4 Mindset Shifts That Changed My Life
For years, I devoted hours and hours to finding new ways to make myself better. Whether by increasing productivity or improving time management, I knew that if I worked hard enough, I could finally live up to my highest potential as a person and professional.
The problem is that it never happened.
Self-help is such a fascinating topic because so many proclaim to know the exact answer to your problem. I’m... not one of those people.
The only thing I know is that when it came down to it, the thing that actually changed my life had nothing to do with my improving my flaws and had everything to do with the assumptions I was making about what it means to be excellent.
Instead of changing myself, what I really needed was a reframe on what “success” really looks like.
These four mindset shifts are what helped me get there.
1. Rest is productive
For most of my life, I’ve worn my busyness like a badge of honor.
But all too often, that badge has meant more to me than my own mental health. If people didn’t see me as “busy” or “productive,” then how was I going to set myself apart from the herd?
I know it’s not just me who has felt this way. In the work-from-home creative entrepreneur world (and, I’m sure, many other communities), the culture can sometimes feel as if 15-hour days are the norm. If you’re not living and breathing your work every hour you can, then you’re not passionate enough to “make it.”
Many of us constantly feel like we have to prove we’re actually working and not just sitting around in our pajamas all day, so we end up working more and having less freedom than when we had 9 - 5s.
And you know what? After years of living that life, I call bullshit.
Resting isn’t lazy. Taking a break isn’t indulgent. It’s actually one of the most productive ways you can spend your time.
If you don’t intentionally take time to rest, your body will do it for you.
It’s called burnout.
And there’s nothing more demoralizing as a creative than burnout -- because you become your own worst enemy.
Essentially, burnout is when your body and mind stop, say “enough is enough!”, and effectively shut down the whole operation.
When I’m in burnout mode, it’s like every move I try to make -- from the click of a mouse to the flick of a paint brush -- is weighed down by an anvil. Even the simplest tasks on my to-do list feel insurmountable, and any work that I manage to eke out is stilted and forced.
My mind is as sluggish as my body, and the only way out is time.
But because I never choose to take this time out, I become resentful and ashamed of my inability to work. As if, somehow, my required recharge makes me less than. Incompetent. A fraud.
It’s not like I never took breaks in the past. I’m actually the queen of procrastinating until the last minute, pushing my limits to the breaking point, and then crashing until the next sprint.
The problem was I always treated rest like it was a prize. As if taking it easy was my treat after doing the “healthy” stuff.
But, as we’ve seen, if rest is the prize, then that must mean we don’t deserve it until we’ve done the work. And more often than not (at least, in my experience), the work is never done.
So I recently decided to reframe and experiment. What if, instead of pushing myself to my breaking point, I built in breaks and intentional rest as part of the process?
The results have been astounding.
By questioning and eventually tossing my lifelong assumptions surrounding breaks (that they’re self-indulgent, like dessert, something I deserve after a hard day’s work) and instead making them a vital part of the creative process (something my mind and body need consistently and often to stay healthy), I slay my to-do lists and create my best stuff more often.
Basically, incorporating breaks into my to-do list allows me to bring my best self to the table.
Rest isn’t optional, and it definitely shouldn’t be a luxury reserved for people who have “paid their dues” by working years of 80-hour-weeks.
By taking some intentional time for yourself throughout your days and weeks, you are actively preparing to bring out your best work. And because you’re choosing to rest rather than forcing your body to do it for you, you can enjoy the break knowing you’ll be back even more powerful than before.
2. Slow down to speed up
Around the same time I internalized what a game-changer intentional rest was, I was floundering in my business.
I wasn’t meeting my financial goals, and it was making me anxious. So I’d feverishly brainstorm a whole slew of new ideas and implement them as fast as I could in an effort to make a quick buck and alleviate the anxiety that was keeping me up at night.
But almost every single time I did that, crickets were all I heard from my audience.
Then, my anxiety would return, followed not long after by shame and major imposter syndrome. Yeah, I had an audience, but clearly they could tell I wasn’t “the real deal” because they didn’t care about the stuff I made.
And because my way of dealing with anxiety is to try to work my way out of it, the cycle would begin again. Obsess over new ideas. Work through the night to implement new ideas. Feel shame over their inevitable failure.
It seemed like a never-ending sequence leading to my inevitable failure. I was hungry and desperate for any kind of relief. So when my sister told me about Rising Strong by Brené Brown, it took me all of three seconds to hit “Buy” on Amazon.
If you don’t know anything about Brené Brown, here’s a quick summary: She’s a university professor who researches shame, vulnerability, and courage. She’s written quite a few books (I’ve read three of them), and she has a viral Ted Talk on her research. Highly recommend looking into her stuff if you haven’t already.
So I read Rising Strong, which primarily focuses on how to move through failures and hardship with courage, and one of the stories involves an executive at a marketing firm who has healthy coping mechanisms in times of crisis. Through life and experience, he’s learned to recognize the way his mind copes with anxiety and stress is to jump into action -- but he’s also learned that making decisions under those conditions is not a good idea. When his thoughts involve plans and lists that are spiraling out of control, that’s when he takes a step back and trusts that his decision-making skills will be stronger in the morning.
That story hit me like a ton of bricks, and it helped me realize a couple things.
First, I had been making business decisions from a place of anxiety and fear for months, and it was severely clouding my judgment.
Second, even though my anxiety and fear were telling me to work work work work work, what I actually needed to do was stop. Slow down. Take a breath. And come back to the problem when I could see a little more clearly.
Mere days after taking that advice to heart and coming back to the problem when I was more calm and collected, it was like a lightning bolt struck, revealing everything I’d been doing wrong with a single flash of clarity. I knew exactly where I needed to go to stay true to myself as a creator and bring financial success to my business.
Slowing down significantly sharpened my focus and sped up my productivity -- not in terms of how much I could get done in a short amount of time but rather how effective and meaningful my choices were.
3. Perfectionism is a cage
Like many other people, I used to count perfectionism as one of my better qualities. What’s wrong with striving for the best? I mean, I’ve always known that I’m a human, and humans will make mistakes, but I never wanted to be complacent with my flaws. That just seemed lazy to me.
Of course, that mentality has led to a myriad of self-worth and self-confidence issues. But more than that, it locked me into a belief that stifled my creativity and limited my potential.
The problem with the idea of perfection is not just that it is unattainable (it is) but that it assumes 1) flaws are bad, and 2) the end result is the most important part of the process.
In the journey toward perfection, there is only stop.
Isn’t that a little… boring?
When I realized that with perfection comes limitations is when it dawned on me that life isn’t about finding the fastest route to the end of the road.
It’s about learning to get rid of the map.
I mean, look. I’m not advocating for eliminating goals. And believe it or not, I’m actually a fairly logical person who likes systems. Unclear communication is one of my biggest pet peeves.
But when it comes to creativity, my biggest breakthroughs have come when I was brave enough to veer away from what I was “supposed” to do, when I stopped shaming my flaws and instead became curious about how I could use them to go even further.
Creativity and perfection cannot exist at the same time because the idea of a “perfect” thing implies there’s some kind of finish line. The highest peak. A place where the work is done. But as creatives, we know there’s always more to explore. There’s always another path to wander, if you have the courage. Why would we want to stop?
For me, it wasn’t enough just to let go of perfection.
My big shift came when I realized I needed to reject it completely.
I don’t want to live in a world where there is such a thing as “perfect” because that would mean placing a cap on my creativity. That just feels like too big a sacrifice to make.
4. You have time
In the wild world of social media, it’s so easy to get sucked into the comparison game. I’ve been using Instagram to share my art since 2016, and right from the start, I found myself getting bent out of shape looking at other people’s posts and the success they were having.
Now it’s 4 years later, and it honestly still feels like I’m constantly playing catch-up. It’s all well and good to talk about going slow and resting, but how can I possibly prioritize my mental health when I still have so much to do, and everyone else is miles ahead?
The key here for me was reclaiming the word “abundance.”
Whenever I’ve heard influencers or other business owners talk about abundance in the past, it always seemed to me like they were coming from a place of privilege. I mean, it’s easy to tell yourself you have an abundance of time and energy and resources when you’re running a multi-million-dollar business, right? (Wrong, I’m sure, but for the sake of the argument…)
But I’m not running a multi-million-dollar business. In November 2019, I was still making less money than when I worked my 9 - 5 after over a year freelancing full time; I couldn’t even afford child care, which meant having even less time and energy to devote to my creativity and my business. I was at the end of my rope, pleading: “So tell me, world, how do I have time?”
Well, the world answered back in the form of Frozen 2:
“Just do the next right thing.”
All of the sudden, abundance made sense to me. It isn’t about living a life with no worries and more resources than you could ask for.
Abundance is about homing in on your belief in your dreams, whatever they may be, and in your abilities to achieve them. Drowning out the voices telling you you're insufficient, and drawing instead from your well of faith in yourself.
For me, it means remembering that, actually, I’m not playing “catch-up” because I’m not playing a game at all. I’m on a path, so I can always start from where I am.
As a creative, it means there will always be space for me, so I don’t need to claw my way over the so-called competition or stress about my lack of knowledge or skill comparatively -- especially if that stress prevents me from creating.
As a creative in business, it means that just because one thing goes wrong doesn’t mean I’m going wrong, and trying to cram years of work into one week will only lead to burnout and more failure.
As a mom, it means I have exactly the right amount of talent, knowledge, and love my son needs in a caregiver, and there is enough time and energy to devote to both my needs and his.
As a human with ambition to reach for the stars, it means that my dreams can change if I need them to, and my possibilities are endless as long as I let them be.
Basically, living a life of abundance (for me) just means knowing you have everything you need to do the next right thing, and you don't need to worry about anything else. Because life happens one step at a time, every time.
Mistakes and bad days don’t add up to negative steps. I’m always moving forward. And I will always have time to take another step, regardless of what’s behind me. Any thoughts that tell me otherwise have no business in my brain.
If you’re anything like me, you’ve hungrily searched for advice on how to thrive being a human for years, so some of these mindset shifts may not be new. These ideas made my list because they challenged lifelong assumptions. Instead of learning something new, they forced me to change the question, and in the process helped me overcome limiting misconceptions about my identity and potential.
Like the title says, they changed my life. And not in the “wow I’m rich and famous now” kind of way (far from it!). But in the “I feel genuinely happy with myself” kind of way.
If hearing my experiences helped you, or if you have any mindset shifts or reframes that changed your life, I want to hear about it! Let me know in the comments, or shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.