Small, subtle changes can make a big difference. At their most subtle (and most powerful) these changes can simply be to our own perception – adopting a different perspective, or focusing our attention on different things.
Here are three little words that can subtly change the way we think, which can add up to a world of difference!
In her book ‘Mindset: The New Psychology of Success’ Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck introduced a wonderfully powerful, yet simple concept: “the power of yet”. Her research demonstrates that by changing the way we think about approaching difficult challenges, and our ability to overcome them, we can have a dramatic impact on our likeliness of success. Whenever you find you are struggling with something and feel you can’t do it, simply add “yet” to the end of your sentence. I can’t do it… yet. If ever you catch yourself saying “I can’t do it”, remember to correct yourself – you can’t do it, yet!
This of course doesn’t mean that you will be able to (or should) master all things at all times, but it will at the very least remind you that the only way anyone gets good at anything is through patience, persistence and practice. By truly believing you will be able to do it, and mapping yourself out a path to get there, the change in mindset alone will greatly increase the likeliness of you succeeding.
As human beings we have become incredibly good at problem-solving. In fact, it’s the foundation for our success as a species. The only downside is that it does make us fixate on the problems that inevitably come up and get in the way of us enjoying uninterruptedly peaceful, stress-free lives. Whenever a problem does come up, we tend to focus our attention on the problem, analysing all the things that make it problematic, and the negative impact it is having on us and our lives. That seems like a logical thing to do – but what if we were to say, rather than focusing my powers of observation and insight on the problem itself, I am going to focus on what I want instead?
Research shows that if we take a “solution-focused” approach to problem-solving, we are much more likely to find a solution. If ever you catch yourself fixating on a problem, or something that isn’t going the way you would like, simply ask “what would you like instead?” The better we can articulate and visualise a preferred future state, the better prepared we are to look for the clues and resources that will get us there. We may even notice that our preferred future state is to some small degree already in existence, however partially or fleetingly. By focusing on that, and asking ourselves how we can nurture and develop the things that are working, we can start to move towards the solution, leaving the problem behind us.
Very rarely are the problems in our lives, our weaknesses, or the challenging situations we can find ourselves in, always as bad, all the time. There will be small exceptions, when things aren’t quite as bad, or might even be good. However, we all too often gloss over those, or even dismiss them, thinking they must be outliers or random luck that we have no influence over. But what if we chose to focus all our energy and attention on those exceptions, and thought about ways we could increase the likelihood of them happening more often?
“Whenever I am in the same room as my cousin we always argue… it’s just unbearable.” Is that really true? Is it completely unbearable, all the time? “Well, there was this one time we shared a joke about a film we’d both seen… and actually, there have been a couple of times when it has just been the two of us, and we got on ok - better than when we’ve been at family gatherings.” So you could say that you always argue with your cousin… except when there are specific things you find you have in common, and when you are away from the dynamic of a large family gathering. So, what can you do to learn from and build on those exceptions, and make them a more common occurrence? Likewise, “I always mess up presentations… except, there was this one time…” What was special about that one time? How can you repeat it? Turn the exception into the norm!
If it’s true that “you are what you eat” perhaps it’s also true that “you are what you think.” We can choose the things in our lives that we want to focus our energy and attention on, the things we want to nurture and develop. I always try to ask myself, am I focusing on the positive things in my life, and making a conscious effort to act in a way that will make them more frequent, more impactful, and even more positive? I have to admit that I can’t always answer that question with a positive (yet!).
Changing one’s perspective can be as simple, and subtle, as making small changes to the words we use in our own internal dialogue, and the way we talk with others. And we can start with just three little words…