5 Expansive Mindsets That Will Make You Flourish Before 5pm
We’re so engaged in doing things to achieve purposes of outer value that we forget the inner value, the rapture that is associated with being alive. — Joseph Campbell
Everywhere you look — especially in supposedly inspiring New Year’s articles — you see tips and tricks for how to become “successful.”
Success articles tell you how important it is to be productive, and they prescribe programs and routines that ensure that you never waste a moment.
They tout plans of action that will help you be the person you should become, rather than the person you are now.
They imply that successful people aim for out-of-the-box jobs, and that anyone who’s working a “regular” job is stuck or simply doesn’t have the desire or drive it takes to be “successful.”
But is a successful life the same as a life of flourishing?
As a person who survived being suddenly widowed when I was 30 years old, and as a psychotherapist who helps people become enlivened by living from the center of their being, I find all this talk of frantic striving toward accomplishing goals to be resoundingly hollow.
Stay with me here…
I do believe that success gurus give people permission to question the work-a-day status quo; and I agree that questioning the status quo is crucial to living a life of meaning.
However, the success talk of today seems like it’s actually creating a modern set of external rules you’re told you must follow in order to be socially acceptable.
These new external rules are becoming a new kind of straitjacket; another externally imposed hamster-wheel-of-activity that replaces the old-time expectation of a becoming a company employee.
I’ll explain …
The Emptiness of Success
Carl Jung said, “I have frequently seen people become neurotic when they content themselves with inadequate or wrong answers to the questions of life.They seek position, marriage, reputation, outward success of money, and remain unhappy and neurotic even when they have attained what they were seeking. Such people are usually confined within too narrow a spiritual horizon. Their life has not sufficient content, sufficient meaning. If they are enabled to develop into more spacious personalities, the neurosis generally disappears.”
You might be like many of the people I see in my therapy practice who have been impacted by the new success rules:
You might be externally “successful,” yet have a sense that something is missing from your life.
You might feel empty, or numb, or like an imposter in your own life. You might rush around a lot, functioning and achieving, but not feeling vibrant or engaged.
You read the articles about moving ahead with confidence, or committing to your decisions, or just doing it in some way or another, but none of the things you try make you feel more alive.
Your frenzied pursuit of productivity and following your dreams has become an “inadequate answer to the question of life.”
What you want is to feel energized and alive while you do your daily activities, whatever they are. Right?
Make Life a Quest for Meaning Instead of a Quest for Success
The quest for meaning is the key to mental health and human flourishing. — Viktor Frankl
What American success culture misses is the need we humans have for lives of meaning, rather than lives of accomplishment.
When you live from a core of meaning, you can accomplish amazing things. But when it’s meaning that drives you forward while accomplishment is secondary, you thrive. You feel enlivened. You feel engaged.
To live a life of meaning like this, you need introspection: “To find out what is truly individual in ourselves, profound reflection is needed.” — Carl Jung
You need to learn to tune in to the still small voice at the center of your being, so you can discover what makes you feel uniquely alive, the voice that will point you toward detecting the meaning that resides within your present activity, whatever it is.
If you make it a habit to listen to your inner self instead of to someone else, you become inner-directed rather than outer-directed. Your inner voice will lead you to discern what you really want from life, moment-to-moment and in a larger sense. Your inner voice will lead you to choose actions, large and small, that matter to you.
On an inner-directed journey you leave the status quo in the dust. Guided from your own center, you can choose to implement someone else’s program for goal-setting or meditative practice or anything else when it serves your deeper purpose.
You never have to follow someone else’s program because they admonish you that you won’t be successful if you don’t.
Now you may be thinking, That sounds great, but it sounds like work! I thought you were going to tell me how to flourish before 5pm TODAY…
Don’t despair! It is work, but it’s work you can integrate into your life as you’re already living it. Right now.
I’ll show you how.
Pausing to Explore the 5 Mindsets of Meaning
Freedom is the capacity to pause in the midst of stimuli from all directions, and in this pause to throw our weight toward this response rather than that one. … In the pause we wonder, reflect, sense awe, and conceive of eternity. — Rollo May
I’m going to tell you about 5 mindsets you can cultivate within small moments of pause, mindsets that will help you discover your deeper self and tune into your inner voice.
Kelly McGonigal defines a mindset as “a belief that biases how you think, feel, and act. … The beliefs that become mindsets transcend preferences, learned facts, or intellectual opinions. They are core beliefs that reflect your philosophy of life.”
Her research in mindset science shows that, “a single brief intervention, designed to change how you think about something, can improve your health, happiness, and success, even years into the future. “
So rather than being a thing you do, developing a mindset is acquiring a way of looking at the world that informs your way-of-being in any given moment. What follows is a single, brief intervention that can change how you think about your life.
To create space for practicing the 5 mindsets that will give you greater access to your deepest inner voice and thus to a sense of meaning, I’m going to show you how to make use of small pauses that already exist within the midst of your everyday life:
At Plum Village, a monastery bell rings at random times throughout the day. When the bell rings, everyone in the community — monks, administrative workers, retreat attendees, janitors — stops what they’re doing.
They stop moving; they stop talking; and they simply take three mindfully focused breaths. Then they go back to what they were doing.
To introduce bells of mindfulness into your life, simply choose one common event that occurs within your days to serve as your “reminder bell.” Examples are stopping at a red light while driving; putting your hand on a doorknob; opening your car door; going to the restroom; getting out of bed in the morning; hearing your child laugh.
Whenever one of these events arises — whenever you walk into a restroom or open your car door — stop moving for the time it takes to take three mindful breaths, and reflect on one of the mindsets below.
Then continue what you were doing.
It’s amazing how introducing these small pauses throughout a day can slow your insides down even when you’re rushing around.
Take a minute right now to think about what you want your “bell of mindfulness” to be. Once you have your mindful pause planned, read about what to reflect on while you’re pausing: the 5 mindsets that will help you to flourish before 5pm today.
5 Mindsets that Lead to a Meaningful Life
Each time you pause during your three-breath break as described above (or during any other kinds of pauses or meditation time you incorporate into your life), you can reflect on the following ways of being in the world.
Just thinking about these mindsets for moments at a time will open you to a more enlivened experience of each moment of your life, and will begin to allow meaning to infuse every choice you make:
1. An Acceptance Mindset: Start Where You Are
The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change. — Carl Rogers
One of the things that bothers me about success and motivation articles is that most of them assume that you’re wasting your time, wasting your life.
Then they scare you, telling you how if you don’t bear down on your lazy self, you’re going to wake up when you’re 75 and hate yourself for being such a loser.
While you might get a lot done when you act from fear of being lazy, fear-based accomplishment drives imposter syndrome.
Accomplishing even your biggest dreams from a place of believing that you’re not okay unless or until you achieve that goal will leave you feeling empty and hollow, constantly reaching for the next goal that might make you believe you’re worthy of being in this world.
That’s the key to the first mindset of meaning: create a safe and loving environment inside your head by accepting yourself as you are.
The paradox is that when you accept yourself as you are, your self will want to grow. Your self will rise up to meet challenges with passion and enthusiasm.
From a stance of accepting compassion, you can be curious about what keeps you stuck, about what makes you procrastinate; and you can bring an attitude of encouragement and support to yourself, instead of an attitude of fear.
You don’t have to be different to move toward success or meaning.
A mindset of self-acceptance will free you to be okay with yourself, and to make needed changes in a supported, encouraged way.
2. A Discovery Mindset: Watch and Listen to Who You Really Are
Life is indeed “momentous,” created by accumulated moments in which the deeper “I” is slowly revealed if we are ready to see it. — Richard Rohr
Once you at least entertain the possibility of a mindset of self-acceptance, you can bring mindful curiosity to each moment of your days. With a spirit of interest and a desire to understand, your observing self and your acting/thinking/doing/being self can dance in relationship with one another.
With a discovery mindset — a mindset of being curious about who you really are — you peer beneath all the messages you might have received that told you to measure up to external yardsticks in order to be accepted, or that you aren’t good enough the way you are.
When you kindly listen to your deeper self, you invite your self to speak. And when it believes it will be heard, your deeper self will speak.
Within each moment, you’ll begin to hear your self express interests, loves, pains, hates. Your self will reveal its sources of energy and passion; and the causes of its paralysis and pain.
A discovery mindset of observing yourself with curiosity, moment-to-moment, whatever you’re doing, will lead you to discover who you really are. Realizing your deeper wants and needs, you’ll understand what kinds of activities and relationships will nourish your soul (even if they’re contrary to what others say you should do), and what kinds of soothing your harshest fears and pains require in order to be healed and moved through (instead of being ignored or shoved aside).
3. A Considering Mindset: Remember What You Really Want
Do not compare, do not measure. No other way is like yours. All other ways deceive and tempt you. You must fulfill the way that is in you. — Carl Jung
Once you listen to what drives your deepest loves and what gets in the way of your passion, you’ll begin to discern which actions, projects, values — and even periods of waiting — will forge the life you want to live. These actions and values will fill your life with meaning.
Here is where a mindset of considering what you really want becomes a discipline that will lead you to claim your life of meaning.
Meaningful discipline is not like this mindset that my dad had taped to his bathroom mirror during my entire childhood (and which sounds suspiciously similar to modern motivational-speak): “Discipline means doing what I’m supposed to do, when I’m supposed to do it, whether I feel like it or not. No debate.”
No. That view of discipline is about being externally directed, about doing what you should do, rather than doing what you are called to do. It’s about forcing yourself to do whatever it takes to get the job done while ignoring any parts of you that object to being forced into doing things that may or may not be on target for you.
Under this kind of externally-directed regime you may get a lot done, but you’ll probably end up feeling internally deadened.
Instead, the mindset of meaningful discipline is an internally-directed one that was articulated to me by Zen priest and psychologist Flint Sparks: “Discipline means remembering what you really want.”
That’s right. When your projects and values spring from an inner-directed expression of who you really are, and you’re in the habit of listening to your deeper self as you go along, you’ll be able to pause at any given crossroads and consider, “What do I really want here?” And then feel right and true about taking action based on what you discern in answer to that question.
Sometimes the answer will be, yes part of me would like to stay in bed, but my deeper value is to be fit, so I really want to get up and go for a run.
Sometimes the answer will be, I know I’m trying to be fit and “should” get out of bed, but my kid is having a hard time and helping my kid is the most important thing today, so I’m going to stay in bed and snuggle with him.
A considered mindset of remembering what you really want will guide you toward a compassionate, passionate, flexible discipline that will address and care for all parts of yourself, and will fill your life with meaning and enrichment. (And help you to achieve your truest goals, too.)
4. A Receptive Mindset: Be Willing to Wait
It isn’t normal to know what we want. It is a rare and difficult psychological achievement. — Abraham Maslow
A byproduct of the meaningful life that emerges from self-acceptance, discovering who you really are, and remembering what you really want is learning the importance of receptivity alongside activity, the importance of being alongside doing.
American culture pushes us to be active all the time. We’re made to feel that if we’re not being productive at every moment, we’re slothful. (And we’re certainly not going to be successful.)
But life doesn’t work like that! Even nature doesn’t work like that. Fallow periods are required for incubating ideas, for getting to know your soul.
This anonymous quote sums it up: Between seed and sprout … Darkness.
That’s right. In order to live a meaningful life, you’re going to experience some static times — sometimes dark and frustrating — between things.
Whether you’re consciously trying to figure out what you really want to do, or whether you’ve been kicked in the teeth by life and are forced to rethink everything (like when you get laid off or your spouse suddenly dies or you get divorced, etc.), there will be times when you must be still. And wait.
With a receptivity mindset, you can counter the cultural push to do, do, do, by recognizing that receptivity is not the same as passivity.
Receptivity is about learning to wait for an answer with aching open arms, rather than demanding an answer and rather than prematurely heading off down a path of action before you know your answer.
Receptivity is waiting in a state of openness and curiosity, applying the discovery mindset you learned in #2 during sometimes long periods of being in the unknown.
Waiting and being receptive can be painful. But they’re vital to a life of meaning. (A truly good life doesn’t always feel good.)
A receptivity mindset doesn’t mean that you wait around being idle, though. It means you move through your activities while holding an open question in your mind and body, and noticing small glimmers and radical insights that flow in to meet that question. Periods of not-knowing and asking are just as important as periods of single-minded, passionate activity.
5. A Challenge Mindset: Seize Every Moment
We must never forget that we may also find meaning in life even when confronted with a hopeless situation, when facing a fate that cannot be changed. For what then matters is to bear witness to the uniquely human potential at its best, which is to transform a personal tragedy into a triumph, to turn one’s predicament into a human achievement. When we are no longer able to change a situation … we are challenged to change ourselves. — Viktor Frankl
Following from the receptivity mindset is the challenge mindset of seizing every moment.
Where motivational gurus tell you you’re wasting your time and your life doing unproductive tasks or working at a job you don’t like, a seizing-the-moment mindset says that you can turn toward every moment of your life as an opportunity to learn and grow. (Which is very different than making use of every moment as an opportunity to be productive.)
Because sometimes you have to work at a job you don’t like to put food on the table. Sometimes you need to do menial work to pay your dues. Sometimes life throws you a curveball and you find yourself in a situation you did not choose and cannot change. (Like I did when my husband died.) And sometimes you’re in a waiting state as described in #4, where you don’t yet know what your new path is going to be.
Instead of bemoaning your fate and feeling bad about yourself because you’re not pursuing some passionate goal, you can choose to face these times with an attitude of challenge.
When my husband was an Army Airborne Ranger slogging through his weekly 12-mile road march with back aching and feet screaming while carrying a 50-pound pack plus 20 pounds of equipment, he put one foot in front of the other and said to himself over and over, “This is the stone. I am the knife.”
That is, he kept himself going with the attitude that his deepest self was being sharpened and honed by being rubbed against the painful, challenging, unchosen task.
I’m not saying you need to be grateful for times of suffering. And I’m not suggesting you should have a happy and positive attitude about hard times. Being scraped against a rough stone when you’re in pain HURTS! It’s okay to hate it!
I am saying that you can allow difficult times to inform you, to change you, and to spur you on.
If you’re in a job you hate, give it all you’ve got anyway and watch how it forces you to grow. Let what you hate about it foster creative ideas about how you might change your situation.
If life has handed you a terrible situation, rail against it even as you live your way through it. See what kind of passionate energy the anger of protest generates.
When you find yourself in any kind of painful or challenging situation that you can’t readily change, you can use the challenge mindset to help you to choose to allow yourself to be strengthened and expanded.
You’re not going to be able to incorporate all five of these mindsets into your life immediately. These things take time.
But you can invite yourself to pause for three breaths right now and throughout your day today, and begin to embrace these mindsets a little at a time.
Each time you pause for those three breaths, reflect on one of these mindsets — just one:
– An acceptance mindset: Start where you are
– A discovery mindset: Watch and listen to who you really are
– A considering mindset: Remember what you really want
– A receptive mindset: Be willing to wait
– A challenge mindset: Seize every moment
Neuroscience and emotion research show that within right conditions our systems naturally strive toward health and wellbeing. These five mindsets of meaning create those right conditions.
As you invite your deepest self to take charge of your life — which is what these mindsets teach you to do — your true self will rise up in gratitude to meet you.
I’ll say it again: When you live from an inner-directed core of meaning, you can accomplish amazing things. Yet when meaning drives you forward and accomplishment is secondary, you thrive. You feel enlivened. You feel engaged.
You participate in a positive spiral of growth — for yourself and for the world — each time you pause and turn toward meaning.
“Finding the center of strength within ourselves is in the long run the best contribution we can make to our fellow [humans]. … One person with indigenous inner strength exercises a great calming effect on panic among people around him. This is what our society needs — not new ideas and inventions; important as these are, and not geniuses and supermen, but persons who can ‘be’, that is, persons who have a center of strength within themselves.” — Rollo May
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