John Romstead is a retired fighter pilot and business executive with an incredible story of setbacks and overcoming, and now he serves people through executive coaching and an amazing podcast “Eternal Leadership“. This week, we learn John’s thoughts on “Mindset” as we discuss his contributions to my book “Entrepreneur Mind Hacks”, including his chapter titled “Mindset is the Start of Shaping a New Future”.
Now, John defines Mindset as: The totality of how you see the world, including all your life experiences that influence how you think about things. This creates the filters that govern how you perceive everything that goes on in your world, both internally and externally.
All this works together to shape the direction that you move in, in regards to your career, family life, and relationships.
Back in 1986, John was sitting in a movie theater watching Top Gun. Now, many young men saw that movie and imagined the excitement and thrills of becoming a Navy fighter pilot. John, on the other hand, was already in the Navy ROTC as a sophomore in college and had heard that the odds were stacked up against anyone with the dream of becoming a fighter pilot, so he had tossed that vision aside a long time before.
Instead, he pursued cruising nuclear submarines – in fact he got to spend a month on one that very summer. Dog fighting just didn’t seem to be in his cards. The odds were to thin.
But, he applied for flight school nonetheless… just to see what would happen.
John was accepted, and became a Navy pilot, beating the 1-in-10,000 odds!
He had entered flight school with the same amount of doubt, fear and uncertainty as any of his classmates, but he maintained the mindset that he HAD to follow the dream of becoming a fighter pilot!
One of the keys to his success was to ask a pilot who was ahead of him in the program what he did to prepare. What set him apart from those who looked up to him? For starters, he was determined – had the mindset – to graduate number one in his class.
This inspired John.
Now, it wasn’t just a “fake it til you make it” mentality, but a framework within which John approached each day and spurned him on in preparation, study, and work ethic.
And, at the end of flight school… John graduated first in his class!
This taught him early on that with a “growth mindset”, he could accomplish what he set his mind to, while appropriately addressing his limiting beliefs, turning them into liberating truths.
Now, whenever I hear people tout of things like “You can be whatever you want to be!”, but that’s just not true. Not every kid owning a basketball can grow up to be Michael Jordan. So, what separates John’s mindset from a “can do attitude”?
According to John, it begins with looking at the situation that lies ahead of you and either focusing on the obstacles that lie ahead or the opportunities and possibilities. This approach differentiates between two different approaches to the same set of facts. Depending on how you approach the facts, your mindset will either be helpful or it will limit you.
With that as your starting point, then there are several things to keep an ear out for along the way, particularly in business.
For instance, when dealing with difficult people at work, how do you perceive that situation? Do you approach it from a perspective that says, “I just don’t want to work with this difficult person?” or do you try to find a solution to your relational problem and try to find a way to integrate them into your business’ success? These are two dramatically different ways of approaching the same situation.
Another way to describe these options is this: are you merely along for the ride in life; are you a victim in life, simply reacting to whatever comes your way; or are you an active participant, putting things in motion as life happens.
So much of how we deal with life’s various ups and downs depends on how we choose to set our perspective, focusing on outcomes with clarity.
When it comes to starting points along this journey, John recommends to begin by simply getting out a pen and paper and scribble down some of the outcomes in life that you dream of, and recognize that you may need to change how you think about the items on this list. Too often, we focus on what we perceive as limiting barriers and give up on the dreams on our lists.
Take for instance, education. A lot of times, people will have goals that they’d like to achieve, but they don’t see themselves as being adequately educated. On the other hand, look at Microsoft, Apple and Facebook… all the leaders of those companies were college dropouts.
Additionally, when it comes to money, time, or human capitol, the truth is that in America, there are no limits to achieving your goals, if you approach them correctly.
This is what John writes about in his chapter regarding being aware of your mindset. But merely being aware of your perspective isn’t enough. We need to learn to talk back to it with a growth mindset.
A growth mindset is simply one that moves you toward the outcome that you are aiming for. To achieve this, you really need to be able to write down your core values, your strengths, your gifts, and really come to an understanding of who you are and how you’re wired. This solidifies your anchor point from which you can honestly assess your potential.
John relates to this process when he looks back on his life to a time when he felt as though he wasn’t coming close to living up to his potential. It took a mentor to come alongside him and discuss with him his potential.
By doing this, it changes how we even look back on our failures in life and business.
When we fail, that is just one possible outcome of what could have happened. Too often, we translate our past failures into thinking that we are the failure, instead of trying to figure out new approaches to change those less-than-ideal outcomes. If we can find new approaches that help prevent us from stopping on our way to our goals, we will instead perceive these “failures” as merely “challenges in need of solutions”.
For example, there were times when John would experience some circumstances that pointed toward failure, and he would quickly jump to the conclusion that HE was the failure, and not up to the task. These limiting beliefs compiled one on top of the other – even in unrelated areas – which led to a pattern of defeatism.
And John’s not alone.
Almost all of us are prone to do this, even in childhood. So that, by the time we are 12 or 13-years-old, we are already hardwired, psychologically, with limiting thoughts, habits and patterns. The key is to be able to recognize when we are sliding into those “fixed mindsets” and be able to make a subtle shift into a “growth mindset” – even if it’s simply allowing yourself more time and effort to get better at what you had attempted.
Now, we do have to be realistic with ourselves. For almost all of us, even with enough practice and enough time, we won’t become the next Michael Jordan or Joe Montana.
However, when it comes to business and leadership – learned skills that do not require advanced genetic makeup and luck – with enough time, training, and mentorship you can equip yourself with the tools you need to change into a growth mindset.
One key tip that John offers is to look at yourself honestly, and then ask, “What is possible if I really follow my passions and my calling?” Then look around and try to discover where the gaps are between who you are now and who you need to be in order to fulfill your goal. This, then, begs the simple question of: Are there resources, tools, or things you can work on to fill that gap, or do you need to re-hone your goals?
Some people are gifted at administration, but they aren’t at dreaming and seeing what isn’t there yet. And, sometimes it’s not a matter of giving up or re-honing your goals, but rather partnering with someone who fills that gap, who shares your goal, and the two of you or team accomplish them together!
You can learn more from John at eternalleadership.com, where he focuses on executive and leadership coaching… but he’s always eager to simply have a conversation with you and pick each other’s brains regarding how to develop a life of fulfillment.