In education, I think it’s fair to say we’re immersed in a profession that revolves around understanding and optimising successful, well-adjusted behaviour. We also speak a lot about attitude - as if it is somehow a mental behaviour.

We often feel behaviour is the making or breaking of our professionalism, a badge of success or badge of failure in a classroom, or a final word on the climate of a school corridor - and we constantly talk about, recognise and measure behaviour (whether exemplary or antisocial, whether progressing or regressing) as benchmark indicators of a school’s pastoral and academic success.  

I am not an expert in behaviour management nor an expert in the use of outstanding behaviours for learning.  But I can feel the effects of my inner response–symptoms of my mindset manifesting in relation to these goals and pressures–and I can see that I will often plan and choose in response to this inner life.

And so when we speak of mindset, it can be easy to use it as an alternative word for behaviour. 

But mindset is something deeper. Something foundational beneath everything we do. Mindset is how we see.

To get a little closer to what I am trying to say here, think for a moment about the people in your life who have had a curious knack for always seeing you as a person. Something about being in their company is reassuring, enlivening, it feels safe to be ourselves. Somehow, they see ‘us’, they are real with us and to us they also are people with stories of their own.

We may reach for tangibles–and we may name behaviours in an attempt to explain this experience, but when we stop and really ponder, we can see it is something less pin-downable than this–we just know we are really seen.

So what prevents this quality of really seeing others and of being really seen by others from being more everyday and common and widespread? 

From their research, Arbinger suggests that we become less able to see others as people who matter as we turn inward. In first person speak, I become distracted and consumed with how things are impacting me, more than how I might be impacting others.     

This is where it is easy to revert back to thinking that mindset really does mean behaviours. 

When we think of mindset as behaviour, we find it hard to avoid attaching the idea of worthiness to the way we see others. We hear the word mindset and find it hard not to judge ourselves as therefore positive or negative, good or bad.

The simple reality is that the focus of our lives inhibits or enables collective success. In the workplace, when focus on self increases then there comes a corresponding decrease in bandwidth to recognise how the way we are doing our job impacts others’ ability to do their own.  The question is not the worthiness of one's mindset (which from my own experience is often my overanxious reaction to a fear I am not being 'enough') but the effect the focus of our mindset is having on the shared quest for success in our collective mission.