If your life were a movie, would you be the director, or are other people calling the shots? It’s the difference between having an active mindset or a passive mindset—between waiting for things to happen or making them happen.
Cultivating an active mindset means accepting ownership of the things in your life that you can control, taking charge of how you respond to the ups and downs, and how you talk to yourself. It’s about proactively thinking through your next steps in whatever situation you find yourself.
Someone who utilizes a passive mindset, by contrast, simply accepts that life happens to them. They are more likely to leave their fate up to others, convincing themselves that nothing is their responsibility or their fault.
Cultivating an active mindset benefits not just your career, but all aspects of your life. Here are the three keys to building your active mindset—taking the reins and making it more likely good things will come your way.
1. Believe It to Achieve It
Decades of neuroscience shows the connection between mindset and achievement. Meaning if you believe that your abilities and intelligence can be developed, you will achieve more. This belief is called “growth mindset” and has nothing to do with age or experience; it’s about understanding that there’s always something new to learn, and that failure is part of everyone’s journey, not the last stop.
How to do it: Pay attention to your words and thoughts because how you talk to yourself matters. Often we’re not aware that our self-talk is limiting, rather, cultivate a mindset where you believe that you can. When we think to ourselves, “Are you sure you can do this? Maybe you don’t have the talent,” instead talkback with an active mindset: “I’m not sure I can do it now, but with time and effort I can learn.”
2. Look for the Learning
When you’re hit with a challenging situation or negative circumstances, look for the learning. Be open-minded to new ideas and thinking: When you’re curious, you ask questions and gain knowledge and fresh perspectives, including how to approach situations in your life.
How to do it: Say you interview for a job but the company makes an offer to another candidate. Instead of assuming that the hiring manager didn’t like you or that there was nothing you could do about the situation, tap your active mindset and consider: “What were the roadblocks? What could I do differently next time for a better outcome?” Perhaps you even reach out to the hiring manager for feedback and plan to keep in touch moving forward. You believe in your ability (within reason) to shape your world: “If it’s meant to be it’s up to me!” And you’re willing to put in the effort—to try.
3. Start with Small Steps
Make an active mindset a habit through small, repeated actions. Important changes and new skills are developed through consistent practice. Each time your actions improve a situation, no matter how small, it’s another reference point for your capacity to grow—weakening the passive mindset.
How to do it: Rather than thinking “I could never do a 5K,” sign up for a fun themed run. Then grab a friend and start walking, increasing your time by 10 minutes a week, to build up your endurance. If you’re intimidated by a particular new technology program, sign up for an online class to learn it. And if the strategy doesn’t work out, what does that say about you? Absolutely nothing. It just means you haven’t found the right strategy. But you’re open to new ideas and approaches, right? (See step 2!)
Of course, there are times when we can’t make something happen, no matter our determination or mindset. Not everything in life is within our control. But thoughtfulness, effort, and planning are. As Louis Pasteur said more than a century ago, “Chance favors the prepared mind.”
Your actions can change the course of your life, so don’t just sit back and let life happen around you. If you run up against an obstacle on the path to a particular goal, rather than simply accepting that it wasn’t meant to be, dust yourself off, learn from it, and give it another shot.