The nature of mindsets

A primer on how our underlying beliefs, attitudes and assumptions create our everyday lives — and our shared world.


Mindsets shape the lives we lead, the actions we take and the future possibilities of the shared world we live in.

In this primer, we provide an overview of what mindsets are, why they matter and a summary of the 3 basic mindset archetypes. We also share a range of practices you can use to more consciously choose your mindset.

What is a Mindset?

“Your beliefs become your thoughts, your thoughts become your words, your words become your actions, your actions become your habits, your habits become your values, your values become your destiny.” — Mahatma Gandhi

Eight principles can be used to describe the underlying nature of mindsets. These principles have been adapted from David Gray’s book Liminal Thinking.

1) Mindsets are unique to everyone

No two are the same. They comprise of our deeply held beliefs, attitudes and assumptions. They exist deep within our inner lives of thoughts and feelings — in the blind spot of our everyday lives.

2) Mindsets are created by our experiences

They are constructed using judgements and theories about our lived experiences. We have experiences — from these experiences we make judgements — from these judgements we form unique beliefs, attitudes and assumptions.

3) Mindsets are imperfect models of reality

They are over-simplified representations about the way the world works. It’s our minds way of understanding and navigating the complex, multi-dimensional nature of reality.

4) Mindsets govern our actions

They are tied to our core identity, shaping the lives we lead and the actions we take. Mindsets act like a puppet master, pulling the strings of our future possibilities.

5) Mindsets create our shared world

They are the source of the shared world we collectively create. Changing our shared world requires us to also change our underlying beliefs, attitudes and assumptions.

6) Mindsets are self-protective

They create bubbles of self-sealing logic to protect our identity and self-worth. Psychologists call this confirmation bias — searching for and recalling information in a way that reconfirms our pre-existing beliefs.

7) Mindsets create blind spots

They filter, colour and limit our perception of valid possibilities. Have you seen this Moonwalking Bear video? When we focus too much on one thing, we tend to miss obvious things hidden in plain sight.

8) Mindsets can be changed

Change emerges from openness — being vulnerable in a space of not knowing. This leads to personal ‘aha’ moments — when the way we see the world is changed forever.

This means there is no way to avoid the subconscious influence of our mindsets. Its hidden web of influence permeates everything — all the time. What’s inside us, our beliefs, attitudes and assumptions — manifests outside, pulling the strings of our future possibilities on both an individual and a collective level.

Why mindsets matter?

“It is not primarily our physical selves that limit us but rather our mindset about our physical limits.” — Ellen Langer

Mindsets not only shape our everyday lives — they also create the world we live in.

They are the principle architects of our future possibilities on both an individual and a collective level.

If we want to change outside aspects of our lives, we need to be open to changing our mindsets. If we want to more consciously create the world we live in, we also need to be open to changing our mindsets.

To create a future of greater possibility — we need to create a partnership of change, inside and out.

The basic mindset archetypes that shape our future

“The most important question anyone can ask is: What myth am I living?” — Carl Jung

While everyone’s mindset is unique there are some common archetypes that are useful to be aware of.

This includes the Fixed, Growth and Benefit Mindsets which are archetypes of common beliefs people hold about the nature of learning and leadership.

A Fixed Mindset is symbolised by the everyday expert.

“In a Fixed Mindset people believe their basic abilities, their intelligence, their talents, are fixed traits. They have a certain amount and that’s that, and then their goal becomes to look smart all the time and never look dumb.” — Carol Dweck

A Growth Mindset is symbolised by the everyday learner.

“In a Growth Mindset people understand that their talents and abilities can be developed through effort and persistence. They don’t necessarily think everyone’s the same or anyone can be Einstein, but they believe everyone can get smarter if they work at it.” — Carol Dweck

A Benefit Mindset is symbolised by the everyday leader.

In a Benefit Mindset people build on a Growth Mindset by using their development to make a meaningful difference. They bring people closer together — promoting wellbeing on both an individual and a collective level.

For a more detailed summary of the science behind each of these mindsets please refer to our academic paper.

The basic mindset archetypes in practice

Let’s say you went shopping to buy some food for dinner.

If you did your shopping on autopilot, drawing on your habitual patterns of behaviour and bought what you normally would, that’s an example of a Fixed Mindset.

If instead, you went shopping and considered making something new and different, and bought ingredients in a mindful fashion, that’s an example of a Growth Mindset.

However, if you went shopping, considered making something new and you also considered the wellbeing of your community and the planet — choosing socially and environmentally innovative options, that’s an example of a Benefit Mindset.

This is a simple example of how the mindset we adopt shapes our everyday actions and the future possibilities of our world.

More consciously choosing your mindset

“We are called to be architects of the future, not its victims.” — R. Buckminster Fuller

How can we become more conscious of the future we are creating? There are a wide range of theories and practices for making more conscious choices, here are a few worth noting;

  • On a personal level, a practice of mindfulness helps us become more aware of how our mindsets are manifesting on a larger scale. This creates the possibility of becoming more aware of how we can make more conscious choices.
  • David Gray’s book Liminal Thinking provides a range of nine practices for minimising reality distortion, envisioning new possibilities and creating positive change. These practices can be summarized as three simple precepts: 1. Get in touch with your ignorance. 2. Seek understanding. 3. Do something different.
  • In a community setting, Walk Out Walk On by Margret Wheatley & Deborah Frieze provides a rich variety of practices communities are using to live the future now. Communities who come together to walk out of their limiting beliefs, attitudes and assumptions — and walk on to healthy and resilient futures.
  • In an organisational setting, Robert Kegan’s and Lisa Laskow Lahey’s concept of a Deliberately Developmental Organization is valuable. It proposes a whole organisation approach to creating a developmental culture.
  • Commonground and the Groupwork Institute of Australia provides a range of facilitation and cooperative practices to harness the potential of groups.
  • PROSOCIAL provides a science for working better together. It takes an evolutionary perspective on creating psychologically flexible groups who benefit others and society as a whole.
  • cChange is a platform and services to help people appreciate the potential for transformation as a deliberate response to climate change.
  • Edgar Schein’s Humble Inquiry and Humble Consulting provide a pathway for creating a climate of mindset shifts and adaptive moves using questioning.
  • Parker Palmer and The Centre for Courage and Renewal provides a range of books, practices and retreats for people, communities and organisations. Their practices encourage wholeness between our inner and outer lives so we can show up more fully — changing ourselves and the world in a single act.
  • Carol Dweck’s Mindset: The new psychology of success provides a range of practices for specifically developing Growth Mindsets.
  • Otto Scharmer has developed a practice called Presencing (also called Theory U). This includes a range of practices to improve the quality of the awareness, attention, or consciousness we operate.
  • The Worldview Explorations Project by the Institute of Noetic Sciences provides a research-based experiential program for middle school, high-school and college students.
  • All of the practices mentioned above work well when practiced within Social Lab’s — a prototyping and safe to fail approach to interweaving mindset shifts with social change and co-creative practices.

Who do you want to be and what kind of world do you want to create?

“You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.” — Jane Goodall

In this primer, we’ve summarised; what mindsets are, why they matter, the 3 common mindset archetypes and provided a range of practices you can use to more consciously choose your mindset.

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