It’s all in your mind

What’s the most impactful work I do with social leaders? Help them ‘change their mind’.

By getting these leaders to change their outlook so fundamentally that they see opportunities rather than limitations…then they move from problem solving to possibility creation. And that’s the difference between treading water and actually swimming to a destination

Our mental outlook is fundamentally responsible for whether we are successful or unsuccessful. Nevertheless, when we face difficulties in our life, we often look outside ourselves for a solution instead of dealing directly with the (default) mindset that is actually preventing us from bringing our vision to reality.

Everything that happens to us, becomes us

We are the sum of our experiences in life: our traumas, moments of magnificence, distress, hurts and more. Our interpretation of every defining encounter in life and the meaning we give to it is reflected in our thoughts, which in turn change our biology and creates new neural networks. We are caught up in a constant process of creation and recreation. Everything that happens to us, becomes us.

That is why we don’t see the world as it is, we see it as we are ourselves, in any given moment. We filter all experience through lenses, creating expectations based on the compilation of our past life experiences. These instantaneous (and largely unconscious) expectations of the world determine how we see, interact and experience it. Our mindset defines our reality. We see what our mind expects to see. As a result, we are living our story, not our life.

Addicted to our story

The good news is that mindsets can be changed; our world-view is neither fixed nor as objective as we believe. The bad news is that mindsets are notoriously sticky. In a very real sense, we’re addicted to our world-view; a kind of consciousness on crack.

Every state of mind is supported by a particular chemical composition inside the body; our biochemistry is shaped by our individual life experiences and perceptions. Often, this chemical mix is out of sync with our current reality; our bodies can be neurologically wired for (and reacting to) conditions we haven’t been exposed to for years.

Our specific wiring however, is paired to a corresponding corporeal situation – a particular feeling in the body. Over time, we become so accustomed (‘addicted’ if you like) to that feeling that it becomes our normal. Too much of a variation from it and we feel physical discomfort, at times even confusing it with a gut-feeling not to change. And, very often, as this physical discomfort increases, we will seek out, or even create, a situation which will bring us back in line with our normal chemical mix, our ‘normal’, regardless of how destructive or inappropriate this normal might be.

You are the architect of your experience

Our world views are self-reinforcing for other reasons as well. We are inherently attracted to what is familiar. We will resist – often strenuously – world views that contract our current beliefs, especially if those current beliefs are in any way connected to our identity. Evidence to the contrary could be sitting right in front of us, but we may not see it because of our unconscious commitment to our current lens.

Again, surrounding ourselves with people and circumstances that correspond to what we expect avoids discomfort. And with each choice for more of the same, our neural pathways that determine our worldview are strengthened. This is true even when our choices clearly work against us.

We all know people who live life obviously on repeat. The person who leaves a toxic manager just to shortly after find herself in the same situation; the colleague who is always anxious and creating stress even in calm situations; or the person who always comes up successful no matter the chances they take or the adventures they throw themselves headlong into. In a very real, very concrete way, the seeds of our success or tragedy flourish in the gardens of our own perceptions.

Transcend your story

Many of the social leaders I’ve worked with have become changemakers not in spite of traumatic experiences, but because of them. These experiences are often at the very core of their cause, have shaped their worldview and is the reason they are passionate about creating a better world.
While social entrepreneurs’ defining experiences are a driving force for becoming visionary shapers of the world, the other side of the coin is that they often are still so bruised by what they lived through, they continue to view the world through the lens created by that trauma and those experiences.

This not only keeps the trauma alive – to their own physical and mental detriment – it significantly limits them in the drive to create a better world. Their strong beliefs about how the world is, what is possible (or not), and a frame limited by a sense of victimization – all of this seriously reduces their agency and ability to see and create new possibilities.

Consciously changing perception – turning wounds into wisdom – enables social leaders to meet the world on different terms, elevating them from problem solving to creating something new, rich and better.

Rewire for success

A bone can be broken instantaneously, but takes much longer to heal. So to a worldview. Especially in traumatic situations, a distortion of our lens can happen in a split second; correcting it takes time and requires conscious, sustained effort.

Fortunately, our brains are malleable (known as neuroplasticity) and everyone has the ability to change a distorted lens back to the baseline of what it was before it was distorted, while transforming the experiences that caused the distortion in the first place into engines of meaning. Wounds can be made wisdom, fear and limitations can become curiosity and creation.

While our brains necessarily have to make selections from our experience, we are able to co-opt the vicious cycle of our brain cherry-picking information to reinforce limiting perceptions and turn this into a virtuous cycle of our brain creating opportunities and possibilities. In doing so we create agency over our life and our vision of a better world.


Transforming our mindset and reinventing ourselves is not a simple mind game of changing attitude, but the result of an actual methodical progression whose steps can be broken down and understood. It requires both a cognitive and physical approach.

Firstly, we have to become aware of the belief that limits our present reality and identify what we wish to replace the distorted lens with. However, merely knowing and being aware of our mindset is not enough to change it and turn it into practice. Self-help books assure us that if we think differently, we will feel differently. But if we only regard the regulation of our lens as a mental exercise, we miss the emotions and biochemical processes connected to these thoughts; and it is the chemistry that must also change

We can only accept, believe and surrender to a belief equal to our emotional state. Secondly therefore, to change our lens of perception – and the behavior connected with it – we have to re-programme our autonomic nervous system to contradict not only our interpretation of the world as we have perceived it so far, but also the emotions connected with that lens.

We have to rewire our neuropathways and re-programme our sub-conscious to match the new lens of choice. It requires a familiarization with a new way of perceiving things and a new way of being which is more in line with reality the results we wish to obtain.

By understanding and mastering your own operating system, you can rewrite your mindset to see the world from a significantly more powerful perspective. As you change your worldview, the external circumstances change for you, and in a very real sense, you become the architect of your own experiences.

Get over yourself

Adopting and integrating a new mindset is a process – it is not another LinkedIn certification. The process is simple, but not easy. Like quitting smoking or losing weight, while the required steps are simple, there are significant psychological and physical barriers we have to overcome to see the process through successfully. Our biology – both mind and body – will demand the status quo and challenge our cognitive decision. You kind of have to dare to overcome…yourself.

High-impact results almost never come without high-impact investment. But probably more important than even the willingness to put in the effort, is the courage to open yourself up to discomfort. Mind-mastery is a mental work-out that requires investment in time and effort to build up and maintain our mind-mastery “muscle”, but the discomfort created is more than merely physical. However, for those that persist, the results are remarkably powerful.

Create social change

The potential to see new possibilities cannot be underestimated. The ability to address social and systemic challenges from innovative perspectives is the only thing that drives society forward; it provides the impulse for our collective evolution. Social leaders who have transcended their own stories and limitations, who have changed their lens and raised their sights beyond merely the next step – these are the leaders who give the rest of us the hope of shaping a new reality.

Share This Story, Choose Your Platform!