It might be the ENTP in me, but I get both impressed and wierded out by how quickly humans build certain technologies.
I recently learned that we’ve had an autopilot feature on airplanes for over a hundred years. Which is crazy to me, but understandable. Apparently flying is seriously mentally exhausting, and so autopilot was invented just nine years after the Wright Brothers’ famous flight.
Granted, it was pretty simple by today’s standards. It registered pitch and tilt and where the nose of the plane headed to keep the plane straight and on course without having to constantly monitor each variable. These simple tools mitigated a ton of fatigue.
From there, autopilot technology spread to ships, oil tankers, and eventually spaceships and missiles. Autopilot is now so sophisticated the majority of flight utilizes the technology. You still need a human pilot for an airplane – you still have to know what you’re doing – but even take-offs and landings use autopilot assistance.
Unless something goes wrong during flight, I’d argue some of the most important decision making is done while programming the GPS and autopilot systems.
We as humans evolved the a very similar technology inside of ourselves for pretty much the same reason.
Life is exhausting. We live in the most over communicated period in history. We feed our minds on a steady diet of sensationalism and heightened emotions. Getting basic needs met can be challenging. We master one and the next surfaces. We’re forced to develop new skills all the time. The landscapes are ever changing.
To mitigate the fatigue of life at some point, we too discovered autopilot.
Too much information exists for us to digest and too many decisions require careful thought. Possibly for the first time in history, the challenges created by consumer technology have outpaced the mental technologies we have available to solve them. We live in overwhelm, and we hand much of ourselves over to autopilot.
Our personal mental autopilot is made up of quite a few elements. We’re going to talk about one of those elements: Mindset.
Mindset is a fixed mental attitude or disposition that predetermines a person’s responses to and interpretation of situations. Or in other words, “the mental habits one builds over time which influences how one sees life and behaves.”
Personally, my favorite synonym is “mental inertia.”
Mindsets are a major part of your autopilot, worth revisiting on a regular basis to ensure you protect the ones you really want.
Your brain relies heavily on mindsets for pattern recognition to assist with big and small decisions. If left to their own devices they build capriciously over time through a mixture of propaganda and personal experiences, the latter of which we massively over value. They’re foundational and all-encompassing and where we get ideas like, “How you do anything is how you do everything.” We risk a lot by leaving them to one’s subjective interpretation of chance encounters.
In the more eloquent words of Jack Kornfield, “Every facet, every department of your mind, is to be programmed by you. And unless you assume your rightful responsibility, and begin to program your own mind, the world will program it for you.”
We deny how little control we have over our mindsets, but burgeoning scientific study illustrates our true limitations.
The amount of control you believe you have during a decision versus the amount of control you actually have is a pretty big gap. For example, a recent study shows that your neurons know what decision you’ll be making a full second and a half before the rest of your brain registers it even wants to make a decision.
If your neurology is more responsive and on the stick than your “identity” mind, as Jack Kornfield encourages, you should assume your rightful responsibility to program it.
In summary, you can’t control decision-making in the moment of the decision. You’re most likely on autopilot. But if you take the time and effort to thoughtfully pre-program the GPS system of your mind, it’s gonna be okay.
Our favorite theories about mindsets are:
Live Mind vs. Dead Mind
Robert Anton Wilson
In the audio series “Robert Anton Wilson Explains Everything (or, Old Bob Exposes His Ignorance),” Wilson describes the mindset of Live Mind vs. Dead Mind. A ‘live mind’ is one that explores, questions, learns, and assumes it doesn’t have it all figured out. Conversely, a ‘dead mind’ assumes all the answers have been discovered (at least by those who choose to accept them) and therefore has abandoned exploring and questioning.
A live mind takes some getting used to, especially if there has been heavy dead mind influence.
Similar to being raised on junk food and then starting a nutrient dense diet, it tastes icky.
If you’ve been raised on dead mind thinking, a live mind will also feel icky. Your paradigms will be challenged. Your ego will take a hit. A dead mind balks at these emotions, feeling attacked or triggered. But a live mind welcomes these challenges to their worldview. The more novel the viewpoint, the more perspective shifting and learning, the tastier the experience.
To develop a live mind Wilson recommends actively seeking out information that contradict your worldviews. If you’re a lifelong Democrat, subscribe to a Republican news source (and vice versa). If you’re religious start reading Skeptic Magazine, and if you’re a lifelong skeptic attend a variety of religious services.
Live minds are adaptable. If new research questions older (but beloved) beliefs, a live mind won’t ‘go down with the ship’ from misplaced sentimentality. A live mind accepts ‘what is’ without taking Reality personally, which generally leads to a cheerful and happy disposition.
Don’t get me wrong – there’s something to be said for strong belief in a cause, and the willingness to fight for it. A live mind doesn’t mean ‘belieflessness’. It does, however, recommend reevaluating those beliefs on a regular basis to ensure what you’re fighting for is worth it.
Fixed Mindset vs. Growth Mindset
I love Carol Dweck’s research on Fixed Mindsets vs. Growth Mindsets. I also love the crazy amount of research and data she poured into and culled from it.
Dweck’s work shows the difference between what she calls a ‘fixed intelligence mindset’ and a ‘growth intelligence mindset’. Fixed mindsets assume that intelligence is a fixed thing, or static. Either you’re intelligent or you’re not, with success as the ultimate litmus test.
A growth mindset, on the other hand, believes that intelligence is dynamic. The brain changes based on experience, and often for the better. “Failures” become opportunities to learn, not proof of mental weakness.
Fixed mindset students avoid actions that could lead to failure, giving up easily when faced with obstacles. They fall victim to comparison games or simply ignore negative feedback about their performance.
Growth mindset children embrace challenges and persist through obstacles. They welcome all feedback that helps master skills. Others’ successes aren’t threatening, they’re inspirational.
Children are generally proven to be happier and do much better academically when encouraged to have a growth mindset.
To foster a growth mindset Dweck recommends parents praise their children based on effort instead of inherent ability. Phrases like, “You worked so hard! Good job!” are more impactful than “Wow, you’re so smart!”
As an adult, if you find yourself with a fixed mindset that you’d like to change, Carol Dweck recommends identifying your mindset ‘voice’. How does it talk to you? What are the kinds of phrases it’s likely to use to discourage facing challenges?
Once you identify the voice, recognize you have a choice in how you interpret situations as either ‘successes’ or ‘failures’. When the fixed mindset voice pops up, counter it with growth mindset dialog, “I’m not sure I can do it now, but with time and effort I could learn to.”
Finally, take growth mindset action. Tackle the challenge, learn from your setbacks and mistakes, and listen to criticism.
(For more, check out Dweck’s article “How can you change from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset?”)
The Permission Mindset
When my stepson Sawyer was around six years old, if he wanted to do something or if he was merely curious about it, his first question was invariably, “Are we allowed to do that?”
As a little kid he was still figuring out ‘the rules’ about the world, fearing consequences he may not have considered.
I’ve observed that adults frequently have the same mindset, though they’re socially savvy enough to keep it to themselves. Instead of asking if they have permission to do things they simply assume they don’t. Like Sawyer, they fear implied consequences.
It’s been a long time since my religious days but I still appreciate some of the sentiments. There’s a passage in the Christian Greek Scriptures (aka the New Testament) where the Apostle Paul, talking to the Corinthian congregation, addresses the topic of eating food that may or may not be sacrificed to idols. Apparently the subject was kind of a big deal, and people were getting triggered (as the Tumblr kids would say). So Paul writes to them, “All things are lawful, but not all things are advantageous.”
Meaning – you can do anything you want, but if you hurt someone else’s conscience you’re going to experience fallout.
There’s a big difference between, “I’m not allowed to do that thing” and “I can totally do that thing, but do I want to?” The first mindset waits for permission to deem an action (or thought process, or emotional state) acceptable.
Even being true to oneself may seem to require permission from an outside source.
Here’s the rub. There may never be anyone who shows up in your life and tells you it’s okay to be yourself. You may never get the external permission to live the life you want.
That’s why the second mindset – “I’m allowed to do anything, what do I WANT to do?” – is so imperative. It’s the mindset of sovereignty.
If we don’t foster a permission mindset we end up living a deferred life program, perpetually waiting for someone to give us permission someday… but “someday” never comes.
To develop sovereignty use envy as a guiding star. If other people seem to have a freeness you lack, or resources you desire, or self-esteem you’d love, retrain your brain to ask the question out loud (like Sawyer did), “Am I allowed to do that?” And each and every time answer, “Yes.”
The Awareness Mindset
I asked our Intuitive Awakening community’s Facebook group “How have you seen your mindset shift since you began focusing on your own personal development?” Most of the answers were some variation of self-awareness or a realization:
“Every label I put on something… comes largely from my own experiences, my own projections.”
“The biggest shift in those beliefs occurred through realizing which belong to me and which don’t… whether that belief is mine or whether I sponged it up from either of my parents.”
“Awareness is key, and since becoming aware of feelings in myself and others more clearly I understand better how feelings motivate and drive people.”
“I am a LOT more aware of my emotions, reactions and feelings as well as observing traits in others so I learn how to communicate with them as best I can.”
“Now that I understand how my brain works differently, it’s a relief to give myself permission to be who I truly am deep down.”
“I have become increasingly more aware of my own inner thoughts, beliefs and opinions… I have lived so long as a shadow of my real self that I am only just now expressing the real me. So, I have shifted from focusing on how others perceive me to how I see myself.”
Awareness requires of us special fortitude to see things that we may otherwise want to avoid. Evidence of our poor mental habits means feeling an obligation to do something about them. Most people turn their awareness down, sometimes off.
However, if you want to program your personal autopilot, grasp onto awareness as your number one tool.
If you’re overwhelmed with the uncomfortable aspects of awareness I recommend presence work. In Eckhart Tolle’s book “The Power of Now” he recommends becoming radically present while engaging in mundane activities such as washing the dishes. During the activity watch your own mind’s thoughts with a little distance and zero judgement. Let your thoughts enter, pass by, and exit your mind as if they were cars on a freeway. Remove all attachment and curiosity. They’re merely thoughts on their way to somewhere else.
Building this discipline helps neutralize overwhelming thoughts. Once you develop the ability to watch your thoughts without judgment or attachment, awareness is far less threatening. Even the clingiest and ickiest thoughts drive on by.
Another related discipline is meditation, which works for the same reasons. Eventually the mind is no longer a threatening place “filled with dragons.” It’s a place of tranquility with a temperature you get to control.
If you struggle with awareness, ask for (and then receive) help in the form of feedback. Once you’ve developed both live mind and a growth mindset, the feedback will help you immensely.
And finally, keep a journal. Journal entries are a gift you give your future self. It’s incredible to read a passage from the person you once were and sit with the person you’ve become. Pattern recognize how you got from there to here. (If you read a journal from at least a year ago and haven’t made any changes, that’s a red flag.)
Mindsets aren’t just formalized belief systems. They’re unconscious string-pullers that inform who you are and what you’re becoming. The more intention, design, awareness, growth and aliveness you put into them the more you can program the ‘coordinates’ of your autopilot.
Remember – you don’t have control over a decision in the moment. Your mindsets are your autopilot. They inform your reality and all of your decisions, including the ones you haven’t made yet. You can make awesome decisions inevitable by thoughtfully crafting your mindsets.