Every person will experience a setback at in their career. It might be a job interview that didn’t go well, a networking introduction that never happened, or getting laid off. Whatever the specifics, bumps in the road are part of the territory—and finding a productive way to cope with your struggles is something anyone can benefit from.
It turns out that something as simple the way you think about an obstacle has a lot to do with how successful you’ll be at getting through it. It comes down to your mindset—the ideas and attitudes with which you approach a situation. Translation: Just changing how you think about a problem can help you solve it.
I know it sounds too good to be true, but it isn’t. Leading motivation and behavioral change researchers ranging from Stanford’s Carol Dweck to Case Western Reserve University’s Richard Boyatzis have demonstrated through compelling research just how powerful mindsets can be. For example, in a study of pre-med students, Dweck showed that students with a limited, “I’m as good as I’m ever going to get” mindset got worse grades than those with a growth, “I can get better” mindset. Just by viewing their progress differently, they ended up with different outcomes.
Changing your mindset works outside the classroom, too. It can help you overcome a challenging situation in just three steps.
Let’s take a job interview for example that you didn’t get:
Step 1: Become Aware of Your Default Opinion
Being able to step back from your current situation and identify how you’re thinking about it is at least half the battle. What’s the lens through which you’re currently thinking about the issue? Do you see it as a promising opportunity or a worthless, annoying task? The story you tell yourself—what you currently believe to be true—this is your default mindset.
Default Mindset For an Interview That Didn’t Go Well: That’s a huge setback. This kind of opportunity will never come up again. I’m not good at this and should just give up.
Step 2: Consider the Completely Opposite Mindset
This is where your imagination and creativity comes into play. If you were to think about this issue an entirely opposite way, what would that look like? Instead of a disaster, what if you saw this as an incredibly lucky break?
This is not about which mindset is true.
They all have elements that are true, as well as blind spots. This is also not wishful thinking. Imagining a different one is exactly that—recognizing that a different way of looking at the situation may lead to different ideas about what to do next. Let your mind bounce around a few ideas.
Opposite Mindset 1: There’s a lot to learn from that interview. I bet if I focused on what I could learn and tried again, I’d do better. Time to be on the lookout for the next opening.
Opposite Mindset 2: Maybe I choked, not because I’m a bad applicant, but because I’m not really into this role, and should look elsewhere.
Step 3: Choose
Mindsets are a choice. It helps to imagine each one as a different pair of glasses that provide different perspectives on your issue. Go ahead and them them on until you find one that fits you. Notice how you feel and think when “wearing” it. (Use the STOP technique to tune into how it makes you feel.)
Does this perspective energize you? Does it provide some new ideas? Compare these to what comes up when you consider your default. Keep imagining different perspectives until you come up with fresh ideas that help you feel unstuck.
Choosing Your Mindset: I’m going to look at this interview as a learning experience, and not indicative of my entire career. Next time, I’m going to practice with a friend beforehand so I can go in fully prepared.
Remember, mindsets are never completely true or false. The question is not whether you’ve landed on the “right” one, but rather “How useful is this outlook compared to the alternatives?” So, pick the one that’ll help you get over a career hurdle and move forward.
Photo of person thinking courtesy of CourtneyK/Getty Images.