The power of having a growth mindset – and changing your environment

The power of having a growth mindset – and changing your environment

These are some of the first questions I ask whenever I start working with a new client. 

I like to ask them because it tells me a lot about whether a person has a fixed or a growth mindset. 

For those unfamiliar with psychologist Carol Dweck’s research on the power of mindsets, allow me to provide a quick rundown: 

Those who possess a ‘fixed mindset’, says Dweck, believe that their intelligence and talents are set in stone from birth. Those with a ‘growth mindset’, on the other hand, are more likely to believe they can develop their natural abilities with hard work and determination. They learn from their experiences to achieve their goals. 

In my old life as a corporate trainer, I ran into a lot of the former. Very few of the business executives I worked with had their own plan on how to improve themselves and their companies. Worse still, they weren’t willing to invest the time and money necessary to get started. It always shocked me when people would say, “I really want to do (fill in the blank), but my boss didn’t approve it.” Inevitably, I would reply: “Well, I guess you’ll have to pay for it yourself.” You would think I had suggested something truly offensive.

It’s not easy for everyone to set aside money for their growth, and of course, I get that. But rest assured, your learning budget doesn’t need to be some monumental amount. When I started my entrepreneur journey, my budget might have been $30 for books and a library card. It wasn’t much, but it got me started. And that’s worth its weight in gold. 

Of course, all the money in the world won’t amount to anything if you aren’t willing to ask yourself the tough questions; questions like: do you know where you want to go? Do you know your blind spots? Do you want to improve?  

The individuals I work with now don’t shy away from these questions. They epitomize the ‘growth mindset.’ They see where they are now, but more importantly, they are always thinking about creating a future that is bigger than their present – both personally and professionally. 

Jim Kaloutas, owner of Kaloutas – one of the leading commercial painting, industrial flooring and fireproofing companies in New England – is a proud owner of a growth mindset. Considering his level of success, it would be very easy for him to think, ‘I know everything I need to know.’ Instead, he continually invests in himself. He has been an active participant in various strategic coaching and entrepreneurial organizations for more than a dozen years. He is always learning. He is always asking questions. 

On top of all that, he applies this same growth mindset to the people who work for him. He believes in coaching for every member of his team. He is very proud of the training program he facilitates, and he should be. Jim understands that when you invest in yourself and your team, everybody wins. 

That’s the thing about growth mindsets: they are the farthest thing from passive. By their very nature, they require upkeep. 

That’s why I recommend changing your environment from time to time. 

Thomas Leonard, one of the founders of the coaching industry, developed a tool called the ‘Nine Environments of You.’ His theory is that basically everything we do in life involves a unique environment. Our thoughts are an environment. Our relationships are an environment. Our health is an environment. Our finances are an environment. And so on. 

One of the core things I took away from Leonard’s theory is that the environments we put ourselves in either move us closer to, or further away from, our goals. 

This came into focus for me at a conference a number of years ago, where a speaker asked us to write down the three biggest professional successes of our lives to date. After we had all written down our answers, he asked: “How many of those successes required you to change your environment?” 


It was one of those moments that’s always stuck with me, because as I looked down at my paper, I realized all my biggest wins had occurred away from home. When I got uncomfortable and changed my surroundings, amazing things happened.  

Take the beginning of the pandemic, for example, when I lost about 85 percent of my business, seemingly overnight. I was a guy who went to boardrooms and shook hands. How on Earth was I going to make this work? 

Feeling distraught, I phoned up a friend – someone I have a ton of respect for, both personally and professionally – and I asked him what he thought about my predicament. His response, though I didn’t know it right away, would change everything.

He said: “Shawn, the next little while is going to be full of unknowns, and it’s going to be tough financially, regardless of what you do – whether you spend your time complaining or whether you try something new.” 

Then he said: “Just focus on serving the clients that you absolutely love, and go from there.”

When we got off the phone, I thought about my friend’s advice – and thought some more. ‘Couldn’t he have been a little more specific?’ I grumbled internally. 

I decided to start by taking out a pen and paper and writing down a list of those clients I absolutely love; the clients I’d love to have over to my house for dinner. When I was finished, I looked over each name on my list and thought: “how can I serve them today?”

And that was when I decided to bring my pre-pandemic “Socials with Shawn” series to the wonderful world of Zoom.

In the pre-pandemic days, “Socials with Shawn” was an in-person event that brought together my best clients and their friends. There was music, and food, and coaching, and fun. I had no idea how such an event would translate to the online world, but I was willing to give it a shot. So, I created a Zoom account, set a date for the following Monday evening, invited those clients from my list, and hit “send.”

Then, I stared at my computer screen. Would anyone even be interested?

As it turned out, the answer was yes. That same day, much to my surprise, the RSVPs starting rolling in. “Oh”, I thought, “I guess I’d better come up with something!” 

As someone without much prior experience in online hosting platforms, I called one of my Zoom-savviest friends. I explained my situation, confessed that I was afraid of hitting the wrong buttons and screwing the whole thing up, and she generously offered to serve as my backstage manager for the event on Monday. Phew.

Over that weekend, I solidified my vision for the inaugural virtual edition of “Socials with Shawn.” I had a pretty good feeling that what people were largely looking for was a nice distraction from all the craziness swirling around them at the moment. They wanted an opportunity to connect with other business leaders and talk about what they were going through, but they also wanted to have some fun. So, those were my two main goals.  

On Monday evening, five minutes before the event started, I logged in with my backstage manager and waited. There was nobody in the waiting room, just the two of us. Two minutes passed, and I started to get queasy. “This is so embarrassing,” I said to my friend. “I’m so sorry to have wasted your time.” She shook her head and said: “Just wait.”

Then, someone showed up. Then another. And then another. And all of the sudden, there were 16 people in the Zoom room. Sixteen people from three different countries. The 90 minutes flew by, as we reconnected over laughs, shared experiences, and tips and tools for the workplace. 

For a lot of these folks, it was their first time attending any kind of networking event with people from outside their industry. As it turned out, they had a lot more in common than they thought. As many of them learned that first night – and in the many nights that followed, as this event eventually morphed into my monthly membership group – something that seems like common knowledge in one industry can be life-changing in another.  

What began as an experiment has become so much greater than I ever could have imagined. By taking a risk and dipping my toe into the virtual landscape – despite having no idea what was beneath the water – I realized just how much potential lay before me; potential I didn’t even know existed before the pandemic.

Before 2020, I was used to going to clients’ houses, presenting in their boardrooms, playing by their rules. And as much as I enjoyed that, in a way, it kept my horizons from expanding. I was always working with the same people, around the same tables, repeating the same patterns. Having to move away from in-person interactions forced me to re-think everything. It forced me to think about how I could play host instead; how I could both provide the content and create the connections that so many of my clients were longing for.

By giving my own growth mindset a good workout, I created the opportunity for others to do the same. That’s the power of changing your environment. That’s where the growth lies.  


Takeaway Tip:

Ask yourself the following questions and respond accordingly: 

  • Do you intentionally put yourself in new environments? 
  • Do you have a plan to meet leaders from different industries?
  • Do you make it a habit to leave your comfort zone?
  • Do you have a learning plan for yourself and your team? What is the one smallest action step you can take today to move that forward?