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Everyone is a Philosopher: Mindset Matters

“Success is dependent on effort.” –Sophocles

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” –Aristotle

One reason that philosophy is important to understand and use is that everyone is a philosopher.[1]

Far from being the ivory-tower, irrelevant proceeding limited only to those that like it piled-higher and deeper[2], everyone is a philosopher, just as everyone breathes, eats, and has thoughts.  We might even say that we hold this truth to be self-evident (just as they did in the Declaration of Independence), that everyone is a philosopher.  Furthermore, we know this because each person has to make sense of the world is some way.  In fact, just a bit of open discussion with any person will reveal what their beliefs are.  By delving just a little bit deeper, we can readily find out what their philosophy of life is, and how it operates in their life.  This is but one essential aspect of the fine art of philosophical counseling, more commonly known and marketed as life coaching.  Of course, psychologists call it psychotherapy.

Everyone is a philosopher whether they like it or not—whether they admit it or not—whether they realize it or not.

So, since we’re all doing this anyway—making sense of the world and attempting to apply that understanding—we might as well do it well.

It follows that if we don’t develop and practice positive principles on which we can base how we live our life, it’s rather like cutting bread with a dull knife.[3]

Furthermore, our philosophy has profound effects on how we approach every aspect of our life, even when – as so often is the case—we are not truly aware of what exactly our philosophy is.

Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck has shown how one critically important aspect of our philosophy—our beliefs about how we make sense of the world–makes a huge difference in how we respond to challenges, and therefore, how we succeed in life.

In her book Mindset:  The New Psychology of Success – How We Can Learn to Fulfill Our Potential, Dweck cites dozens of studies showing how a simple attitude towards one’s own qualities can bode well or not, depending on exactly which mindset you hold.  Roughly speaking, one’s mindset falls into one of two categories; either one’s mindset is fixed or growth-oriented.  The good news:  you can choose to change your mindset.

Briefly, if one’s mindset is fixed, you will tend to avoid challenges, avoid change, and avoid admitting to and fixing one’s mistakes.  On the other hand, if one’s mindset is growth-oriented, you will tend to embrace change, to embrace improving yourself and learning, and to even relish challenges.

Not surprisingly, the growth mindset is predictive of greater success in life, regardless of what area of life we are considering:  health, business, school, relationships, parenting.  Those with a growth mindset face challenges rather than avoiding them.   In the growth mindset, you focus on cultivating certain qualities; your focus is on learning, improving, understanding, and problem-solving, rather than trying to prove to yourself and others that you already possess certain qualities, as with the fixed mindset.

Perhaps one of the most historically famous exemplars of the growth mindset is Abraham Lincoln.[4] His sweetheart died, he failed in business twice, and lost seven elections before going on to become President of the United States.

We can attribute this tenacity and success in part to a growth mindset, which entails the cultivation of skills.  Further, the growth mindset itself can be cultivated—like most any philosophy—and this capacity of choice and develop our own outlook and philosophy is what distinguishes us from the animals.

Carol Dweck’s research shows that when we cultivate a growth mindset, we appreciate and practice making an effort to improve and learn from mistakes so that we continue to progress.

Philosopher Eugene Gendlin speaks of a related concept to Dweck’s growth mindset, which he refers to as living as living life-forward.[5] We will discuss Gendlin’s highly effective concepts and method (called Focusing) which fosters inner positive change and the cultivation of the growth mindset in a future philosophical article.

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Tina Miller, M.A., C.F.LE, aka SocialPsi Tina, is a Certified Family Life Educator whose diverse background is social scientific, holistic, and educational approaches to personal empowerment and relationships provides a  unique backdrop to her Unconventional Wisdom Coaching practice.  Find out how you can get your free telephone coaching session here.


[1] Gottman, John M.  The marriage clinic: a scientifically-based marital therapy, p.109

[2] PhDs

[3] This analogy is attributed to Bo Lozoff,  a spiritual teacher and author who works with prison inmates.

[4] http://tinyurl.com/4yg6dla

[5] Eugene Gendlin, Focusing-Oriented Psychotherapy, 1996