How many times have you heard some lame piece of advice that pretty much just translates to, “Improve your mindset?” I get why people give this advice. The problem is, simply telling someone to “change your mindset” isn't actually helpful.
So, how do you actually change your mindset? You have to understand how your metaphors define your reality. If you want to change your mindset, you need to start with your metaphors. If you can change your metaphors, you can change your life in profound ways.
Here are some examples of how simply changing the metaphors in your life can actually lead to happier perspectives and a more positive mindset:
1. Arguments aren't about fighting.
In modern society, the default metaphor for argument is war.
"Your claims are indefensible."
"He attacked the weak point in my argument."
"His criticisms were right on target."
"I always win an argument."
All the words we use to talk about arguing are also words we use to talk about fighting. When someone starts an argument with us, we feel like we're being personally attacked. Instead, try imagining an environment where the metaphor for argument was something more cooperative, like dancing.
A point of contention would just be a particularly dramatic moment in the dance. Your partner (not your opponent) would step toward you, not to attack, but to work with you to create a movement that was beautiful and true.
One partner moving backwards wouldn't be seen as losing, but letting the other partner lead because he or she is stronger at this particular dance. This is a very logical thing to do when you're dancing, but not when you are in a fight.
The problem is, not everybody uses the same metaphors. So, you need to be around people who use the same ones as you to ensure you're on the same page. This is a much more sensible way of approaching an argument. You'll learn more and arrive at something closer to the truth.
2. Think of yourself as organic, not mechanical.
A growth mindset conjures an organic metaphor of ourselves. We grow and evolve over the course of our lives. Life is a process of change and challenge, taking us toward a more interesting and complex future. It's like an acorn growing into an oak tree.
A growth mindset means believing that talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching and persistence. On the other hand, a fixed mindset assumes that intelligence, creative ability and character are all given at birth and don't change. Consider how these two metaphors change reactions to different situations:
Fixed or Mechanical: A challenge is to be avoided because it could break us or show us we aren't good enough.
Growth or Organic: A challenge is an opportunity for another stage of evolution, leading us to a become a better version of ourselves.
Fixed or Mechanical: An obstacle is a “wrench in the machinery” that could break down the functioning and should be avoided.
Growth or Organic: An obstacle is feedback from our environment on how we can adapt to be more fit and resilient to future obstacles.
Fixed or Mechanical: Upgrades are difficult and expensive, if possible at all.
Growth or Organic: Learning is great because I'm constantly growing, and whatever I learn can be incorporated into the next evolution.
3. Problems are chemical solutions, not puzzles.
We often think of our problems as a puzzle. Having a problem is like having an incomplete puzzle.
The puzzle metaphor we use for problems makes us think something is wrong with us and needs to be fixed. Because we have problems, we are incomplete and should be stressed about it in the same way we worry about an incomplete puzzle.
Instead, if you think about your problems as a chemical solution, it completely changes the way you relate to them. Your problems bubble and smoke with all the complexity they add to your life. You can heat it up and cool it down. You can add other chemicals to it, and this might make the problems stronger or weaker.
If we use this chemical solution metaphor, problems simply become part of the nature of life. And while we can (and should) do things to address those problems and try to make the solution better, they'll never completely go away. They will merely change over time.
I have problems. Everyone I know has problems. I sometimes have more, and I sometimes have fewer. They're all of varying intensities. By thinking of problems as a chemical solution, you still feel empowered to improve the quality of the chemical solution without feeling stressed.
Change how you look at your career.
The metaphor we often use for our careers is the ladder. What do you do on a ladder? Climb to the top, obviously.
The problem is, it also implies you must climb the ladder. And more importantly, it implies there is something inferior about you if someone is higher up the ladder than you. But what if we decided not to look at our careers as a ladder, but a jungle gym?
Well, you could still climb to the top, but you could also hang from it and feel your shoulders stretch. You could drop to the ground and rest for a few minutes when you get tired. The purpose of a jungle gym is to have fun.
A jungle gym is on a playground, and if there's some assh*le camping out at the top, you can simply go play on something else. Maybe there is another jungle gym, some monkey bars or a fort. There isn't a better or worse way to play on a jungle gym or playground. You just do what gets you excited.
By looking at our careers as a jungle gym, the challenge becomes not climbing to the next rung, but deciding how we want to play the game. It can help us to actually do what we want to do, rather than just climbing the first ladder we come across.
Change how you look at work.
Because we labor as a kind of activity, we have made it into something that is categorically different from other kinds of activity. We make labor into a fixed resource, so that once it's done, it's gone. And it never needs to be readdressed.
But, the problem with this is, as labor is a resource, if you are having fun, you can't possibly be working. That would be playing. Because leisure and labor are separate, we treat leisure as a resource, too.
We save up vacation days so we can spend them later. Leisure becomes something we start to apply productivity measures to in order increase its efficiency. “Did I have the most possible fun last weekend?"
But, work can be play, and play can be work. What's more, playing itself is, in fact, productive. A lot of what we call work serves no real, helpful purpose at all, except to make us feel productive and that we've “spent it wisely.”
Change your metaphors; change your life.
It doesn't seem over-the-top to say the quality of our lives is determined by our metaphors. If we're aware of our preferred metaphors, we can begin to be careful about which subcultures we associate with.
A company culture that views argument as war will find it difficult to compete with a company who sees argument as dance. Not to mention, it will also be a much less enjoyable place to work. A group of people who see their career as a ladder won't be very supportive of you seeing yours as a jungle gym.
If you change your metaphors, you change your life.
This article was originally published on the author's personal blog.