Keys to a Hacking Mindset

09/13/2016 09:19 am ET

I went to school when I was three days old—literally.

My siblings, 2 and 3.5 at the time, attended preschool in the basement of the local church, and it was my mother’s day to volunteer, so she bundled me up, put me in a blue wicker basket, deposited me in the “way-back” of their rambling Wagoneer Jeep and off we went. It’s safe to say that was emblematic of my childhood. Keep up or else. (I never dared to “test” what else could happen….)

Call me a late bloomer or just slow, but I was at least 4 before I realized that my siblings were older than me and that maybe I shouldn’t be able to keep up with everything that they were doing. The upside of not knowing this is that it instilled in me a powerful mindset.

Early on, I was clear that I needed to be creative to keep up. The ever-present question that churned in my mind was this: What should I be doing so that I don’t get left behind? Having worked through the emotional “trauma” (specifically, the belief that as a little kid, I might have been left behind), I was left with a profound mindset—one oriented to achieving goals in the present and future.

I cultivated a capacity to anticipate outcomes and problem solve proactively. I would first identify the needed outcomes and then figure out how to get there easier, faster, quicker (or at least just as quickly as my siblings!).

What started with a desire to continue hiking with my shorter legs, transitioned into how to make sure I got my share of the homemade popsicles and eventually morphed into exploring how to achieve a balanced playing fields. The disadvantage as the youngest in my family became the training ground or boot camp for a skill set that has been both fulfilling, rewarding and dare I say, even lucrative.

Adopt a Growth Mindset

Strange as it might seem, I always believed that I could keep up, if I was creative, determined and persistent enough. Set backs were only an opportunity to learn something new. Apparently, this is a growth mindset.

In her book Mindset, Carol Dweck differentiates fixed mindsets (those who believe their success is based on innate abilities) from growth mindsets (those who believe their success is based on hard work, learning, training, determination and grit). This simple distinction speaks to the different ways that one navigates life but particularly, it speaks to failure. Fixed mindset people dread failure as it feels deeply personal. Growth mindset people respond to failure by determining what they need to learn and how they can improve. Early on (I don’t recall the specifics), I developed a growth mindset. Being left behind was simply not an option.

Foster Your Internal Locus of Control

Early on, I came to believe that my experiences were the result of my actions. Said differently, I “learned” that if I was left behind, it was my fault. Psychologists call this an internal locus of control. Believing that I am responsible for my own reality is a profoundly powerful belief system. After all, you build the bed you lie in.

At the core of a hacking mindset is the belief that we have choices and that the actions we take can shape the outcome. There is a tremendous energy that comes from creating your own reality (and simultaneously, if your life doesn’t match your dream life, it can be very frustrating).

Ask Empowering Questions

We all have questions that repeat in the background of our minds. These questions become so deeply woven into the fabric of our soul they shape our every action. Some questions can be very “destructive” - will I be enough? Am I loved? (You can see how fear of being “left behind” could have gone here…) AND some questions can be deeply inspiring - How can I make today an even better day?

Core to the hacking mindset are questions that force clarity on what you want and creativity on how you get there.

Be Clear on the Outcome and Flexible on the Approach

Tomorrow’s problems can’t be solved with today’s thinking. We have to anticipate, to get creative, to adapt. Flexibility is a key part of solving problems.

When I was young, my brother and I used to love to wrestle. He was 3.5yrs older and I wanted to “be competitive,” so we negotiated the conditions. He could only use one arm (the other had to be inside his t-shirt), and I could pull hair (and yes, my mother hated this activity). Keeping up with my brother was hard but it was also empowering. Most notably, I learned how keeping up is connected to flexibility.

In our ever-changing world, agility is essential to leadership too, but it begins by asking better questions, embracing a belief that anything is possible and of course, adopting what I like to call a hacking mindset. What’s the hacking mindset? It’s about clearing away the clutter and focusing on your goals. It’s about changing your behaviors and actions to develop the mindset needed to keep up without burning out. It’s about facing adversity with clarity and conviction. Finally, the hacking mindset is about embracing creativity. And whether you’re three or 50, adopting a hacking mindset is one way will guarantee you never get left behind.

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