Perception is the lens through which we view reality.
We currently live in a perfection-driven society that strongly values talent and the achievement of goals. However, recent surveys show that very few people set realistic goals for themselves and for those that do, an even smaller percentage are ever able to achieve them.
Psychologist Carl Rogers believed that everyone is capable of achieving their goals, wishes, and desires in life. In fact, he believed that all humans are driven by an “actualizing tendency” or a need to succeed at the highest possible level. Rogers described the “good life” as a continuous state of becoming where people continually strive to succeed:
“It seems to me that the good life is not any fixed state. It is not, in my estimation, a state of virtue, or contentment, or nirvana, or happiness. It is not a condition in which the individual is adjusted, fulfilled, or actualized….The good life is a process, not a state of being…It is a direction, not a destination. The direction…is that which is selected by the total organism when there is psychological freedom to move in any direction.”
Psychologist Abraham Maslow also placed a strong emphasis on human potential. Maslow contended that all humans have an innate drive to reach higher levels of wisdom and consciousness, a state he referred to as self-actualization. Furthermore, Maslow believed that all humans are capable of having peak experiences, which he defined as:
“An almost overwhelming sense of pleasure, euphoria or joy, a deep sense of wonder or awe, feeling in harmony or at one with the universe, altered percepts of time and/or space, a deep feeling of love, greater awareness of beauty or appreciation, and a sense that it would be difficult or impossible to describe adequately in words.”
Maslow believed that peak experiences often follow a period of struggle and resistance to self-actualization and are accompanied by a loss of fear, anxiety, and self- doubts. These experiences help create intrinsic motivation and build a foundation for true authentic happiness.
If Roger’s and Maslow were right and we are driven by a need to become the best version of ourselves, why is it that so few people are successful in achieving their goals? For starters, the process of personal transformation begins by developing and maintaining a healthy self-concept. Our self-concept represents the perceptions and beliefs that we have about ourselves, which has a significant impact on our behaviors and can determine our future success. Our self-concept is composed of two parts: our self-worth (how we think about ourselves) and self-image (how we see ourselves). Not surprisingly, people that have a positive self-concept are more confident in their abilities and believe they can conquer any challenges to achieve their goals. In the workplace, these individuals believe their contributions are valuable and that they possess the necessary knowledge and talent to achieve success. On the other hand, people who possess a negative self-concept tend to be more pessimistic, have lower self-confidence and question whether they have the necessary skills and competencies to achieve their goals.
“A man is but the product of his thoughts…what he thinks, he becomes.” ~ Gandhi
What it boils down to is that with the right mindset, everyone is capable of transformation and achieving their ultimate success. Our mindset represents the perceptions we have regarding our level of intelligence, creativity, artistry, and/or athleticism. Our mindset serves a number of cognitive functions by directing our attention to important social cues and helping to navigate critical information we need to pay attention to. Our mindset also assists us in goal selection and primes us with reasonable courses of action needed to achieve those goals. Of course, the journey towards self-actualization involves being in the right mindset and having self-awareness to avoid any of the following mindset traps that will hinder our ability to be successful.
The Fixed Mindset
People with a fixed mindset believe their abilities are static traits that cannot be altered in any meaningful way. This concept was developed by Stanford psychologist, Carol Dweck, who spent decades reviewing research on achievement and success. According to Dweck, “In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic abilities, their intelligence, their talents, are just 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.” People with a fixed mindset believe that talent alone creates success, eliminating the need to “put in the extra effort” to try and improve. In order to maintain their inherent abilities, people with a fixed mindset strive for success and avoid failure at all costs. They constantly seek validation and are highly sensitive to any type of constructive criticism.
Fixed Mindset Beliefs…
“I’m not a natural athlete.”
“It’s hard for me to lose weight.”
“I’m not a creative person.”
Fixed Mindset Consequences…
Decreased intrinsic motivation to achieve goals.
Prohibited growth toward personal mastery.
Inhibited risk-taking due to a fear of failure.
A lack of skill development and growth.
The Victim Mindset
People with a victim mindset believe they are the target of other people’s negative actions. They frequently underestimate their influence or abilities and because they often feel powerless, learn to embrace a state of learned helplessness. A victim mindset leads people to read negative intentions into neutral conversations or situations, causing undue conflict and turmoil. A victim mindset is driven by an underlying feeling of powerlessness, and in order to avoid that feeling, people will blame someone or something else for causing that feeling. When people feel they are a victim of other people’s actions, they feel even more powerless to fix it, engaging in a vicious cycle. Many studies have found a link between learned helplessness and feelings of failure, depression, and greater susceptibility to illness.
Victim Mindset Beliefs…
“I am powerless.”
“I’ll never get what I want”
“I’m not as good as other people.”
Victim Mindset Consequences…
Unwillingness to take even small, calculated risks.
Lack of meaningful relationships.
A tendency toward a state of learned helplessness.
The Perfectionist Mindset
People with a perfectionist mindset refuse to accept any standards short of perfection and often set unrealistically high expectations. Perfectionists are afraid of making mistakes and gauge their self-worth on the basis of being as perfect as possible. They fear being unable to accomplish goals within a realistic time-frame, leading them to avoid challenging tasks and goal-directed behaviors. Perfectionists strive to be flawless and set excessively high-performance standards for both themselves and others. They are often highly critical of themselves and worry about how others will perceive them. This type of upward social comparison can lead to greater levels of depression and anxiety. A recent study conducted by Thomas Curran and Andrew P. Hill examined 41,641 college students from the late 1980’s through 2016 and found that a majority exhibited signs of “multidimensional perfectionism” or perfectionism driven by unrealistically high expectations. Basically, these college students felt significant pressure to measure up to their peers. The authors cited social media as being a contributing factor for creating intense feelings of pressure, leading young people to develop irrational social ideals of the perfectible self that, while unrealistic, to them seem highly desirable and obtainable.
Perfectionist Mindset Beliefs…
“If I am not perfect than I am a failure.”
“I have to do everything myself.”
“If I don’t do it, no one will.”
Perfectionist Mindset Consequences…
Task avoidance and high levels of procrastination.
Social comparisons and reassurance seeking.
Avoidance of situations that may test one’s performance (e.g., tests).
The Burned-Out Mindset
People with a burned-out mindset frequently feel powerless to change their situations. A burned-out mindset is often the result of toxic work environments or a lack of self-care. A burned-out mindset frequently leads people to view their talents and abilities as lacking or deficient in some way. They also tend to have skewed perceptions of the amount of time and energy that is needed to effect change, causing them to feel unmotivated in trying to change negative circumstances. A burned-out mindset leads people to have a pessimistic outlook, believing that their current circumstances will never change no matter what.
Burned-Out Mindset Beliefs…
“I am too old to start over.”
“You cannot teach an old dog new tricks.”
“It will just be the same old thing wherever I choose to go.”
Burned-Out Mindset Consequences…
A belief that feelings are permanent.
A tendency to interpret past obstacles, adversities, and mistakes as the cause of current circumstances.
An inability to self-regulate and improve mood.
The Entitled Mindset
People with an entitled mindset perceive that they are deserving of unearned privileges. In fact, they frequently believe that privileges are rights and expect that people treat them as such. People with an entitled mindset lack personal responsibility and frequently demonstrate a general lack of appreciation for the sacrifices of others. They are often unable or unwilling to accept that any problems are of their own making and often live in a state of denial. People with an entitled mindset ultimately believe they deserve special treatment and will often disregard any consequences of their choices. They make unrealistic demands and are oblivious if their personal happiness comes at another’s expense.
Entitled Mindset Beliefs…
“I don’t have to follow the rules that apply to other people.”
“Other people don’t deserve the good things that they get.”
“I can do no wrong.”
Entitled Mindset Consequences…
Relationships that are superficial and one-sided.
A tendency to overrate abilities and achievements.
A state of vulnerability and volatility when expectations are not being met.
Because our perceptions of ourselves have a profound impact on our attitudes and behaviors, it can be concluded that our mindset largely determines our ability to be successful. Dweck believes that the key to personal mastery and achieving ultimate success is to develop a “growth mindset.” People who have a growth mindset thrive on challenges and are not afraid to fail. In fact, people with a growth mindset view failure as a springboard for growth and an opportunity to stretch their existing abilities. They do not blame others for mistakes or when their expectations are not met. Instead, they view setbacks as an opportunity to improve, grow, and learn from their mistakes.
Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. Random House Incorporated.
Hill, A. P., & Curran, T. (2016). Multidimensional perfectionism and burnout: A meta-analysis. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 20(3), 269-288.
Maslow, A. H. (2013). Toward a psychology of being. Simon and Schuster.
Rogers, C. R. (1995). On becoming a person: A therapist’s view of psychotherapy. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.