Mindset: Limits and Opportunities

The concept of mindset and tenets has proved useful in the coaching context. It effectively supports cognitive flexibility and brings coachees into contact with a wider range of tools to actively meet the challenges delivered in their life and work settings. It is good to see that many schools of mindset work are moving away from the normative concepts that hide behind such names as growth mindset and agile mindset. While those used to be and still are often sold to organizations, other phrases – like mindset plasticity and flexibility – make it apparent that what’s really at stake is an ability to react to situations rather than to loyally follow old scripts, as transactional analysis would put it. We are dealing with degrees of freedom and a credo that we know from the very roots of psychoanalysis: Awareness widens the range of possibilities – the possibilities to be able to react and act differently.

Despite this dynamic development in the mindset scene, the sales brochures continue to contain some blind spots – not everywhere, but still frequently enough. I have pointed out the roots of mindset in earlier articles (@myndleap @rüdigermüngersdorff @synnecta) and have sketched out a much wider basis for this approach. In the following I want to point out two aspects of mindset work that have not been fully tapped into.

Firstly, I keep coming across the phrase ‘emotionally charged belief sets’. As so often in Western culture, our fixation on cognitive structures and contents demotes emotions to secondary events that only serve to charge something. Psychotherapy has throughout its by now quite long history taught us at least that emotions are in fact dynamics in their own right that must be perceived and talked about as such. All research into the effectiveness of psychotherapy and coaching has shown that the most important effective factor is the relationship between the participants. This has to do not least with the fact that emotions are perceived and felt in the relationship between people. Great value can be ascribed here to the discovery of transference. These phenomena do not merely describe a misperception, but shape the very place where emotions take place before they can be translated into cognitive events or speech. The fixation on methods in most mindset schools dramatically underestimates this aspect of the work. In my projects in the Asian sphere I talk not only of mindset but also of heartset. This meets with great approval in those cultures and provides an approach to elevate emotional as well as cognitive flexibility. Repetition compulsion – the very opposite of flexible, appropriate perception and action – is not primarily tied to a structure of insight, evaluation and decision-making, but to an emotional reaction to the inner and outer context: a scene. This is where links are made and limits drawn, where beliefs attain the power of their message to guide actions. As long as we are unable to talk about the scenic feelings of fear, shame and guilt (qualities of transference and counter-transference), mindset work will not be able to deliver more than temporary patches.

In the face of the cognitive fixation and belief in methods that is inherent to many mindset schools, I keep returning to the same question: Who ever claimed that you think with your head rather than with your whole body? We cannot perceive our emotionality without encountering our physical side; as long as we do not experience the heartset, our mindset work cannot penetrate beyond the surface.

The second major fault of mindset discussions is their blindness for the conditions that are material to effective organizational development. While we are witnessing a cultural turn or a sociological turn in the cultural sciences, the soft consulting scene is experiencing the growth of a psychological approach. The statement that ‘I live my life’ holds as much truth as the claim that ‘My context lives me’. Prevailing resilience concepts call upon the individual to change, and the same is true in organizational development. This approach is based on the conviction that success will follow once all employees have developed a growth mindset, an agile mindset or a whatever mindset. There is a belief that this is the only path to changing our culture and supporting our organization goals. Practice shows, however, that this is an illusion. All organizations have a specific culture: their collective mind- and heartset, if you will. This culture is reproduced within the organization even when all its people are changed. (It is a deflating experience indeed to see a manager behaving so differently during training than in their company context.) In individual mindset work it seems to be apparent that beliefs are localized in the brain – although I would locate them in the body. In organizational development, we need to ask that old question about culture: where and how do we locate the consistent cultural patterns in organizations? Cultural sciences have a number of approaches to meet this question. These need to be integrated into organizational development. They are mostly relational and can hardly be captured with a classic thought pattern of cause and effect. It is about creating visibility for the web of relationships within which perception, decision-taking and action take place. As in individual work, the first step is awareness. These thoughts return the concept of mindset back to its origins: research into mentality in social classes and groups. It grasps how mindset work can help us understand the ties of collective behaviour, while at the same time opening a chance for emergence. Using Robert Musil’s words, we could say that working on the collective mindset means to add a sense of reality to a sense of possibility.

#myndleap #mindset #mindsetcoaching #organizationaldevelopment #synnecta #denksinnlich #collectivemindset

© Artwork: Mitra Art, Mitra Woodall

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