At Arbinger, we often write that an inward mindset is self-focused. That it creates blindness to others’ needs, challenges, and objectives. That when we are inward, we see others as objects rather than people.
But it can be difficult to recognize exactly when we’re being inward. When we have an inward mindset, our own narrative and emotions are overwhelmingly strong. Our perspective seems like the only one possible.
Becoming aware of our own inwardness is a first (and large) step towards shifting our mindset.
So let’s get a little more specific. What does it actually look—or feel—like to have an inward mindset? How can we know when we’re being inward?
Over the years, we have noticed certain common characteristics of an inward mindset. These are thematic trends, not absolutes. Still, they provide a more specific idea of what it looks like to be inward. As you read the list, consider when you might have done these things.
With an inward mindset, we often…
In addition to these general themes, each individual has personal “red flags” that characterize their own brand of inward mindset. For example:
These examples illustrate the myriad ways an inward mindset can show up for individuals. The common thread is that they are self-focused and self-protective. They shut out others’ perspectives, needs, and concerns.
One type of personal red flag involves our physical responses to challenging situations. When we feel threatened, we can go into a flight-fight-freeze reaction driven by the primitive emotional center of our brains, the amygdala. This is a critical element of human survival, allowing us to quickly respond to sometimes life-threatening situations.
Here’s the problem with the fight/flight/freeze response as it relates to inward mindset: Our brains cannot differentiate between physical threats that warrant such a response and non-physical, relationship-based stressors. When we feel our identity or ego (our self-justifying image) is being questioned, for example, we can experience a fight/flight/freeze response inappropriate to the situation. We may act in ways we later regret—ways that harm our relationships, for example.
The physical signs of a flight-fight-freeze response—especially when no physical threat exists—can be helpful in identifying when we have an inward mindset. It’s relatively easy to know when our heart is racing, our throat is tight, our muscles are clenched, and so on. These physical symptoms can be warning signs that let us know when to press pause and check our mindset.
As mentioned above, becoming aware of our own inward mindset is more than half the battle toward changing it. To cultivate this awareness, try first identifying and writing down your personal red flags.
Then start noticing when they appear. It might be easier, at first, to set aside time each day to reflect and identify times of inwardness. Gradually, build your capability to recognize your red flags in the moment.
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