I am curious to learn about the mindset of successful individuals and how it is different from others. On this journey I’ve come to realize the 3 common clever mindset traps that exists within each of us.
Mindsets are formed based off the stories that we continue to tell ourselves. The longer we narrate them, we then internalize them and believe them to be true for ourselves. After which everything that we do is viewed through the lens of those stories. Our goals and aspirations are also filtered through these stories.
When opportunities come our way, we look at those through these stories and decide whether we pursue them or not. Whether we can see the opportunity for ourselves depends on the stories we tell. Do I believe that the opportunity is for me? Do I think that I will be successful if I take on the opportunity? Answers to these questions will depend on what stories that I have come to believe for myself.
So, what are the 3 clever stories? Victim stories, Villain stories and Helpless stories.
Let’s look at the story of Gideon from the Bible and see these 3 stories play out.
Judges 6:11 – 15
11 The angel of the Lord came and sat down under the oak in Ophrah that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, where his son Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites.
12 When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he said, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.”
13 “Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our ancestors told us about when they said, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.”
14 The Lord turned to him and said, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?”
15 “Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.”
Some background here.
The people of Israel are ruled over by the Midianites. The verses earlier in the chapter says that the reason for this is because the people of Israel were worshipping other gods.
Let me introduce Gideon. It is easy to judge the character of Gideon poorly by considering the name list of the mindset stories mentioned above. We all have a version(s) of these stories in one area or the other in our lives and that does not mean a lack of character but my intention here is to acknowledge the reality of human nature and how by recognizing how these stories influence our lives we can overcome the effect they have on our future.
In verse 11, you can see that Gideon is threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites. Now that tells me the following things.
Gideon is hard working – He is doing what he can to provide for his family. He has planted crops, watered them, now harvested the grains and separating the wheat and the stalk so that his family can have some food. This action shows a willingness to work hard.
Gideon is intelligent – He is threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it away from the Midianites. Gideon is not naïve to think that he will be spared from the Midianites. He is not willing to try his luck. He is cautious, meticulous in his approach. He is careful not to loose the progress he has made in his life.
Gideon is Brave – his reaction to the greetings from the angel in verse 13 is clear indication that Gideon is brave. We have other examples in the bible where people fall on their face and angels starting the conversation with the famous “fear not” greeting but not for Gideon.
Gideon’s actions demonstrate excellent qualities of character but when he starts speaking you can see the mindset traps that are cleverly hidden in his mind.
The Victim Mindset
Gideon conversation beings with “Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us?
When he says, “why has all these happened to us?” Gideon reveals the victim mindset. Taking nations captive was a common occurrence during that time. The nation of Israel had done it themselves numerous times. They established their nation by driving out the people who had lived in those land before them.
Judges 6:1 clearly states why Israel is in such a state. V.1 “The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, and for seven years he gave them into the hands of the Midianites.”
The Victim mindset says that other people are bad and do wrong things and we are good and do only right things. We therefore suffer as a result of other peoples wrongdoing. With this mindset, we fail to take inventory of our lives to identify areas that we can change to realize a better outcome.
There are events that could happen in our lives which happen out of nowhere and out of no cause of our own. In such situations we are victims and we are not discussing such situations here.
Gideon judiciously avoids the facts about whatever he has done, or his countrymen have done or neglected to do that has contributed to the Midianites ruling over them. He carefully states a one-sided account of his current situation which transfers the blame on to another party. This story brings us to the next cleaver story.
The Villain mindset
Gideon continues he says, “But now the Lord has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.” Gideon is exaggerating his and his people’s innocence. When he exaggerates his innocence, he is saying that the current problem is because of another aggressor.
The aggressor in this case becomes “the Lord” because He has abandoned them. When we claim innocence, we then tend to turn other individuals into villains. It is a very narrow definition of the other person. They may be normal and decent which does not matter but what matters is that they are a villain to you.
Gideon overemphasizes Lord’s guilt. He says, Lord has delivered us in the past and why doesn’t he do it again. There is no space for self-reflection when we place the guilt squarely on others. All the responsibility is transferred onto the other person and the underlying message is ‘there is nothing to see here’, I am a victim. Look over there and there you will see the person responsible for this outcome.
Once we’ve set someone up as villains, we can then do what we want with them. We can choose to insult or abuse them as we see fit because they are responsible for our situation. We then get stuck in this ineffective behavior because we think that the other person brings out the worst in us.
The Helpless Mindset
When the first two stories exist, the third one is present inevitably. Look at what Gideon says, “but how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.”
Gideon is saying, I am helpless because I am the least in my family. He is failing to recognize all his strengths that Gideon had demonstrated. Those qualities where in action and not just listed somewhere on a resume. The helpless mindset allows Gideon to undercut himself.
The opportunity presented to Gideon is once in a lifetime opportunity. To be a leader, to go down in history as the liberator of his people. An opportunity to guide the people back into the right path but who is blocking the opportunity? Gideon himself.
You can see how one story leads to another and the catastrophic results that those stories can cause in one’s life if left alone to run our life.
The helpless mindset displays others conduct as unchangeable traits and you are not able to do anything about it. Your circumstance cannot change because they are out of your control and are in the hands of someone else who is a villain. Can you see how these clever stories limit your true potential.
You may have seen these types of stories play out at work, in relationships and in human interactions. It is easier to spot these stories in others’ lives than in our own lives. When I recognized these mindsets, I was immediately thinking about others where these stories fit but it was a lot more difficult to identify them in my own life.
I was immediately tempted to justify my situation as special situation and looked for reasons to say why I can keep my story. The longer I looked at my stories specially in the light of their effects on my future, I allowed myself to look at these stories again and understand how they have affected me.
When we want to build wealth and move to the next level of income, we need a mindset change that will allow us to believe that the goal is possible for us. There is no limit stronger than the one that we set for ourselves. What stories are you telling yourself that is allowing you to excuse yourself from achieving success? What opportunities have you missed out on by believing these stories? Rewrite your stories today and march on towards your goals.