The Service Mindset: Introduction
My quest to understand the state of mind that leads to a love of service is fed by questions like this…
- What does it consist of?
- Where does draw its energy from?
- How can it be acquired by others?
- What makes it resilient?
- What disrupts it?
- What kinds of mental conditioning prevent someone’s receptivity to it?
And, ultimately, where does it come from? Is it the result of the unique mental blueprint of “someone that naturally loves service” or “just always seems to crush service”?
Is service passion a matter of nature or nurture?
Service is a natural human drive. But a mindset that embraces service is not something everyone seems to have.
Many of us might imagine that a passion for service is the result of certain hardware. Since so many people have such a negative relationship to service, it must only be an absolute biological anomaly of a human being that actually derives joy from serving others, right? For it not to wear you down, you’d have to be a saint or a weirdo, right?
Is this true? Are some people just born with a love for helping others and some are not? Or, on the shadow side of things, do some people need just the right configuration of insecurities such that they seek the approval of others through service (yes, service can also be an unhealthy and unsustainable emotional addiction – a phase I fortunately shifted out of).
Everything is a learned skill…including the pain and enjoyment of doing it.
The felt sense that service is deeply worthwhile is not just a predisposition, but an acquired attitude that can be taught. It’s not fixed like hardware, but installable and upgradeable like software.
Of course it is. Why would I want to teach something that’s only ever a divine gift or randomly-allotted talent? Serve Conscious is stoked by the fires that anyone can learn (and will be happy that they did) that service means more to them than they thought. And that they can be better at it than they dreamed possible.
The key is learning more than just how to do the procedures of service, but also reconnecting with the aspects of yourself that find it valuable, meaningful and (as often as possible) enjoyable. A big part of this process involves training your mind and understanding and shifting what makes it struggle.
The mind is malleable.
Years of studying, practicing and teaching mind-training techniques have revealed to me that the mind is infinitely adaptable. In theory, you can learn and develop expertise at anything. Yet on top of that you can actually learn how to learn better. And learning how to learn is an instrumental aspect of the service mindset.
There are certain configurations your mind can acquire that will determine how willing you are to meet the inevitable challenges along the uncomfortable, sometimes grueling, path of becoming masterful at something. And I think mindset is the perfect word to describe someone’s availability to the learning process. Look at the breakdown: how your mind is set (like pottery…or gelatin). How is your mind perched to respond to what you throw at it?
Mindset celebrates malleability.
Much of the conversation around mindset as a learning/performance capability now centers around the work of Carol Dweck. The book reveals the success people can be over the long term if they prioritize the learning process over their performance – known as the Growth Mindset.
Its evil Sith Lord counterpart is the Fixed Mindset which results in behavior that’s more interested in having single impressive performances, rather than gradual improvement over time. People with the fixed mindset have their self-image and sense of worth wrapped up in the results of what they do. I like the pottery analogy here since someone with a fixed mindset becomes quite egoically fragile, with a self-image that is rigid and easily shattered by one bad day, or even bad moment.
The growth mindset is about process. Continuing this analogy, it might be made out of something more like metal. It’s strong and resilient, sure, but most important is it’s flexibility. This kind of self-image is smithable, always willing to adapt and re-shape from the continual application of heat, energy and effort. Knowing they are participants in a lifelong process, they meet the inevitable challenges of their path (especially when it involves acquiring new skills or overcoming major developmental humps) with gusto since they know that learning is where the nectar is.
Fixed mindset people resent any performance that threatens their image of their own present-moment greatness. As a result, they’re more prone to misery, complacency and total resignation. After all, why keep putting in the effort if it’s potentially going to yield imperfect results?
Whatever you do, never do anything well or say anything nice…it’s dangerous.
(Headline is meant to be cheeky, but with a dash of truth)
This phenomenon of the human ego makes naturally talented people more in jeopardy of becoming fixed-minded since they are likely to view success as an entitlement, not a reward for dedication. Growth-minded people are often forged out of a passion for something that they are not gifted at – they know they have to work at it.
Compliments are also dangerous: acknowledging only someone’s performance can inflate their ego (fixed mindset), but acknowledging the effort made towards refinement will honor their participation in the improvement process (growth mindset).
Mindset: a new term for a timeless self-mastery principle.
It’s kind of funny that Dweck’s book is considered such a unique perspective when any Eastern school of mind training has known for centuries how much a fixed self-image (AKA: ego) affects learning. These concepts might be fascinating and novel for some, but the growth mindset is an attitude with which the Japanese have done basically everything for centuries.
I wonder if it’s a particularly Western affliction to get this badly wrapped up in yourself along the path of learning. I certainly have in my life. It’s hard to avoid in a culture where performance and instant results have become such an obsession. The view of life as this perpetual journey of being a student seems to be more common to the patient, humble sensibilities of the East.
It seems we don’t know how to teach our children, students or employees exactly how to learn as well as these older cultures would. After all, they’re drawing from the lab results of centuries of mind-training.
Not to dismiss Dweck’s work, or the Western mind. It’s definitely an engrossing read that gives a really relatable context to the possibilities of highly present, egoless dedication to mastery. I just wanted to note that this attitude is considered inseparable from learning anything in and around the schools of Zen, Buddhism, martial arts, tea ceremony and an array of other Asian disciplines. In Japan, even the art of flower arrangement (known as Ikebana) requires the devotion of a martial art. The growth mindset principle shares many of the attitudes you need for these kinds of self-cultivation paths – i.e. the Japanese principle of Shoshin, or “the beginner’s mind”.
Nevertheless, I appropriated Dweck’s term to describe the journey of the service professional – so clearly she articulated these principles in a very useful way.
The growth mindset in service.
What I call The Service Mindset firstly looks at how you can bring this hunger, awareness and celebration of growth into service-oriented work. It’s an attitude of mind that experientially knows the value of the service process. To truly serve and get the most out of even a temporary service role, attitudes like the following are necessary:
- Service can be mastered, but requires the same persistent effort and presence with the process as any other skill.
- Mastery of service occurs in proportion to mastery of myself.
- Service is an opportunity to become my best possible self.
- Growth is nourished by openly meeting service challenges.
- Resilience, effort, grit and adaptability are my greatest resources.
- Just as the growth mindset doesn’t require ego-gratifying performances for it to be meaningful for me, my role doesn’t require ego-gratifying service opportunities.
- It’s not about proving myself, impressing others, being accepted or deemed valuable, but my willingness to meet every service opportunity head-on.
- Growth is made most possible by a sense of service to something greater than my own ego.
- I’m on a lifelong journey of development. I’m always in-process and always have something to learn (from sometimes the most unexpected places)
How the service mindset can take the growth mindset even further.
Attitudes of someone with the service mindset might look something like this:
- The service context itself offers a ready-made sense of participation in something greater than myself.
- Anyone can love service – all they need is the right service context that reveals its value in a way that resonates with this particular person. Will any other skill (weaving, basketball, computer science, corporate leadership), you need to actually have an affinity for it to apply the growth mindset to it. With service, you just need to find the context that is right for you.
- Service itself offers meaning and fulfillment rather than just the improvement of myself and my skill set.
- Service makes the growth process especially inviting since the growth journey now also involves positively impacting others.
- Even with the right mindset, the growth process can sometimes feel solitary and isolated. With service, my journey of self-mastery becomes shared with others – their needs, hopes and struggles are revealed to be interconnected with my own.
- I’m always in-process, always becoming, but always worthy of equal care and love as my craft – and those I serve.
- The energy I’d put into my own success/happiness will just as readily be offered to others – in fact, it’s usually more gratifying to do so.
- Every moment is an opportunity to live the growth-through-service process, not just the areas where you’re deliberately training, learning or even on the job.
- The value of having an open, embracing self-image that’s always available to learning is not just valuable for your own development, but the capacity to truly show up for others.
- Even if I found another role that isn’t directly service-oriented, service is still at play. Service is always at play and always where growth and fulfillment is possible.
The opposite of the service mindset might involve attitudes like this…
- I can generally only become my best possible self outside of service.
- Service needs to look or go a certain way for it to be of value.
- My well-being matters the most.
- I need to defend myself and my integrity against the people I serve.
- I need to prove myself to the people I serve and win their acceptance.
- I want results without effort – people should just love and respect me regardless.
- I’m just going to do this service thing for a bit, until I can find something better.
Make sense? Next we’ll look at how to actually cultivate this mindset.