‘Blue Monday’ – Curse or Opportunity?

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The third Monday in January, aka ‘Blue Monday’ has achieved notoriety – and widespread media coverage – as the most miserable day of the year.

The term was coined in 2005 by Cardiff Psychologist Cliff Arnall who took into account factors such as the weather, time since the making (and breaking) of New Year resolutions, low motivation, debt (and a seemingly endless wait for January’s payday) and general post-Christmas misery when singling out this particular day as the nation’s most depressing. Paradoxically, his work was originally designed to encourage people to see the time of year as the opportunity for new beginnings and positive change, an intention that remains important to him over a decade later.

“Whether embarking on a new career, meeting new friends, taking up a new hobby or booking a new adventure, January is actually a great time to make those big decisions for the year ahead,” says Dr Arnall.


January Doom and Gloom

But instead of having positive connotations, ‘Blue Monday’ now epitomises all that is horrible about January – the cold, dark, gloomy weather, post-festive flatness, weight gain, empty bank accounts and hefty credit card bills.

For all these reasons, many organisations will notice their employees’ morale and productivity dipping at this time of year. So, for 2019 we could try replacing the doom and gloom with a more positive outlook by exploring a growth vs. fixed mindset. The concept has become increasingly popular in recent years and is frequently used to help determine how successful we are at achieving organisational goals.

It was introduced, primarily in an educational context, by Dr Carol Dweck, a Professor of Psychology at Stanford University. Her 2006 book “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success” explores how our mindset influences our opportunities and overall outlook on life, and has been adopted more widely within an organisational context over the last decade.


Considering our Mindset – What does it all mean?

The concept of growth vs. fixed mindset is all about where people consider the origins of ability and intelligence to be. The fixed mind-setters believe that success relies on innate ability (a ‘fixed’ theory of intelligence), whereas advocates of a growth mindset believe that success is based on hard work, learning, training and tenacity/perseverance – in other words, a ‘growth’ or ‘incremental’ theory of intelligence.

Of course, people may not always be aware of their own mindset. But developing insight in this area can certainly help support personal development and enhanced self-awareness. The clue as to which mindset someone has lies in their behaviour, particularly their response to failure. Those with a fixed mindset see failure as a negative statement on their basic abilities, while their growth counterparts believe that failure brings learning and improved performance.

Four Benefits of a Growth Mindset

  1. Resilience – Growth mindset individuals are more likely to continue working hard in the face of setbacks whereas many fixed mind-setters perceive setbacks as a reflection of their inability and therefore struggle to focus on the potential for learning.
  2. Willingness to take on challenges – Growth mindset individuals are more likely to embrace challenges as opportunities for development, thereby enhancing their skills and achievements.
  3. Learning from failure – Growth mind-setters see failure as a positive opportunity for learning, improvement and progression towards the pursuit of success, rather than a final negative outcome concluding action.
  4. Drives intrinsic motivation – For growth mind-setters, achievement and improvement is within grasp if they invest the additional effort and time required to achieve goals.

Let your Growth Mindset emerge this ‘Blue Monday’

It is very unlikely that someone would be completely at either end of the spectrum without the potential to shift in different directions. Here are a few tips to help you to shift towards the ‘growth’ end of the spectrum:

  • Step 1: Identify your current mindset – making a positive change begins with identifying what holds you back and which barriers you need to overcome. Is your mindset fixed or do you lean more towards growth? Taking time out for some serious self-reflection and self-awareness will reap dividends in the drive towards effective development and personal change.
  • Step 2: Determine your goals – achieving a growth mindset requires clear, realistic yet challenging goals that motivate you to work towards achieving the desired outcomes. This ‘Blue Monday’ try taking a more can-do attitude and invest fully in your goals, whether just for the day or over the longer term.
  • Step 3: Seek insight and accept feedback – the combination of openness to others’ insight and acceptance of constructive feedback provides an opportunity for growth. Don’t succumb to the dark shadow of ‘Blue Monday’, instead reach out to colleagues, engage in constructive dialogue and let their insight help you to achieve your goals, whatever they may be.
  • Step 4: Encourage an open mind – Encourage your own curiosity, consider alternative perspectives and seek support where you find it difficult to do so. Be more open to possibilities, your own capacity for continuous improvement will give you a more positive outlook on opportunities for growth. So, rather than hiding away on ‘Blue Monday’, look openly and boldly for all those possibilities!
  • Step 5: Make the commitment – take the initiative, invest the effort and dedicate the time needed to achieve positive outcomes. Your degree of commitment will determine the extent to which you succeed in making a positive shift towards a growth mindset. Even if you can only make the commitment for ‘Blue Monday’ as a starting point, it’s a positive first step!

Harnessing the power of ‘Blue Monday’

We can learn much from last year in terms of generating improvement, recognition, celebrating team successes, welcoming the contribution of new starters and considering how to be more innovative and productive. So, rather than sinking into doom and gloom on ‘Blue Monday’, consider it as a positive and proactive start to 2019. An upbeat mood is catching, and your positivity will have an uplifting effect on your more subdued colleagues! In terms of the all-important drive towards greater innovation, reflecting on concepts such as growth/fixed mindsets and attribution theory (whether we perceive things as being internally controlled or externally influenced) is critical, especially where learning from failure and persistence in the face of setbacks is central to implementing originality and change.

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