Chapter 14 - Mindsets and Metaphors

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Many people die at twenty five and aren’t buried until they are seventy five. —Benjamin Franklin

In This Chapter

  • Learn how to use mindsets and metaphors to improve your motivation.
  • Learn how to effectively change your mindsets to improve your effectiveness in any situation.
  • Learn how to make the most of luck.

This chapter shows you how to make the most of your mindsets and metaphors. The key to inspired action is using powerful imagery to invoke your emotions. World-class athletes use metaphors, visualizations, and winning mindsets to produce powerful results—you can too. You can easily change your mindset by asking different questions or “switching hats.”

This chapter also helps you know the impact of personality type, focus, and attribution. Your personality type influences your motivation. For example, introverts tend to get energy when they’re alone, while extroverts get their energy when they’re with others. Where you put your focus (such as on yourself or others; on the situation; or in the past, present, or future) shapes your thinking, feeling, and doing.

A mindset is a mental attitude. It shapes your actions and your thoughts, as well as how you perceive and respond to events. A common example is whether you see the glass “half empty” or “half full.” Your mindset can quickly change what you think, feel, and do. The irony of a mindset is that sometimes you don’t know that you’re stuck in one until you step out or adopt a different mindset. The trick is knowing how to switch mindsets. While there are lots of ways to change your mindset, I’ve found these to be the most effective ways: changing your questions, changing your metaphors, or changing the questions you ask yourself. Asking “What’s wrong with this picture?” is completely different than asking “What’s right?” In It’s a Wonderful Life, the main character, George Bailey, played by Jimmy Stewart, focuses on what’s wrong with his life, until an angel who needs his wings shows him what’s right with it. He realizes he’s actually had a wonderful life.

Metaphors can be enabling or disabling. One of my most effective mentors taught me to think of metaphors as emotional picture words. With the right metaphor, you can inspire yourself to action. With the wrong metaphors you can quickly create a dark cloud that consumes you. When I work on big projects that need to make big impact, I think of it as an “epic adventure.” This inspires me and the team to bold action. A colleague said he thinks of me as the director of blockbusters, so metaphors have an impact on how you see yourself and how others see you, too. When I think of stages in life, I think of boy, warrior, king, and sage. During my warrior years, I push myself to my limits, give my best where I have my best to give, and I mentor others. In fact, I like the mentor metaphor over guru. Another metaphor that helps me on projects is knowing whether I’m the quarterback or the coach, and when I’m not the quarterback, I need a quarterback I trust. Bruce Lee considered himself first and foremost a fighter and this metaphor shaped his life. Here is a simple, empowering metaphor we can all use: “You’re the director of your life.”

Whether life is a bowl of cherries and you get the pits, or the world is your oyster and you look for the pearls, you decide. In The Last Lecture, Randy Pausch taught us to choose whether we spring through life like Tigger, or mope through each day like Eeyore. Choosing your mindset and metaphors is one of the most powerful things you can do to shape your every day experience, and ultimately your life.

3 Mindsets that Support You

Your mindset can work either for you or against you; it either supports you or drags you down. Being cognizant of your mindset, you can ensure that you’re focusing your energies on the right things—finding a way forward rather than just throwing more roadblocks in the way. The three mindsets that support you are

  1. Abundance mindset
  2. Positive mindset
  3. Growth mindset

Adopt an Abundance Mindset over a Scarcity Mindset

Covey and others teach us to think in terms of abundance and avoid a scarcity mindset which can limit our ability to think in terms of possibilities. With an abundance mindset, you start with the assumption that there’s more space and more resources than what you might see by default. You find a way to create more opportunities. You expand solutions to be inclusive of your ideas as well as others. Rather than fight turf wars, you create a larger space. Rather than fight for resources, you find more. When you operate from a scarcity mentality, you operate in survival mode and focus on threats and competition instead of opportunities and collaboration. While you can spend your energy competing, you can also spend it creating more alternatives, expanding opportunities, and finding abundance.

Adopt a Positive Mindset over a Negative Mindset

We need to be able to see what’s right with a situation. We need to see the opportunities and the upside of things, and not get limited by our own negativity or the negativity of others. With a negative mindset, we quickly focus on what’s wrong with the situation, finding flaws at every turn. While the negative mindset can be helpful in some situations, we need to be able to switch out of it. This doesn’t mean you should avoid looking for flaws or stop using your critical thinking when evaluating ideas. It does mean spending more time finding solutions than finding problems. Find a way forward; avoid falling into a pattern of getting dragged down and stuck by your own pessimism.

Adopt a Growth Mindset over a Fixed Mindset

Swap out a fixed mindset with a growth mindset. If you have a fixed mindset, you attribute results to innate ability and discount learning. You think people are naturally good at what they do—they either have it or they don’t. Rather than seeing the potential to shape things or grow your abilities over time, you see a static, unchanging, fixed world.

A growth mindset is a learning mindset. It’s the belief that you can improve at whatever you do through the right training—it’s believing in yourself and your own potential. And yes, you can teach an old dog new tricks. Here are some ways to adopt a growth mindset over a fixed mindset:

  1. Call it an “experiment.” This sounds like a trivial frame game, but I see it work for myself and others.
  2. Treat perfection as a path, not a destination. If you're a perfectionist—like I was … er, am … er … still fighting it—you know what I mean.
  3. Use little improvements over time. Focus on little improvements and distinctions over time, versus instant success. It's consistent action over time that produces the greatest results. You're probably a master of your craft, whatever it is you do each day, every day. John Wooden focused his team on continuous, individual improvement and created the best winning team in history.
  4. Remind yourself you're growing or dying. You're either climbing or sliding; there's no in-between (and the slide down is faster than the climb up!).
  5. Try again. If at first you don't succeed, don't just give up. Remember folks like Thomas Edison who “failed” many, many times before finding “success”—it's a part of innovation.
  6. Focus on lessons over failures. Remind yourself there are no failures—only lessons: one more way how “not” to do something.
  7. Fail fast. The faster you “fail,” the faster you learn.
  8. Don't take yourself or life too seriously. If you take yourself too seriously, you'll never get out alive!
  9. Learn to bounce back. It's not that you don't get knocked down; it's that you get back up.
  10. Give yourself time. A lot of times the difference between results is time. If you only chase instant successes, you miss out on opportunities. Walk, crawl, run. Or, if you're like me, sprint and sprint again.
  11. Start with something small. Build momentum. Jumping an incremental set of hurdles is easier than scaling a giant wall.
  12. Build on what you know. No matter where you are or what you do, you take yourself with you. Bring your game wherever you go.
  13. Learn to like what growth feels like. I used to hate the pain of my workouts. Now, I know that's what growth feels like. The better I got at some things, the more I hated how awkward I was at some new things. Now I like awkward and new things. It's growth.
  14. Find a mentor and coach. It doesn't have to be official. Find somebody who's great at what you want to learn. Most people like sharing how they got good at what they do. It's their pride and joy. I used to wonder where the “mentors” are. Then, I realized they're all around me every day.
  15. Have a learning approach. Timeboxes, little improvements at a time, and focus go a long way for results. For me, I use 30 Day Improvement Sprints.

How to Change Mindsets

There are a few ways to change your mindsets:

  1. Ask yourself a different set of questions. Asking yourself how you can make the most of the situation or how can you thrive instead of survive is a very different set of questions than asking yourself, “Why me?” or, “What’s the use in trying?”
  2. Adopt a different set of assumptions. For example, rather than assume there’s not enough, assume there’s more than enough and you just need to find it. Keep in mind that you should always test your assumptions, but adopting a different set of assumptions can help you reach different conclusions you might not otherwise explore.
  3. Adopt a different set of metaphors. For example, rather than life as a tragedy, you could see life as a dramedy, complete with drama and comedy.
  4. Wear a different hat. Similar to a metaphor, you can change your mindset by changing your hat.

Switching Hats

Have you ever put on your thinking cap? That’s the idea here. Have a set of imaginary hats where each one represents a different mindset. Simply put on your hat when you need it. Wearing a hat can put you in a certain mindset and reduce conflict that you might normally feel trying to manage several different opposing viewpoints. This gets in the way of energy moving and forward progress. The key is using the right hats for the right situations. When you’re in execution mode, you don’t want to be wearing the analysis hat or the fear hat. You want the action hat. When you’re in a highly political setting, the kick arse or action hat can get you in trouble if not using the political hat first.

Example Hats

Here are some example hats you might put on:

Table 14.1 Example Hats for Results

Hat Description
Solution Engineer When you have a puzzle to solve, put on your solution engineering hat to leverage your most resourceful self.
Explorer When you need to learn new information, put on your explorer hat. Make it a game of exploring the new terrain.
Thinker When you know you need your focus and concentration, put on your thinker hat.
Doer To break yourself out of analysis paralysis, put on your doer hat and start taking action.

When I have to get serious results, I wear this hat: my “kick arse and take names” hat. Although I can just imagine wearing this hat, I actually have a hat that I use for this occasion; it truly is a power hat.

How to Switch Gears Using Your Hats

There are a few things to keep in mind that will help you effectively switch gears using hats:

  1. Have a set of hats that serve you. Sometimes you need to do more thinking, other times more action.
  2. Remember the feeling. One quick way to put your hat on is simply remember the feeling. Remembering how you felt when you were in a certain mode? You can restore the power of that moment in an instant.
  3. Experiment. When your hat isn’t working, swap it out with one that does. Don’t be afraid to try out new hats to add to your repertoire.

If you’re not into hats, you can always use your favorite song or mood music. It’s whatever you can use to help you switch gears effectively. For example, one of my favorite songs is “Crazy Train” by Ozzy Osbourne. It’s a power song for me. It was my wrestling team’s theme song and it always got me pumped.

Personality Types and Motivation

There’s a link between personality types and motivation. If you know your preferences, you can choose situations, approaches, and types of work that suit you better. Awareness is your friend. Here are some key distinctions between the personality types:

Thinking vs. Feeling

Thinking types are interested in systems, structures, and patterns. Feeling types are interested in people and their feelings.

Introverted vs. Extroverted

Introverts are directed towards the subjective world or their internal representation of ideas and values. Extroverts are directed towards the external, objective world.

Summary of Key Preferences by Personality Type

The following table presents a summary of key preferences for the different personality types as it relates to motivation:

Table 14.2 Summary of Preferences by Personality Type

Preference Description
Introverted Thinking Preference for task and process. Wants the details. Likes routines. Likes goals and tasks.
Introverted Feeling Likes to help. Wants to be involved in decisions. Prefers a self-pace.
Extroverted Thinking Preference for task and results.
Extroverted Feeling Doesn’t enjoy working alone. Doesn’t like routine. Doesn’t want the details.

Where to Put Your Focus

Focus is whatever you’re thinking about. Depending on what you focus on, you can lift yourself up or put yourself down. Direct your focus to get in a more resourceful state. To change your focus, change the questions you ask yourself. If you find yourself stuck, try changing your focus from the result to the task, or from your competence to the value of the task, etc. Here are some examples of where you can put your focus:

  • The task
  • The value of the task
  • How you perform the task
  • Your competence
  • Your performance
  • The result
  • The lesson

Past, Present, or Future

Shifting tense is an incredibly effective way to improve your motivation. You may not be aware of it, but you probably already use the past, present, and future to lift yourself up or bring yourself down. For example, remember a time in your life when you gave your best and you felt your strongest; simply by remembering one of your past, best experiences, you can invigorate yourself. In contrast, if you dwell on a past mistake, you can bring yourself down; instead, try shifting to future possibilities. Rather than ask yourself why you messed up, ask yourself how you can make the best of the situation. You can use the future to imagine exciting possibilities. Sometimes, however, the future might seem daunting or demanding. In that case, you can switch your focus to the present. Focus on the task at hand or one day at a time. Keep a few of your best memories on hand to remind yourself that you can always surprise yourself or that you can make things happen. If you must dwell, then dwell on your successes, not your past mistakes. You’ll be most successful when you can choose the right tense to focus on to improve your effectiveness for your current scenario.

Learned Helplessness

Dr. Martin Seligman teaches us that learned helplessness is when you automatically think that there’s nothing you can do that can make a difference, even though you can. It happens over a serious of experiences. It happens when you make a problem personal, permanent, and pervasive. For example, you’re making the problem personal if you ask, “Why does this always happen to me?” This is why framing your challenges with the right mindset is so important.

Permanent, Personal, and Pervasive

Seligman teaches optimism as a skill. One of the lessons from Seligman is his frame for how we explain misfortunes: permanent, personal, and pervasive. Here’s a summary of each dimension:

Table 14.3 Permanent, Personal, and Pervasive

Category Description
Personal You make the problem personal. You see the problem as something about you.
Permanent You make the problem permanent. Rather than see the problem as something that will change over time, you see it as unchanging.
Pervasive You make the problem pervasive. You generalize the problem and it permeates into other areas of your life, beyond the immediate concern.

When you’re in the thick of things, it’s easy to see problems as personal, permanent, and pervasive. The trick is to step out of your problems and logic your way through them. Simply by knowing that looking at problems through these lenses (permanent, personal, and pervasive) can lead to learned helplessness, can be enough to help you challenge your perspective. The beauty of these lenses is simply by knowing what they are and the issues they create can help you get more mindful and be more thoughtful about how you see the world.

Temporary, Situational, and Specific

How do you combat learned helplessness? You might be too close to the problems. Get perspective on the problems and don’t fall into automatic thinking. By default, you might see problems as personal, permanent, and pervasive. By design, you can learn to test additional lenses. For example, when you look at problems, you can think of them as temporary (nothing is permanent), situational (it’s not about you), and specific (don’t generalize or blow it out of proportion). How do you know which lens to use? Let feedback and results be your guide. It’s about paying attention to what you’re getting and testing your results. You might have some skills to build or some flaws to fix, but you might be an unfair critic. The key is to move from critic to coach and step out of the situation and get a more objective perspective. Another key is to measure against effectiveness.

Solution-Focused Questions

Instead of problem-focused questions, ask yourself solution-focused questions. A problem-focused question would be “Why does this always happen to me?” A solution-focused question would be “What’s the solution; what can I do to fix this?” Solution-focused questions help find a way forward. They put your mind in a more resourceful state.

Examples of Solution-Focused Questions

Here are examples of solution-focused questions:

  • What’s the best I can do for this situation?
  • If nothing were to ever to change, what’s the one quality or skill I need to truly enjoy this?
  • How can I make the most of it?
  • How can I respond to the challenge?
  • If I knew a solution, what might it be?

Keys to Solution-Focused Questions

Here are the keys to solution-focused questions:

  • Focus more attention on the solution than the problem. This doesn’t mean you should ignore understanding the problem. It means that you should spend 80 percent of your energy on the solution and 20 percent on the problem, and not vice versa.
  • Stay out of analysis paralysis. Keep moving forward, learning and adapting rather than sitting in analysis paralysis.
  • Use questions to get resourceful. By asking solution-focused questions, you switch your mind into a more resourceful state. Your brain suddenly starts drawing on all your resources internally and around you to solve the problem.

Ability and Motivation

Your ability can dramatically impact your motivation. Even if you enjoy learning, it’s easy to get stuck or discouraged. You might get stuck because you don’t feel like you’re progressing or you don’t get feedback that you’re learning. This can seriously hold you back. For example, learning how to type can feel like taking a step back. It’s taking a step back to take two steps forward, though, and success builds momentum. The challenge is that you have to stay with it to work through your sticking point or to remind yourself that the time you spend now will pay off down the line.

Growth Feels Awkward

When you’re learning and growing, there are awkward stages. Remember the first time you tried to ice-skate or ride a bike or drive a car or just about anything? That’s what growth feels like. It’s easy to lose perspective or even forget that there’s a learning stage. Don’t let this learning stage become a barrier for your results. When growth doesn’t feel awkward, you have to ask if you’re pushing yourself enough or if you might have found some natural talent.

Intellectual, Emotional, and Physical

One of my mentors gave me a frame for thinking about learning. You can think of learning in three levels: intellectual, emotional, and physical. In the performance world, this might be thought of as fluency. Here’s a summary:

Table 14.4 Intellectual, Emotional, and Physical

Category Description
Intellectual At this level, you intellectually “get it.” You can regurgitate it or repeat the information, but it’s just information. You have no emotional connection to it.
Emotional At this level, you have an emotional connection to the information. It means something to you and you have a feeling about it. It’s when information really sinks in because of personal experience.
Physical This is when you bake it into your body. Your muscle memory and basal ganglia just know what to do. It’s when your body can just reach for the alarm clock without thinking.

This explains why you can study a lot of information, yet not actually master it. You haven’t put it into practice. You don’t have any experience or emotional connections that help you build expert judgment or develop your intuition. It’s also why you might stop short of your potential. For example, when I was younger and learning how to play the saxophone, I didn’t want to practice. I figured once I could hit a note that was good enough. I got it intellectually. Why practice when I already proved I could do it? Why? Because I didn’t build competency. My body never learned how to “just play it.” Without building fluency, I never enjoyed the ability to just play the instrument without working too hard and having to think my way through it each time.

From Unconscious Incompetence to Unconscious Competence

There’s a theory in psychology that explains the four stages of competence:

  1. Unconscious Incompetence. You don’t know what you don’t know.
  2. Conscious Incompetence. You know what you don’t know.
  3. Conscious Competence. You know how to do it, but you have to think your way through it.
  4. Unconscious Competence. You can do it without thinking. You just know what to do.

One of my favorite examples is learning how to drive. When you first learn how to drive a stick shift, you very quickly learn that you don’t know how to do it (conscious incompetence). As you practice you can start to think your way through it (conscious competence). As driving the stick shift becomes a habit, eventually you can drive without thinking, shifting gears effortlessly while you think about other things (unconscious competence).


The “flow” state is what many of us crave. It’s when you’re in the zone. The key to finding your flow state is learning something to the point it’s baked in. A skill is baked in when you can do it without thinking about it. Flow happens when you’re challenged enough to be fully engaged, but not so challenged that you get overwhelmed. The level of challenge you take on combined with your level of integration gives you flow. So the trick is to choose a goal that’s appropriate for your level of competence, one where you can get to a flow state before you quit.

Competence vs. Chance

Were you lucky or was it skill? Whichever label you choose to assign to your results can have a big impact on your motivation. Here are some important concepts and theories that I draw from:

Table 14.5 Ways to Look at Competence and Chance

Concept Description
Attribution Theory Attribution theory is a term in social psychology for how people explain the behaviors of others or of themselves. It’s also how they explain why things happen. For our discussion, it’s what they attribute their results to.
Attribution Theory of Motivation Bernard Weiner expands on the attribution theory as it relates to motivation; there are three dimensions for characterizing success or failure: (1) locus; (2) stability; and (3) controllability. Locus is whether it’s internal or external (it’s the location or position). Stability is whether you view something as changeable over time and how volatile or stable it is. Controllability is whether something is within your control, such as through skills and competence, or outside of your control, such as luck.
Internal vs. External This is whether you attribute results internally, such as within the person (your disposition), or whether it’s external, such as an outside factor (the situation).
Self-Perpetuating You get what you expect, and it’s self-perpetuating. If you don’t practice because you don’t think it will make a difference, then you won’t improve.

Luck Is When Skill and Opportunity Come Together

My favorite definition of luck is what my friend’s dad always used to say, “Luck is when skill and opportunity come together.” I heard it long ago, but remembered it throughout my life. You won’t hit the ball out of the park if you don’t get up to bat, and just because you get up to bat doesn’t mean you’ll hit it out of the park.

Regardless of the theory, find what works for you. If you’re dismissing things as luck or situation, when you really can influence the outcome, start stepping up to the plate. If you are beating yourself up over things that you don’t control, then stop. Most importantly, what you can own and control is your attitude, your actions, and response. In other words, control your actions and make your best plays. Focus on your approach over results. At the same time, your results are feedback. Use your results as feedback to refine your approach, but don’t get overly focused on results.

Metaphors for Motivation

A metaphor is a word or group of words which creates a picture and evokes emotion. For example, a “slippery slope” invokes the image of a hill that is precarious and easy to slide down quickly; so people use it to refer to situations that easily lead down dangerous and irreversible paths. With this emotive use of words, you can use metaphors to represent powerful states. In fact, it is likely that you already use metaphors often in your thoughts and conversations.

Why Metaphors

It’s about language and the pictures we hold in our minds. Creating a vision and holding it in our heads will tend to steer us towards the emotions and feelings that we associate with such a picture. Whether or not the picture is an accurate representation of what we are relating it to, we tend to create that picture anyway—and the emotions that go along with it. It therefore has a tendency to become reality, at least on an emotional level. The bottom line is, metaphors shape your overall experience, filter what you perceive, and influence how you make meaning. You are the most important meaning maker (and perhaps not always the best, especially if it’s by default and not by design). Choose your metaphors thoughtfully; here’s why:

  1. They shape your experience.
  2. They empower you to change how you think and feel (and your thinking and feeling impact your doing).
  3. They help you make meaning.

Example Metaphors

Here are some examples of common metaphors:

Table 14.6 Example Metaphors

Positive Metaphors Negative metaphors
  • Chipping away at the stone
  • Grab the bull by the horns
  • Expedition
  • Mission
  • Eye of the tiger
  • Your ship has come in
  • Your ship is sailing and you’re on it
  • Uphill battle
  • Hitting a wall
  • Swimming upstream
  • Up the stream without a paddle
  • Life sucks then you die
  • You’re on your own
  • That ship has sailed

Whether a metaphor is positive or negative is up to you. For example, most people would probably think of an uphill battle as negative. Then again, some people might like the challenge. Ultimately, it’s your context and how you think about a particular metaphor that decides whether it’s positive or negative.

How to Use Metaphors Effectively

Here are the keys to using metaphors more effectively:

  • Have a working set of metaphors. It’s important to have a reliable set that you can draw from. If you can’t figure out your own, ask your friends for some of theirs.
  • Pick your metaphors carefully. For better or worse, the metaphors you choose shape your experiences and your reactions.
  • Choose positive metaphors appropriate to the situation. Pay attention to feedback, your results, and change direction as needed.
  • Choose metaphors that inspire you or hold deep meaning. Metaphors are strongest when they are tied to your emotions.
  • Get rid of metaphors that aren’t working and find new ones. If you’re not getting closer to the feeling states you want, then change the metaphors you’re using.


Have some heroes. Find the best of the best. Find the people who inspire you and that you can learn from. These can be comic book heroes or real-world ordinary people. Many people go from ordinary to extraordinary by doing great things. In fact, a lot of what makes somebody a hero in somebody’s eyes is that they do something great despite the odds or against the odds. Some of our favorite heroes are the ones that triumph over something. Whether your battle is good versus evil or simply trying to change your game, find the people that inspire you to new levels. Use models to help you unleash your best.

Have a Collection of Heroes

Use the most relevant hero for the job at hand. For example, if you have a productivity challenge, find a productivity hero. If you have a relationships challenge, find a relationships hero. It’s a buffer of expertise and inspiration. Find the heroes that have the relevant super powers where you need them most.

Everybody Has Flaws

One of the key lessons from one of my mentors is that everybody has flaws. Heroes rise, and heroes fall. You don’t have to find “great people.” Instead, look for people that do “great things.” In other words, don’t let flaws get in the way of learning what you can, from anyone you can.

Be YOUR Best

It’s not about being as good as or even better than your heroes at something. Instead, it’s about unleashing your personal best. And your heroes are your guides to show you your options and to see what’s possible; they are not your dictators. There is no reason to stay in their shadow. I say again—it’s about being YOUR personal best.

In Summary

  • Choose more effective mindsets and metaphors to improve your results in any situation; they are your most important filters shaping your experience.
  • Change your mindsets by changing the question or changing your hat.
  • Ask more solution-focused questions to control your focus and put yourself into a resourceful state that concentrates on moving forward, adapting, and solving the problem.
  • Defeat learned helplessness by adopting a growth mindset and by treating problems as specific, situational, and temporary.
  • Remember that growth can feel awkward at times. Be assured, however, that your confidence and motivation does increase as you move through the four stages of competence and find your flow.
  • Be careful whether you internalize or externalize your success, and whether you chalk things up to luck. A healthy view on good luck is to view it as skill and opportunity coming together.

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