Pits & Mountains

I have observed that people often fall into one of two categories when it comes to how they view the trajectory of their lives.

In one view, your life’s journey is a relatively flat line in which there are many pitfalls and other obstacles. Each pitfall must be avoided or at least mitigated or it will make your life worse. All of your efforts go, therefore, to avoiding these obstacles when they appear. When they’re absent, people with this view tend to just coast. In fact, coasting is often the ultimate goal; they would prefer no change at all, ever.

In the second view, your life’s journey is a climb up a mountain. There are still pitfalls and obstacles, even setbacks, but it’s okay as long as the journey trends upwards, on average. Some setbacks may even be necessary to open up new paths of ascension, so they aren’t automatically avoided as the worst outcome. For people with this worldview, the worst outcome is stagnation. Not climbing at all.

These two worldviews will process events and resources so completely differently from one another that they may seem completely alien to each other. It would be difficult for them to even communicate in many ways.

The “Pit” mindset says “all change is bad.” The objective is to avoid change or mitigate its damage. The goal is comfort; not necessarily great accomplishment, just comfort – meaning, not a disaster, not painful, not anything very bad. For this mindset, the possibility of harm far outweighs the possibility of accomplishment in the calculation of risk, so this mindset will almost never initiate change. After all, change is usually bad! Better to stay where I am. Whenever something bad might happen to this person, they do everything they can to avoid it. When something bad does happen to this person, their obsession becomes a return to the status quo as quickly as possible.

The “Mountain” mindset says “on average, change is good, even if occasionally bad changes happen.” The objective, therefore, is to make many changes, focusing on initiating the ones that benefit them the most. The goal is improvement – along whatever metrics you choose. This could mean being healthier, happier, building a better community, elevating your family, being more financially independent, anything. The “Mountain” mindset initiates change frequently, recognizing that life very rarely lets you stay comfortable for long. When something bad might happen, this mindset takes into consideration the total journey to see if it’s worth worrying about. When something bad does happen, this mindset looks for new opportunities presented and ignores the lost resources as irrelevant.

There is a lot of really good personal development advice for people with the Mountain mindset that not only isn’t good advice for people with the Pit mindset – it would seem totally insane to those people. If someone’s entire worldview is “change is bad” (whether they realize it or not), then advice centering around change will be anathema. Resources that are great for helping someone climb a mountain may be very poor resources for someone trying to avoid pits.

People with a Pit mindset won’t just not benefit from Mountain resources, they’ll actually perceive that they were harmed by them. Taking a course to learn a new skill represents at least two changes (you had to spend money/time/juice to do it, and you may have to change something else to use that skill), and the Pit mindset sees those as bad things. So if you try to show someone with a Pit mindset how they may improve their life by trading one kind of resource for another (time/money for knowledge), they’ll think you’re trying to scam them. Positive change is impossible, they unconsciously believe – so you’re just a snake oil salesman.

If you have a Pit mindset, there is only one piece of advice that can actually help you: develop a Mountain mindset as quickly as possible. Start small; try to make incremental positive improvements in your life at a low personal cost. Record your progress so you can actually demonstrate to yourself in the future the relationship between your effort and the resulting improvements. Even doing this may require you to fight the voice that says it’s a waste of time. But if you don’t do it, your life will be nothing but pits, forever.

(Note from Johnny: This is a personal development blog. If you’re reading this with any sort of regularity, chances are good that you already have a Mountain mindset. But chances are also very very good that you know at least one person with a Pit mindset. If that’s so, feel free to share – you never know which catalyst will start someone on their journey.)

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