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Mindset Mastery: The Fundamentals

Let’s talk about the fundamentals of mindset mastery.

The beauty of these concepts is that they reveal the power of thought, belief and emotion. We’re creators, and our primary medium is our imagination.

And though we tend to abuse this power and create like drunkards, it’s possible to retrain ourselves to get our mind working in our favour.

In this article, we use the Pygmalion Effect as our main way of describing the importance of mindset mastery.

Later in the article, we look at common examples of this effect, contemplate why it’s true, and discuss the keys to getting it to work for you. But first, let’s touch on its origins.

Mindset Mastery: The Background to the Pygmalion Effect

In Greek mythology, Pygmalion was a sculptor who fell in love with his statue of a beautiful woman. So fervent was his love that he desired it to become a real woman. And after he repeatedly prayed to the goddess Venus, the statue eventually came to life.

It’s a simple myth, but it shows us some powerful aspects of the self-fulfilling prophecy. For one thing, the fact this appears in Greek mythology means that this aspect of human psychology has been known for a long time. The Greeks were clearly aware that thought, belief and desire are powerful entities.

Second, it shows us that life somehow conspires to our thoughts and actions. You might be polytheistic like the Greeks, Egyptians and Romans, or believe in an omnipotent, omnipresent God that punishes evil and rewards good, or prefer the idea that we manifest our reality by collapsing quantum fields.

Regardless of how you choose to explain it, the Pygmalion Effect is real. Sometimes you’ll find it appears mysterious and unexplainable, while other times it’s plain obvious. For this reason, mindset mastery is crucial.

Mindset Mastery in Action

The best way to understand the importance of mindset mastery is to see it at work in everyday situations.

The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy in Relationships

Watch for the Pygmalion Effect in your personal relationships. For example, if you detect hostility in someone and suspect they may envy you, you’ll inevitably treat them as such. You now treat them as an envier, so don’t be surprised if they react accordingly and display more hostility towards you. This then gives you more reason to think they envy and dislike you.

Does this mean they aren’t envious or hostile? Not necessarily. Things are never black and white. They might feel a mixture of envy and pride, the desire both to attack you and emulate you. But if you fixate on the envy, inevitably you create a self-fulfilling prophecy and gain further evidence for your original belief.

There are an endless number of variations on this theme in relationships. Here’s another self-fulfilling prophecy: if you believe someone is attracted to you, you’ll likely gain confidence. This means you’ll exude more confidence, encouraging further attraction! That’s the Pygmalion Effect in action.

Mindset Mastery in Learning

I don’t come to brag, but I’ve learned how to play guitar, speak Spanish, do maths, teach meditation, write, and more. And believe me when I say that if you believe you can’t learn something, you won’t.

Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right.

Hendry Ford (apparently)

Let’s take the example of learning maths. Many people make it impossible for themselves to learn maths simply because they don’t believe they can. Teachers, family and friends have told them they don’t have a maths brain, that mathematical mediocrity runs in the family, that they’re better with words than numbers.

All this has a detrimental effect on their effort. Believing that they’re inherently incapable, they fall into the fixed mindset and think that no amount of effort will help them. So they give up. They study half-heartedly. They don’t listen to the teacher. And they even doubt their current abilities, as though they came about through luck!

What’s the result? Of course – the student never improves because they’re not doing the necessary work, and it all came about because of their faulty beliefs.

Mindset Mastery in Career

Let’s look at another area where the Pygmalion Effect wields both magic and destruction. Many of us believe that it’s not possible to build a career in an field we love. Our thought is: “I can’t have both a high-earning career and passion. It’s one or the other.” I’ll let you trace the trajectory of those who believe that. It’s no wonder we wind up hating our career and feeling stuck.

On the other hand, if we believe we can have passion in our career while earning good money, we’ll start seeking out opportunities in fields we love. We’ll develop our nascent interests. We’ll be willing to go through the uncertainty involved in the process. And it’s much more likely we’ll eventually develop enough expertise to earn a living from our passion.

Why is Mindset Mastery So Important?

Let me share my two cents on why it’s so crucial to develop mindset mastery. There are four key insights behind my line of thought.

Insight 1: Your Mind is a Reality Generator

Human imagination is almost endless in its scope. By definition, it includes anything you can possibly imagine!
That’s not to say you can magically alter reality as you please. You can’t flip the direction of gravity from down to up. You can’t grow wings and turn into a bird. And no, you can’t expect to suddenly receive a cheque for £1 million just because you imagine it.

But what you can do is visualise any event or circumstance you like. Seriously. You can easy visualise yourself as poor, miserable and decrepit simply by running images through your mind. You can equally picture yourself as happy, healthy, successful and loved. And you can even picture impossible realities, like yourself as a bird soaring above the human world.

That’s how powerful human imagination is. We might say it’s capable of artificially generating all conceivable realities. Whether those realities are possible or not is another question.

Insight 2: Our Ability to Plan and Remember

Our ability to plan the future also plays a key role. While human imagination is endless and often bears little relation to reality, we continually use our imagination in a concrete way: to plan.

We plan the weekend before it comes, then we act out those plans and create what we’d imagined.

Pay close attention, and you’ll realise you’re constantly planning things, be it meals, conversations or weekends. Then you act on those plans, making your imagination reality. We spend so much time planning that it seems we lay down the future in every moment.

We might say imagination is the prelude to the future. If we imagine a scenario, it’s more likely we’ll bring it about.

Insight 3: Your Mind Never Stops

This insight builds on the first. Pay attention to your mind and you’ll realise you’re in constant imagination mode. And this is not conscious imagination, but zombie-like, unconscious rumination.

This isn’t a judgement – it’s just how the mind works. But because we think unintentionally, we’re usually generating undesirable realities of all kinds, all day long, without even realising it.

Insight 4: Us Humans Live From the Mind

Pay attention to yourself throughout the day and you’ll realise that you’re not wide awake, experiencing your raw perception moment to moment. The mind overlays past and future on to the present. It’s more accurate to say that you live in the mind and from the mind. It’s your go-to operating system for interacting with life, even as you’re doing something simple, like walking down the street.

You also buy into the mind, believing it’s you, rather than seeing it as a tool. Because of this, the content of your mind shapes your actions in every moment. Say you begin to relive an argument as you walk down the street. This will spark feelings of anger, sadness and guilt. Before you know it, you’re walking differently, in a manner that conveys those very emotions. Now you’re not only walking but you’re arguing too, literally reliving the original experience.

Here’s an exercise: observe people as they walk down the street. Picking up on their emotional signs, gait, posture and facial expressions, try to imagine what’s going through their mind. You’ll be surprised at the variety of mental states you can glean from passers-by. And I bet you’ll spot many misusing their imagination.

These Four Insights Explain Mindset Mastery

If we combine these four basic insights, we can see that eventually our imagination trickles down and affects how we feel and act. Most of the time this happens unconsciously – we’re the mind’s puppet, pushed, pulled and thrown around by the mind. And that is worrying, because the untrained mind tends towards destructive thinking. We walk around all day unconsciously, literally planning and rehearsing unpleasant events.

This is why the self-fulfilling prophecy exists. Our imagination is so strong and so pervasive that inevitably we act according to it, bringing about the scenarios we picture and pre-experience.

The Power of Mindset Mastery

Isn’t the self-fulfilling prophecy a remarkable feature of life? Your thoughts and interpretations alter how you act, which in turn makes those same thoughts and interpretations real. I want you to think deeply about the reality of the Pygmalion Effect so you can realise the frightening power you possess. You can equally harm yourself and empower yourself just by what you think.

On the negative side, our prejudices, biases and limited ideas are often only true because we make them true. We set ourselves up for a fall and create destructive vicious cycles. We also fall into confirmation bias, only taking heed of evidence that supports our point of view.

On the other hand, if we use our mind to generate positive, empowering thoughts, we increase the odds of a brighter future.

Even knowing about the self-fulfilling prophecy helps you be more aware of how your mind shapes your life. Know that the mind tends to think in black-and-white terms: “this project is certainly destined to fail”, “this person definitely doesn’t like me”, “I’ll never find the right partner”.

But our personal life is never certain or definite. It’s always black and white. So identify when your mind goes into absolutistic mode, especially when it makes you feel like a victim.

Watch my video on The Pygmalion Effect for even more examples and insights.

Let’s look at more ways to harness the imagination and get the self-fulfilling prophecy working for us.

Mindset Mastery: Get It Working For You

Now that we have a good grasp of how the Pygmalion Effect works in our personal lives, let’s look at how we make it work to our advantage. The goal is to ditch the habit of unconsciously bringing about our worst fears so we can consciously create our biggest dreams.

Here’s a quick summary.

get the pygmalion effect working for you and create positive self-fulfilling prophecy

Spot Your Mindset

The first step towards taking control is to look at our current situation, both the good and the bad, and try to see that our personal life is like one big self-fulfilling prophecy. We imagined everything that is happening to us, and we slowly brought it about through concrete action. From this perspective, we see that life is like a pool that our actions inevitably ripple through and shape.

Internal and External Locus of Control

I’ll let you contemplate this quote from a giant of Stoicism, Epictetus:

The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly to myself which are externals not under my control, and which have to do with the choices I actually control.


Sure, you alone can’t control the economy. But you can control how you choose to work within that economy. You can’t control the weather, but you choose how you respond to it. You can’t control time, but you can control how you use your time.

Once we’re clear over what we can control, we should take extraordinary care to create skillfully and assume responsibility for our results.

Observe Your Mind

Pay attention, and you’ll realise that for most of the day you’re lost in rumination, fantasy and planning. Scientists have even mapped out an area of the brain that corresponds to this state of scattered mind – they call it the Default Mode Network.

Know this: the DMN usually revolves around scarcity thinking. Without knowing it, you’re constantly imagining unpleasant scenarios, meaning you’re imaging an unpleasant future. And by now, you know that this is a horrendous habit.

So pay very close attention to your mind. When you notice you’re lost, bring your attention back to the present and, if the circumstances allow you, start visualising compelling, inspiring realities.

Imagine With Serious Playfulness and Playful Seriousness

See the human imagination as the tool you use to construct your future. Do this with playful seriousness because your nervous system doesn’t distinguish imagined events from real ones. In imagining your future, you’re rehearsing for it. The more you rehearse, the more you slowly bring about that future. So give this powerful tool the respect it deserves. Don’t abuse your imagination, or you’ll create a miserly future.

On the other hand, we need a serious playfulness. Though it has a serious side, your imagination is also like a sandbox for you to play in. Once you’re aware of its power and have lost the addiction to negative thinking, you can create any scenario you like. The more you imagine it and feel it to be real, the more likely it will become real. Sure, you’ll never grow wings and become a bird no matter how much you picture it, but you can dramatically alter your personal life by skillfully harnessing the imagination.

Who do you want to be? What do you want your life to be about? What do you want to create? Your life is your work of art, and your imagination is your sketch book.