set you ablaze.

Prison Break: Becoming is Better Than Being.

As I sit writing this, sipping on a warm cup of coffee, a song plays on repeat through Spotify. I tend to listen to songs over and over again before moving on. With this particular song by Talib Kweli, I’m most interested in the hook:

I rise as day breaks,
Clouds hide the sun’s rays.
Quick sand and mistakes,
Smash walls to get through.
I fight the good fight,
Even on the bad days.
It’s darkest before light,
I’m gonna push through.

~ Talib Kweli

The second half of that hook speaks clearly to me. What would be possible for you if you adopted this mindset: “I fight the good fight, even on the bad days. It’s darkest before light, I’m gonna push through.”

If you’re sitting in a cell locked deep within your Personal Alcatraz, I imagine it’s not very sunny. It’s a dark, lonely place. Regardless of how dark it is, the truth often remains that it’s darkest before light.

Let’s get back to that ember that’s sitting at the bottom of your pile of ashes waiting to reignite you because that ember is your ability to change your Mindset Voice.

And that starts by shifting from a state of being to a state of becoming. Strip yourself of the labels you, or others, have placed on yourself. Stop being this or that. Start becoming whatever it is you want to be.

Hell yes! But how?

Grab Your Spoon and Dig.

In September of 1961 John Anglin, Frank Morris, and Allen West were planning their escape from Alcatraz prison. For close to a year, they used spoons stolen from the prison cafeteria to dig out the walls in their cells, which gave them access to the prison’s corridor system.

On June 11, 1962, they escaped and were never found.

There’s two lessons in this story: a very small and simple tool can lead you to accomplish the impossible and perseverance over the long-term is often required.

This type of article — the one you’re reading now — could easily get swallowed up by philosophy and never spit out an ounce of action. That’s not how I roll, so this is where the philosophy meets action. Here are your spoons — take them and go dig.

Stop Seeing Life as Zero-Sum.

“In game theory and economic theory, a zero-sum game is a mathematical representation of a situation in which a participant’s gain (or loss) of utility is exactly balanced by the losses (or gains) of the utility of the other participant(s).”

Your weight, your income, your happiness, your motivation, your passion, your abilities, and your success are not limited by others or by random external events.

I fight the good fight even on the bad days because I know that specific mindset positively influences what will happen tomorrow or the next day regardless of what those around me are doing and regardless of what it appears the world is doing to me.

When my neighbor gets a great slice of the pie, that doesn’t mean my slice will be smaller. As my neighbor grows, I too can grow. The pie grows. Everybody wins.

There is no rule that says how you feel and how you act must be married.

Divorce those things from each other. One way to immediately take control of your situation is to act as-if. You may not feel that you are capable or deserving of what you want, but you can always act as-if you’re the person who already has it.

Whatever we learn to do, we learn by actually doing it; men come to be builders, for instance, by building, and harp players by playing the harp. In the same way, by doing just acts we come to be just; by doing self-controlled actions we come to be self-controlled; and by doing brave acts, we become brave. ~ Aristotle

Are you sitting around waiting for bravery to strike you? I can’t take action because I’m not brave enough yet. You never will be. Divorce how you act from how you feel and starting acting as-if. Just go do it.

Break free from the chains of habit.

Unlucky people are stuck in routines. When they see something new, they want no part of it. Lucky people always want something new. They’re prepared to take risks and relaxed enough to see the opportunities in the first place. ~ Richard Wiseman

Some of us are creatures of habit that easily slip into routines and fall victim to patterning. This is marked by inflexibility and resistance to change. This presents a huge problem when we realize that the behaviors that got us into our Personal Alcatraz won’t get us out. Change is a requirement.

Emotional eating and mindless eating are often built on a foundation of habit. Escaping those habits requires that we break free from our general state of inflexibility.

A psychological change can occur using a technique called DSD (Do Something Different). DSD is a series of conscious attempts to change the small, insignificant habits in your daily life: shuffle your schedule around, draw or paint instead of watch television, ignore your cell phone for a day, take a break from social media, drive a different route to work, and so on.

These small changes kindle flexibility and that flexibility can be built upon. As it grows it begins to shift your mindset in a way that allows for openness and acceptance of larger changes (such as changing eating and exercise habits).

Consciously teach yourself a new Mindset Voice.

Here’s your last spoon.

In order to bury your oppressive mindset voice and adopt one that frees you, teach yourself what that new voice should sound like.

Use a journal to write down every line your oppressive mindset voice feeds you during the day. Before bed, open your journal and begin to translate the entries. This is what my oppressive mindset voice told me and this is what I want my mindset voice to tell me in the future.

Oppressive mindset voice: “My metabolism couldn’t burn a half digested grape — I’m going to be fat forever!”

Growth mindset voice: “If I feed my body real food and stop trashing it, that behavior will set my metabolism on fire! Excess fat is going to melt off of me.”

This is far more than just “positive thinking.” Instead of just imagining what you want, you’re telling yourself the truth. This is where I am and this is where I want to be and this is how I’m going to get there.

Truth works both ways. Telling yourself that your metabolism sucks and you’ll be fat forever isn’t the truth. Using positive thinking to dream up fairy tales and hoping that those positive thoughts will somehow manifest isn’t the truth either.

A growth mindset voice tells you the truth about where you are and where you want to go and bridges that with a realistic plan for how to get there. The difference — besides being rooted in truth — is that it’s an optimistic voice rather than an oppressive, pessimistic, self-defeating one.

What will you do now?

One thing society is seriously adept at is consuming information and doing nothing with it. If you’ve read this blog for any length of time or have listened to my podcasts, you know I’m all about taking action. So, what will you do now?

Here’s a challenge: Don’t just share this post and move on. Choose one action step from this post and SHARE the post on Facebook along with the action step you intend to take — make this public to hold yourself accountable. And along with your share, challenge your friends or family to choose an action step also.

If you want bonus points, use the comments below and tell me which action step you’re actually going to do something with.

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