© ATTA / Diego Arelano

Surviving to Thriving – It Starts with Mindset

7 November 2022

As the travel industry navigates its transition from “grounded” back to “in-flight” mode, how do businesses, teams, and individuals shift from surviving to thriving? How do we cultivate a mindset and culture that enables us to rebuild in a thoughtful and innovative way – one that balances a responsibility to our planet with the pressures of recovering financially and meeting business goals? 

Though a lot of time is spent talking about external change and progress across the industry, it is worth taking some time to think about the ways in which our inner worlds – our mindsets – drive results. A mindset is made up of the beliefs, perspectives, thoughts, and feelings that motivate behaviors. And those behaviors and actions in turn drive outcomes. 

Recent scientific advances have revealed that different regions of the brain are involved in generating different thoughts and feelings. Positive thoughts and emotions are produced by the thriving region – the middle prefrontal cortex and parts of the right brain. Negative thoughts and emotions are produced by the surviving region – the brainstem, limbic system, and parts of the left brain. When the thriving mind is activated, we are positive, opportunity-focused, open, generative, curious, and committed to learning. When the surviving mind is activated, we are negative, closed, narrow-minded, defensive, and committed to being right. An important body of research by Carol Dweck on the growth mindset – a thriving-mind belief that people can develop their abilities over time through learning – demonstrates the remarkable impact that mindset has on long-term achievement and success in education, business, sports, relationships, and beyond. 

© ATTA / Kristen Kellogg /AW Switzerland

For more than two years, travel businesses met virtually, mitigated risk, refined Covid travel procedures, and strategized about recovery. The crisis activated survival instincts as businesses increased their vigilance towards threats and anticipated challenges ahead. In some cases, the crisis also overwhelmed us, exhausted us, and zapped us of our motivation. Individually and collectively, our surviving mindset has been highly active. 

Today, the travel industry is still operating in an uncertain, complex, and ambiguous environment full of challenges – from rebuilding capacity to navigating shifting COVID-19 restrictions to managing the complexities of hybrid workplaces. And yet, to transform our businesses into thriving operations that contribute to a more sustainable future, we must develop a thriving mindset in ourselves and our teams. One that broadens our sense of possibility, opens our minds up to more options, and allows us to see the learning and opportunity in any situation. 

If, for example, one is developing a partnership with a travel provider and struggling to come to an agreement because both parties are focused primarily on maximizing their financial benefit, how might the conversation – and the outcome – change if one or both parties are able to zoom out and take a more expansive and open-minded approach? Tapping into curiosity and a willingness to learn, one might explore what is bringing the organizations together and what they are trying to accomplish, identify shared values and goals, and build a stronger foundation of trust. This lays the groundwork for greater creativity, transparency, and collaboration. With a thriving mindset, what might have been a limited, single-dimensional partnership could become a more sustainable, multi-dimensional model that meets both parties’ financial goals while addressing other shared values like engaging local stakeholders or creating innovative programming that deepens the traveler experience. 

Shifting Mindset in Three Steps
© ATTA / Hassen Salum /AW Panama

Mindset is an elusive force – invisible to others and often to ourselves. It is possible to go about the day without awareness of how our thoughts and emotions are impacting our behaviors. Many daily situations and encounters can trigger the surviving mind – an interpersonal conflict, a partner not delivering according to expectations, or a customer complaint. A key skill for every professional – and especially for leaders – is to develop the self-awareness to notice when the surviving mind is taking over and the mental fitness to make a shift when needed. 

Here are three steps to help you pay more attention to – and shift – your mindset and behaviors.

  1. Notice: Before you can change your mindset, you must first “see” your mindset. This involves checking in with yourself and identifying where you are mentally. What sort of thoughts and emotions are guiding your behaviors, and what impact is it having on others and on the situation? Building self-awareness in a curious and non-judging way is the first step.
  2. Pause: When you identify that you are in a surviving mindset that is not serving you, it is time to stop and center yourself to regain command of your thoughts and emotions. Pause practices can be varied and highly personal. Examples include taking a few deep breaths, shifting your posture and position, and focusing exclusively on one of your senses (e.g., listening to the sounds that surround you, noticing new attributes in a familiar object in front of you, or rubbing the tips of your fingers together with intense focus). These activities have the ability to pull you out of your automatic responses and neutralize your thoughts and emotions so that you are then ready to make a mindset shift. If you haven’t used these practices before, experiment with a few of them over the course of a couple of weeks to begin to learn what works best for you.
  3. Reframe: Finally, once you are centered and have regained command of your thoughts and emotions, you can shift into the thriving mindset by activating the power of empathy, curiosity, innovation, or focused action. This reframing step might include asking yourself:
    •  What new perspective might I take to better understand the issue? 
    • What possible solutions haven’t we considered yet? 
    • What is the learning or opportunity in this situation? 

Taking the time to focus on mindset is not easy in a fast-paced environment that values output and efficiency. But this three-step process can take as little as one minute at a time; and the more you practice it, the easier it gets, and the better command you will have over your mindset. 

As the adventure travel community navigates its path forward, the thriving mindset is an essential tool for realizing our collective vision for a more sustainable future while meeting acute business needs. Whether implementing new processes to achieve carbon neutral trips or creating better mechanisms to infuse tourism revenue into local communities, it empowers us to navigate challenges with greater clarity, creativity, and focus; to seek out collaboration; and to continue to learn along the way.

Cultivating a thriving mindset is a rebirth – it is a powerful part of the healing and recovery that we are all navigating – in ourselves, our businesses, and our industry.

About the Author:

Deb Friedman is an executive coach and facilitator who supports purpose driven leaders so that they can navigate change with greater clarity, confidence, and impact. Her clients include executives and team leaders seeking to develop their leadership competencies to inspire, align, and serve teams – and deliver breakthrough results – amid change and uncertainty. 

Prior to launching her coaching practice, Cairn Coaching, Deb served as an executive at National Geographic and The Walt Disney Company, establishing innovative and transformative travel programs for curious people. During her 15-year tenure at National Geographic, Deb held leadership positions in program management and business development, and successfully led teams through considerable organizational change brought about by two major corporate acquisitions. 

A graduate of Georgetown University’s Leadership Coaching program and an ACC-certified coach with the International Coaching Federation, Deb’s coaching process draws on three key areas of expertise: her leadership experience working in complex organizational systems, her ability to develop deep and resonant relationships with growth-minded leaders, and her commitment to the core coaching competencies: deep listening, powerful inquiry to evoke awareness, and facilitating goal setting and the designing of action plans to achieve those goals.

Deb lives in Washington, D.C. with her husband and two young boys. In her personal time, she enjoys early morning swims, meditation, exploring local hiking trails, and making music.