What is meant by your “mindset”? Simply put, it’s the mental attitude you have towards your outlook on life. Your mindset is your belief system, and although it can be hard to change if you have a deeply held belief in something, it is possible to challenge that belief and change your view.
To generalise, we can be said to have either a positive mindset, or a negative mindset , although we all possess a bit of both.
Feeling that you are in control of your own future is important, and your mindset is a huge part of that process.
Carol Dweck, professor of psychology at Stanford University has researched why some people break down when faced with adversity and do anything to avoid difficult work and why others seem to thrive in the face of challenges, bouncing back quickly after a failure. Her research has led to the discovery that much of this can be attributed to two different mindsets:
People believe that their basic qualities, such as talent, intelligence etc are traits that they cannot change. They believe that if you don’t have the talent for something then you cannot succeed at that thing. They spend their time documenting their qualities as opposed to developing them and this mindset can lead to negativity. People with this type of mindset tend to blame their shortcomings and failures on their innate lack of talent as opposed to the lack of effort they have exerted in the pursuit of the goal. They would rather appear to be more talented than actually spend time and effort developing the talents that they already possess.
People believe that their basic qualities can be developed and improved through dedication and hard work, that their basic qualities are just the foundations. This point of view encourages positivity, a love of learning, and resilience, which is essential for persevering to great accomplishments. They push through adversity and bounce back quickly from failure. People with this mindset tend to achieve more than those with a fixed mindset. They often possess good leadership qualities.
A fixed mindset can often result in an individual being much more ‘negative’ about life, perceiving everything to be unchangeable. Even if you yourself are not necessarily of a fixed mindset, surrounding yourself with those who are can have a negative impact on you. Thinking in a negative way can actually have a profound effect on the neurons in the hippocampus – the part of the brain responsible for learning and memory – resulting in compromising of intelligence and the ability to think, according to Dr Travis Bradberry, PhD, author of “Emotional Intelligence”.
Thinking negatively can even affect us quite profoundly physiologically, weakening our immune systems and leaving us susceptible to disease.
A study showed that those individuals who had a more positive outlook in life responded much more favourably to the flu vaccine that those who were more negative. Our antibodies are affected when we are dwelling on negative thoughts and become much lower as opposed to when we are feeling happy, when our antibody levels are much higher. There appears to be a connection between the pre-frontal cortex (PFC) in the brain and the immune system via a complex hormonal system. The PFC is associated with people who have depression and another study has demonstrated that elderly depressed people have fewer lymphocytes and T-cells, which are the white blood cells that are crucial for fighting against disease.
Complaining is a common complaint (pun intended). Seriously though, research shows that a typical conversation contains one complaint per minute. The more we complain about things, the more our brain becomes hard wired to keep complaining. This eventually leads to a generally negative perception of the world around you. You are perceived as a complainer to those around you. Research from Stanford University has indicated that regular complaining can actually shrink the hippocampus (responsible for intelligence and problem solving), which is definitely not a great outcome (and something to really complain about!!). Complaining releases cortisol – the fight or flight hormone – which puts our bodies under stress. Oxygen, blood and energy are directed away from any systems in the body except those that are necessary for ‘survival’. Frequent bouts of complaining, and therefore negativity, results in repeated high levels of cortisol, and our immune system being impaired. This results in a higher susceptibility of illness. When we surround ourselves with others who complain a lot, this behaviour rubs off on us and we start to behave the same way. We mirror their behaviour. Distancing yourself from people who are negative and complain regularly can literally save your health.
So we’ve all heard of the ‘power of positive thinking’ – but how real is it? Are you a cup half full or half empty kind of person? The answer could affect your health and wellbeing.
Suzanne C. Segerstrom, Ph.D., et al., in their study “Optimism is Associated With Mood, Coping, and Immune Change in Response to Stress,” published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, discovered that people who are optimistic and have a positive outlook on life were tied to better physical health and were more able to cope with health challenges that they faced. Optimists have more T lymphocyte immune cells than pessimists. Experiments with induced moods have correlated to changes in lymphocyte number, function, or both.
Optimists tend to focus on things they can do to change a situation for the better, rather than dwelling on the fact that the situation exists and is problematic. Pessimists, or those with a fixed mindset, are more likely to think that the situation is out of their control and they can do nothing to change it.
Cultivating a positive, or growth, mindset can help build resilience. Positive thoughts and emotions result in a tendency to ‘thrive’ rather than ‘survive’ and this has even been documented in disaster situations, such a terrorist attacks or natural disasters whereupon the nurturing of positivity can result in less stress, less depression and better coping skills. This is not to suggest that we should all have a rose coloured glasses view of life, but rather that we seek to nurture a forward thinking attitude, believing in our own abilities, approaching challenges in a positive way, and trying to make the most out of difficult or bad situations. Being able to look at a situation realistically, without it ‘ruining’ your world view, learning from the experience and moving forward with determination and renewed enthusiasm will pay dividends not only in the moment, but in your long term health outcomes.
MINDSET TOOLS FOR SUCCESS:
- “I deserve this” – this may sound all touchy feely, movie talk, and many feel that it is selfish, but look at it another way; who in your life deserves to see you miserable, unfit, unhappy and fed up with yourself? And who would prefer to see you happy, healthy, fit, energetic and full of life? Why WOULDN”T you want that for yourself? Looking at it from this perspective this is not being selfish, but being self-full.
- It is NOT hard. Yep, you heard me. It may seem hard to start getting your act together, but it is a damn sight harder to live your life struggling to get things done, feeling tired and sluggish and unmotivated. There is a saying “Hard choices=easy life, easy choices=hard life”. I believe that is true in so many ways.
- Get to really know yourself. This may sound obvious but actually many of us don’t really know what we want – or, more importantly, WHY we want it. Say you want to “lose weight”. What does that actually mean? Losing “weight” can mean losing not only body fat, but muscle tissue too – and that’s not a good thing. So what we mean is we want to lose “fat”. But WHY? Again, this might seem like asking the obvious – you want to look/feel better, fit into clothes, look good naked… but visualise HOW things will be different for you once you achieve this. What will be different about your life? What are your expectations?
- Changing your mindset doesn’t need to be complicated – in fact the simpler you make it (ie small steps) the easier it will be. Focusing on one thing at a time will get you there – yes it may be at a slower pace than you want, but slow and steady wins the race. Sometimes when you pile on too much at once it becomes overwhelming and the inclination is to go back to your old ways. Changing the way you think about things is a process and being too hard on yourself will only make that process more difficult.
- Overthinking and over-researching can sometimes just make changes harder. We can always find something on the internet that will either agree or disagree with our own bias – with the tendency to believe the research that confirms our own way of thinking and dismissing that which doesn’t. Often just moving forward yourself and testing the water is the best way to find out if something is working for you.
- There is a word that we often use that gives us a “get-out” and that word is TRY. “I will try and do it”. This basically suggests that you are not committing to change 100%, but will “give it a go”, almost expecting to fail. When we allow ourselves this sneaky get-out clause it sets us up for failure. Thinking more positively, and saying “I am going to do this” may just give you more focus to go out there and commit to doing it.
As Nike says “Just Do It”
Which mindset are YOU?