Life’s challenges can provide plenty of opportunity for growth or they can overwhelm us.

If you have a growth mindset, challenges provide new opportunities to change and grow.  Challenges can inspire innovation and courageous risk taking.  Challenging circumstances can even force us out of our comfort zones into new and invigorating environments that help us to learn and grow.  For some who live with a growth mindset, life without challenges is boring, predictable, and mundane.

But if you have a survival mindset, you try to avoid challenges.  From a survival perspective, life can appear punitive and overwhelming.  Challenges are the norm.  Those with a survival mindset have developed strategies to survive life’s challenges which have a tendency to wear them down and drain their resources and energy.  If you have a survival mindset, you have learned what to avoid and watch out for.  You are on the alert for what is safe and what is a threat.  And you don’t even notice opportunities.  All of your conscious attention is focused on dealing with the threats.  When opportunistic circumstances are viewed through the lens of a survival mindset, they get very little attention because what is important are threats – not opportunities.

Voluntarily setting goals to achieve objectives requires a growth mindset.  While someone with a survival mindset may be willing to set goals, they may only do so if it is more dangerous not to set goals.  This is common in a work environment when employees are required to set goals.

Before doing my personal development work, I had a survival mindset.  As an employee, I was often expected to set and achieve goals.  This was very stressful for me.  I resented being asked to set goals and felt as if I was setting myself up to fail.  I deliberately set goals that I knew I could achieve or simply submitted goals that would invite the least amount of scrutiny from my employer and fellow employees.

I was less motivated by achieving goals and more motivated by what others thought of me. 

With a survival mindset, I saw goal setting as a potential threat.  For me, goal setting occurred as extremely dangerous.  I was afraid I might fall short, that I may be blamed or criticized for failing to achieve the goal, that I would be embarrassed or ashamed, that I might be singled out as lazy or stupid.  Because I had these fears, I was disempowered by employer-imposed goals and goal setting and avoided participating if at all possible.  I avoided promotions, settled for lower responsibility, failed to recognize opportunities, and earned far less than I could have.

Bill Tierney, Founder of Breakthrough Success Club

Maybe the biggest difference between those with a growth mindset and those with a survival mindset is what a person believes about themselves and their environment.  Albert Einstein said, “The most important decision we make is whether we believe we live in a friendly or hostile universe.”  If someone believes they live in a hostile universe, most circumstances will occur as threats.  Someone who sees the potential danger in circumstances will trigger their sympathetic response (fight or flight) and will only have access to inner resources that are needed to survive the danger.

If someone believes they live in a friendly universe, most circumstances will occur as safe.  This perception of safety gives a person access to their higher resources such as wisdom, intuition, inspiration, creativity, motivation and enthusiasm.  This is the perfect environment for risk taking and growth.

If you identify more with the survival mindset, please don’t compare yourself with those who seem to have a growth mindset unless that comparison inspires you to do the work required to transform your mindset.

Those with a growth mindset will find designing and working on projects to be fun and rewarding. But they don’t have exclusive rights to the rewards of projects. Those who have historically lived with a survival mindset may benefit the most from projects by assuming this attitude: projects can provide opportunities to uncover and transform beliefs that put limits on the potential for joy and fulfillment.


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