Recently, while facilitating a workshop, I handled a participant’s question in a way that was experienced negatively by the participant and others in the group. My immediate reaction was that I had really blown it, harmed another person, ruined my credibility and damaged trust. My fall blog is about making a difference by choosing our “mindset” in responding to our circumstances. In this situation, I wished I could turn back time and have a second chance at answering the question. I could not change what had already happened, but I did have a choice in how to respond.

So, how did I respond? I chose to trust myself and the group to be able to work together and learn from the interaction. I chose to stop the conversation to address what had happened. With the group, I used the interaction as an opportunity to practice the communication skills we were learning. I practiced being accountable for the impact my actions had on the participant, while modeling “being human.” The group engaged in an honest and supportive conversation where everyone learned, trust was built and human connections were made. This interaction gave the group a “live” case example to demonstrate how we can shift our mindsets on a challenging situation to create opportunities for learning and growth.

In a reactive mindset, we tend to tolerate or survive our circumstances without experiencing freedom or choice. By shifting our mindsets, we can respond to challenging circumstances with greater freedom. We are no longer victims or villains, but have the power to create and shape our realities. This leadership competency can be developed through practice and can make a huge difference in quality of our lives, our personal and professional relationships and our work.

Here’s another example about shifting mindsets on an organizational level. The staff in XYZ Community Center worked long hours to serve clients with significant health challenges and limited access to support services. They worked closely with these clients in a very vulnerable and challenging time of their lives. The organization’s work patterns did not include time for staff members to process their emotions or get support from each other. At a staff retreat, some staff members said they felt isolated, unsupported and burned out. Together they identified a need for self-care, but recognized that they would not change their organizational patterns unless they examined their underlying mindset.

The staff then explored the self-limiting beliefs that get in the way of self-care. For example, many had been socialized to believe that caring for others was more important than self-care. Self-care was considered “selfish”. Another underlying belief was that that people who work in non-profit environments must be self-sacrificing. People thought that they would be frowned upon for setting boundaries and saying “no” when a client needed support. The staff members recognized that these mindsets were learned and were not “the truth”. In this story, staff members were martyrs and victims of bad circumstances, with no choices and no support. By holding on to this mindset as if it were “the truth”, they were limiting their ability to respond proactively to their circumstances. They also realized that they had a choice – to let go of the mindset and create a new one that worked better for them.

They chose to reframe “self-care” as an issue of sustainability for the staff and the organization. They also reframed the ways in which they looked at the clients and their services to them. Rather than seeing their clients as needing constant support, they recognized that they were capable people and would be able to manage if the staff was not constantly available to them. With the support of the board, they made some structural changes to their work schedules so that they would have more down time. They also built in opportunities for staff to get support. This shift required adopting a mindset that investing in the wellbeing of staff was an investment in the wellbeing of the organization and the people it served. In the new story, the staff members were active agents in creating their circumstances, surrounded by supportive colleagues and capable clients.

Mindsets aren’t inherent. They are learned. Our mindsets can keep us trapped in patterns that don’t work for us. Mindsets can be held by individuals or by an entire group. When we separate our viewpoints from the circumstance, we can create a different mindset or viewpoint that allow us to break free of old patterns and create new ones. The following are steps that can be used in transforming mindsets:

  1. Tell the story about the challenge you are facing. Write it down and tell it to another person or discuss it within the group. Include your story about the circumstances, yourself and others.
  2. Separate your viewpoint from circumstances. Acknowledge what is real and what is the mindset or reaction to the circumstances. Underline or circle the circumstances that you don’t control. Acknowledge that everything else is your viewpoint and that you have a choice to hold on to it or let go of it.
  3. Acknowledge the impact that of your mindset. Is it self-limiting? Does it cause suffering or loss of power? Do you feel stuck, lacking choices? Are you in a reactive mode, rather than responding to the circumstances?
  4. Acknowledge any resistance to giving up the mindset. Is there a need you are meeting by holding on the mindset? If so, honor that need and explore ways to get it addressed. Address the roots of that resistance and make a choice. If you choose to hold on to the mindset, don’t make yourself wrong. It’s your choice.
  5. Create and try on different viewpoints. You may want to try on a number of different viewpoints or mindsets until you find one that resonates for you or the group. Create a new viewpoint about the circumstances, yourself and others.
  6. Communicate/share with others in a way that moves and inspires you. As you share with others, you fortify your own shift in mindset and create openings for others to shift theirs as well.
  7. Identify and take actions based on your new viewpoint. Notice any difference in how your circumstances occur to you. Continue to share with others.
  8. Repeat the steps in the process any time you feel “stuck” are suffering in your circumstances. Stay connected to others for support and keep channels of communication open.

In conclusion, it is not our circumstances that cause suffering or joy. It is the viewpoints we hold toward them. We have a choice about our viewpoints and can build our individual and collective capacity to choose viewpoints that empower us. In a reactive mindset we tend to tolerate or survive our circumstances and experience little freedom or choice.

Note to readers: I hope you enjoyed reading “Lessons from the Field.” If you find this information useful and want to share it with others for purposes of learning (not for profit), please feel free to do so. Please acknowledge Mayeno Consulting and include my web address ( if you pass it on to others. Thanks!