When was the last time you’ve said to yourself, “I seriously need to get my life together”?
We’ve all been there—stumped, frustrated, and overwhelmed during a particularly grueling week or month. It’s normal when things in our lives get tough that we sometimes default to blaming ourselves.
Our minds are inundated with self-defeating thoughts like, I’m not good enough, or I’m going to fail no matter how hard I try.
But while it may seem innocuous—who cares what I say inside my own head?—some of the side effects of negative self-talk are pretty serious and can include higher levels of stress, lower levels of self-esteem, and depression, not to mention it just makes us feel downright terrible.
I’ve been there—I get it—but negative self-talk and putting myself down wasn’t helpful for me. It wasn’t motivating; it made me sad, which made it hard for me to do good work. It is a bad cycle.
If you’re down in the dumps, maybe you’re wondering how you can turn things around or find a new path forward. There’s no cookie cutter solution for every single situation, but one particular tool can be extremely useful if you’re looking to get your life together once and for all: a growth mindset.
What is a growth mindset?
Coined by Dr. Carol Dweck about 30 years ago, a growth mindset is “the understanding that abilities and intelligence can be developed.”
Researchers have found changing from a fixed mindset (one that believes abilities are intelligence are locked into place) to a growth mindset has been correlated to increased motivation and achievement.
A fixed mindset often leads people to avoid challenges, give up easily when confronted with obstacles, see effort as a waste, ignore critical feedback, and feel threatened by others’ success. Negative self-talk, as illustrated above, is part of a fixed mindset.
On the other hand, a person with a growth mindset confronts challenges with an open mind, perseveres in spite of challenges, values effort and feedback as important steps towards improvement, and look to others around them for inspiration rather than competition.
If you have been struggling and really thinking about how to get your life together, there’s a good chance switching to a growth mindset can help you see things different. Here are a few ways you can start applying a growth mindset little by little in your everyday life.
First, evaluate where you are now–in every aspect of your life.
Using a diagram like the Wheel of Life (below) can help you reflect on how you feel about the many different parts of your life. Fill in each slice from the center towards the edge of the circle according to how fulfilled in feel in each area. In other words, the less fulfilled you feel in an area, the less of the block you will shade in. (image source)
Understanding of which areas of your life is lacking and which areas you are thriving in will help you better get a sense of where you can find growth.
It is okay if not many of the areas of your Wheel of Life are filled in all the way—very rarely are our lives completely perfect, and when you’re feeling like a failure, it’s sometimes hard to even get the little things down.
It’s also normal for these areas of your life to fluctuate over time. Life isn’t linear. Also, this activity might actually help you realize that you are doing better in one area of your life than you thought—so give yourself credit you deserve!
The remaining steps in this process will help you gain insight in where you are right now, where you would like to be in the future, and then how you can make a plan to improve in the areas you think would be most positively impactful for you in your life.
Next, identify areas you would like to improve and visualize what that would look like with many specific details as possible.
What would be like if you really, truly got your life together? Try to fill in the details of what your ideal life would look like, and then use the details of the visualization to set your next goals. Here are some examples of goals you can make in each of the categories from the Wheel of Life:
- Money: Pay off my student loans in two years. Put away $1000 as an emergency fund in my savings account by the end of the year.
- Personal growth: Learn a second language. Improve my cooking skills.
- Brightness of life: Attend an improv class. Learn to sew. Go on a hike at least once a month.
- Spiritual life: Meditate once a day. Journal about gratitude once a week.
- Health: Eat more fruits and vegetables. Exercise 3 times a week.
- Relationships: Plan a special anniversary dinner with my partner. Set up a standing appointment with best friend to get coffee once a week.
- Environment: Declutter and rearrange the garage. Rearrange furniture and re-do old chairs.
- Career: Ask for a raise. Write and publish an article in a magazine. Find a new career that aligns with my interests in finance.
This is a huge list of goals, so don’t feel pressured to accomplish every single thing you brainstorm during this process. It is much more manageable to focus on one or two goals at a time.
When you’re choosing which goal you’d like to work on, ask yourself: which one would have the most positive impact on my life?
After you’ve identified your desired growth areas, make a learning plan and execute!
A learning plan includes steps you want to take or experiences you would like to have in order to reach the goals you outlined above that would improve certain areas of your life.
At this point, the usual negative self-talk may start creeping in. This is where a growth mindset can really help dispel those unhelpful little mental gremlins!
For example, “yet” is a magical word–here’s how it can change the way you think about the obstacles in your life. You may think to yourself, “I’m not good at playing the guitar.” You can reframe this thought by adding the word “yet”: “I’m not good at playing the guitar… yet.”
The second thought implies that you have room to grow—which we all do! There is nothing wrong with that. It implies that of course you will get there, you just have to do the work.
From there, identify what resources or support systems you can use to take the next step towards improving your skill set in this area. For example, you can sign up for lessons to learn to play the guitar and then set aside 10 minutes a day to practice. Similarly, with other goals, you can seek a coach for support or pursue self-directed learning through borrowing books from the library or trying out online courses through websites like Udemy and Lynda.
Another way to cultivate a growth mindset is to track progress in your improvement when setting goals. A great way to do so is by using an Ink+Volt Planner you can keep with you at all times.
You can use one of the dot grid pages at the beginning of every week to track progress towards your goal, such as the amount of water you drink each day, how many pages you’ve written or read that week, or number of days you’ve visited the gym. Once you can see the progress you’re making, it will reinforce and emphasize your growth over time. Seeing your own success week after week can remind you that you are capable. It’s important to also reward your effort as you progress; tracking your progress in a planner makes this especially easy!
As you are progressing along your learning plan and facing speed bumps along the way (which happens to everyone, it’s just part of the process), you may be tempted to give up or beat yourself up.
In these moments, don’t let negative self-talk take over. Instead, ask yourself:
- What lessons am I learning from overcoming this obstacle?
- Who can support me in achieving this goal?
- What do I need to learn in order to take this next step?
- What prior feedback have I received about this task?
Last but not least, you can reinforce a growth mindset through affirming your own strengths. (This set of Affirmator cards are a great way to practice affirmations if you aren’t sure how to do daily affirmations on your own at first!)
It’s easy to get down on ourselves when we’re constantly under stress and facing pressure on us from so many directions. It’s helpful to remind ourselves that no matter how long it takes for us to achieve our goals, we are still intelligent, kind, and capable.
Just like anything else, cultivating a growth mindset takes practice. Once you get the hang of it, a growth mindset can free you from your negative self-talk and self-imposed limitations.
When you embrace challenge, see the value of effort, and understand that anybody can improve if they put in time and effort, getting your life together won’t seem so impossible. Even if your ideal life seems a million miles away right now, taking tiny steps still counts.
After all, a thousand tiny steps repeated over and over again will eventually add up to miles and soon enough, achieving your goals will be closer than you think.