If you don’t build your dream, someone else will hire you to help them build theirs.”
We all want to mould happy and successful lives for ourselves. And as therapists we want that for our clients too, because when you help others reach their potential for achievement and fulfillment then you help yourself become a more successful therapist.
But what is success, anyway?
Success doesn’t have to mean shiny head-turning cars or daily champagne breakfasts on sunlit verandas overlooking your Olympic-sized swimming pool.
Success doesn’t have to mean universal applause and approval.
Success doesn’t have to be someone else’s cliché.
Although material gain can certainly be a marker of some kinds of success, it shouldn’t itself be the goal. But before success can truly manifest, something else needs to happen.
Thriving from surviving
Necessity is the mother of invention as the old saying goes, and much success comes from the meeting of a challenge. Sometimes things need to get really bad before you start making them really good if… you have a success mindset. Being stretched rather than chronically stressed is what makes the difference.
If your client is suffering the agonizing sting of post traumatic stress disorder, the despair of depression or the life depriving isolation of social phobia, then relative success will be in helping them overcome these ailments.
Once our needs are met then we have the spare capacity to live successfully. Having problems and having the spare capacity to be successful means you have a success mindset.
3 psychology tips that develop the success mindset
Tip 1: See the gold within the dirt
Successful people tend to see opportunity where others see nothing. They see challenge where others see insurmountable problems. They have a sense of entitlement when it comes to hidden possibilities.
Remind your clients to look for the possible in the everyday, to imagine how things could be and might be rather than just resign themselves to how they are. Have them experience, deep in trance, feeling creative, making connections and working towards success goals.
But to do this they need to also be able to do something else.
Tip 2: Help them gain a sense of their own potential for development
Carol Dweck, a Stanford university psychologist, found that people tend to fall into two categories(1). Either they have a ‘fixed’ mindset or a ‘growth’ mindset. Not surprisingly, we need a growth mindset to gain successful lives.
People with fixed mindsets:
- Have a limited deterministic outlook – they tend to see their qualities (such as strength of character, creativity) as ‘fixed’ traits that can’t be changed in any meaningful way
- Avoid challenges (and see them as threats)
- Notice fewer opportunities
- Give up easily
- Ignore useful negative feedback
- Feel threatened by the success of others.
People with growth mindsets:
- See themselves as a work in progress, not the finished article – so they can improve and change themselves in the service of success
- Seek out and embrace challenges
- Persist determinedly in the face of setbacks – they will find a way
- See their efforts as the path to their success rather than their genes
- Learn from criticism
- Find inspiration and learn lessons from the success of others.
The irony here, of course, is that people with fixed mindsets are much more likely to feel they are ‘stuck’ with their anti-success perceptions! But of course they are not. A successful mindset can be learnt.
Talk to your clients about the distinction between these two mindsets (and get them to follow up on Dweck’s research). Talk to them about how adopting a growth mindset would alter their life day to day.
What will they be doing, thinking and feeling differently once they adopt a growth mindset? What new things will they be learning? Who will they be mixing with?
Tip 3: Get your client to look at success differently
To help bypass the negative “I’m not good enough/I don’t deserve success” mantra you hear from some clients, have them focus strongly on two related ideas about what the success that a success mindset leads to really is.
Firstly, success isn’t about you getting something, but serving something.
A strong hallmark of successful thinking is to think not so much about your own success as the success of the project itself. Millions of us have been taught that in order to ‘be successful’ we have to ‘believe in ourselves’, as if believing in ourselves is a specific action step we have to take on our road to success.
But when you believe in what you are doing, then you automatically believe in yourself, in the sense that you don’t really focus on yourself at all, because you are not – and don’t become – the issue. Believing in yourself in this situation is not a special behaviour, but a by-product of totally believing and focusing on your success project.
So thoughts of whether you can be successful or whether you deserve success just drop away as you nurture your project because that is what you believe deeply in.
Secondly, success is inclusive rather than exclusive.
By that I mean your success should be linked to helping others become successful, as well as you. It’s not just about you. It’s about you helping to lift others too. It’s important for us to remember that.
The great Virgin business empire hasn’t made just Sir Richard Branson famous. Steve Jobs didn’t just make himself successful, but many other people too. And when J.K. Rowling wrote the Harry Potter stories she enabled all kinds of success for others, from filmmakers to actors to costume designers to countless people who were inspired to explore their own creativity because of what she had produced.
So we don’t ever need to limit ourselves to: “How do I become a success?” but instead we should expand our thinking to: “How can I help bring success to the world generally?”
1.) Mindset by Carol Dweck is available for purchasing here.
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