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Mindsets

by Elizabeth Graff 

1 April 2019




We don't see things as they are, we see them as we are.

~ Anais Nin


In our work coaching and designing learning programs, we’ve found mindset to be, hands down, one of the most potent and compelling tools in helping people transform their lives. Research has demonstrated that mindsets affect everything from academic and physical performance to — perhaps even more surprisingly — how our bodies process food.

In this blog post, we’ll share our key takeaways on mindset as well as some research-backed advice that we’ve gathered for identifying and growing the mindset(s) you’d like to nurture.


Hold up. What is a mindset?

Yes. Let’s start there. The word “mindset” is shorthand for how you look at the world and what you pay attention to. As mindset researcher Alia Crum puts it, “A mindset is quite literally a setting of the mind. It’s a lens or a frame of mind through which we view the world and simplify the infinite number of potential interpretations at any given moment.” There are many different mindsets, and you may adopt different mindsets in different situations. Mindsets are sometimes discussed in pairs, for example: scarcity vs. abundance mindsets, fixed vs. growth mindsets or entitlement vs. gratitude mindsets.

Why is mindset important?

The Hawaiian concept of makia — “where attention goes, energy flows” — points at the power of mindset. In other words, your mindset influences your behavior, which in turn influences the outcomes that you experience.

Consider the following quote:

Watch your thoughts, for they become your words.

Watch your words, for they become your actions.

Watch your actions, for they become your habits.

Watch your habits, for they become your character.

Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.

Over the years, variations on this quote have been attributed to many great thinkersranging from Ralph Waldo Emerson to Lao Tzu to the Buddha to the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad — and even to Margaret Thatcher’s father.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, this recognition of the power of mindsets also forms the basis of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which is considered among the most effective therapeutic methods for treating a range of mental health disorders. CBT therapists believe that a three-step cycle underlies all suffering:

  1. Inaccurate thoughts lead to painful emotions.
  2. Painful emotions lead to self-sabotaging behaviors.
  3. These behaviors ultimately reinforce inaccurate thoughts.

For the visual learners among us:


Image

For example, a person who thinks, “I’m not an athletic person,” would feel discouraged by the thought of working out, which would probably make him/her more likely to skip out on the gym. This in turn would reinforce original thought: “I’m not an athletic person.”

But think about how much differently things might have turned out for our hypothetical person if s/he tacked the mysteriously powerful word “yet” onto that original thought: “I’m not an athletic person yet.”

In CBT, clients learn how to disrupt the thought  emotion  behavior pattern by identifying, challenging and ultimately changing those initial thoughts. In CBT, counterproductive thoughts are referred to as “cognitive distortions.” In the language of coaching, these thoughts are often referred to as “limiting beliefs.” The CBT app Moodnotes calls them “thinking traps.”

Regardless of the terminology, here’s the point to remember: mindsets create reality — not vice versa. The thoughts in our heads influence how our bodies physically operate, how well we are able to come up with new ideas and how successful we are in our careers and relationships.

If you are a person for whom negative mindsets come more naturally, you might be feeling discouraged. But you’re not alone. In fact, humans have an evolutionarily based tendency to focus on the negative and discount the positive. It’s called the negativity bias, and it’s an adaptive trait that scientists hypothesize helped us survive by staying hyper-attuned to dangers in our environment. We come by it honestly; it’s how we’re programmed. But here’s the fallout: left unchecked, negative events and experiences stay with us longer and have a deeper impact on us than positive ones do.

That said, it’s never too late to change your mindset. The human brain has an astounding ability to physically rewire itself — even in adulthood. It’s called neuroplasticity, and it’s literally mind-boggling. Through intentional practice, you can change your thought patterns (i.e., how you see yourself and the world). You can even train yourself to overcome your limiting beliefs, cognitive distortions and negativity bias with mindsets that are more empowering.


A process for changing your mindset.

If you’re wondering what you can do to cultivate a different mindset, try following the four steps outlined below.

1. Identify the mindset that isn’t serving you.

If this is hard for you, you might want to keep a log of your thoughts, consult a list of cognitive distortions (like this one), or use an app like Moodnotes.

Once you’ve identified the mindset that isn’t helping you, you might want to define it as a character (think: Inside Out) with its own catchphrase. For example, you might be able to recognize your own confidence-lacking Eeyore (“Looks like fun. Wish I could have some.”) or pessimistic Debby Downer (“Wop wop…”). This will allow you to be able to get some distance from it, examine it and start to engage with it as a separate entity from yourself.

2. Challenge the mindset.

You might begin with a set of powerful questions. For example:

  • Is this (still) true?
  • What’s the evidence?
  • What if the opposite were true?
  • How else could this be interpreted?
  • How would you view this if it happened to a good friend?

3. Craft a more empowering mindset with which to replace it.

For example, here are a few mindsets that you might be interested in cultivating:

Again, if you find it helpful, consider fleshing out this mindset by defining it as a character, persona or metaphor. For example, you might develop your own proactive Mary Poppins (“In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun.”) or optimistic Eliza Schuyler (“Look around, look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now!”). You can write about it, draw it or turn it into a catchphrase. Then, leave these little reminders in places you’ll find them: on your mirror, in your car, in your office, etc.

4. Practice your new mindset.

Like any new habit, it takes time and patience to develop a new mindset. For tips on habit formation, you might want to check out these resources:

And here are some great, science-backed resources on cultivating happiness:

Finally, since we also believe in powerful questions, we’d like to leave you with this one: What mindset would help you grow what matters in your life?


Get better at life, together.

Join our interstory today.

Learn More


We don't see things as they are, we see them as we are.

~ Anais Nin


In our work coaching and designing learning programs, we’ve found mindset to be, hands down, one of the most potent and compelling tools in helping people transform their lives. Research has demonstrated that mindsets affect everything from academic and physical performance to — perhaps even more surprisingly — how our bodies process food.

In this blog post, we’ll share our key takeaways on mindset as well as some research-backed advice that we’ve gathered for identifying and growing the mindset(s) you’d like to nurture.


Hold up. What is a mindset?

Yes. Let’s start there. The word “mindset” is shorthand for how you look at the world and what you pay attention to. As mindset researcher Alia Crum puts it, “A mindset is quite literally a setting of the mind. It’s a lens or a frame of mind through which we view the world and simplify the infinite number of potential interpretations at any given moment.” There are many different mindsets, and you may adopt different mindsets in different situations. Mindsets are sometimes discussed in pairs, for example: scarcity vs. abundance mindsets, fixed vs. growth mindsets or entitlement vs. gratitude mindsets.


Why is mindset important?

The Hawaiian concept of makia — “where attention goes, energy flows” — points at the power of mindset. In other words, your mindset influences your behavior, which in turn influences the outcomes that you experience.

Consider the following quote:

Watch your thoughts, for they become your words.

Watch your words, for they become your actions.

Watch your actions, for they become your habits.

Watch your habits, for they become your character.

Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.

Over the years, variations on this quote have been attributed to many great thinkersranging from Ralph Waldo Emerson to Lao Tzu to the Buddha to the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad — and even to Margaret Thatcher’s father.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, this recognition of the power of mindsets also forms the basis of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which is considered among the most effective therapeutic methods for treating a range of mental health disorders. CBT therapists believe that a three-step cycle underlies all suffering:

  1. Inaccurate thoughts lead to painful emotions.
  2. Painful emotions lead to self-sabotaging behaviors.
  3. These behaviors ultimately reinforce inaccurate thoughts.

For the visual learners among us:


Image

For example, a person who thinks, “I’m not an athletic person,” would feel discouraged by the thought of working out, which would probably make him/her more likely to skip out on the gym. This in turn would reinforce original thought: “I’m not an athletic person.”

But think about how much differently things might have turned out for our hypothetical person if s/he tacked the mysteriously powerful word “yet” onto that original thought: “I’m not an athletic person yet.”

In CBT, clients learn how to disrupt the thought  emotion  behavior pattern by identifying, challenging and ultimately changing those initial thoughts. In CBT, counterproductive thoughts are referred to as “cognitive distortions.” In the language of coaching, these thoughts are often referred to as “limiting beliefs.” The CBT app Moodnotes calls them “thinking traps.”

Regardless of the terminology, here’s the point to remember: mindsets create reality — not vice versa. The thoughts in our heads influence how our bodies physically operate, how well we are able to come up with new ideas and how successful we are in our careers and relationships.

If you are a person for whom negative mindsets come more naturally, you might be feeling discouraged. But you’re not alone. In fact, humans have an evolutionarily based tendency to focus on the negative and discount the positive. It’s called the negativity bias, and it’s an adaptive trait that scientists hypothesize helped us survive by staying hyper-attuned to dangers in our environment. We come by it honestly; it’s how we’re programmed. But here’s the fallout: left unchecked, negative events and experiences stay with us longer and have a deeper impact on us than positive ones do.

That said, it’s never too late to change your mindset. The human brain has an astounding ability to physically rewire itself — even in adulthood. It’s called neuroplasticity, and it’s literally mind-boggling. Through intentional practice, you can change your thought patterns (i.e., how you see yourself and the world). You can even train yourself to overcome your limiting beliefs, cognitive distortions and negativity bias with mindsets that are more empowering.


A process for changing your mindset.

If you’re wondering what you can do to cultivate a different mindset, try following the four steps outlined below.

1. Identify the mindset that isn’t serving you.

If this is hard for you, you might want to keep a log of your thoughts, consult a list of cognitive distortions (like this one), or use an app like Moodnotes.

Once you’ve identified the mindset that isn’t helping you, you might want to define it as a character (think: Inside Out) with its own catchphrase. For example, you might be able to recognize your own confidence-lacking Eeyore (“Looks like fun. Wish I could have some.”) or pessimistic Debby Downer (“Wop wop…”). This will allow you to be able to get some distance from it, examine it and start to engage with it as a separate entity from yourself.

2. Challenge the mindset.

You might begin with a set of powerful questions. For example:

  • Is this (still) true?
  • What’s the evidence?
  • What if the opposite were true?
  • How else could this be interpreted?
  • How would you view this if it happened to a good friend?

3. Craft a more empowering mindset with which to replace it.

For example, here are a few mindsets that you might be interested in cultivating:

Again, if you find it helpful, consider fleshing out this mindset by defining it as a character, persona or metaphor. For example, you might develop your own proactive Mary Poppins (“In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun.”) or optimistic Eliza Schuyler (“Look around, look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now!”). You can write about it, draw it or turn it into a catchphrase. Then, leave these little reminders in places you’ll find them: on your mirror, in your car, in your office, etc.

4. Practice your new mindset.

Like any new habit, it takes time and patience to develop a new mindset. For tips on habit formation, you might want to check out these resources:

And here are some great, science-backed resources on cultivating happiness:

Finally, since we also believe in powerful questions, we’d like to leave you with this one: What mindset would help you grow what matters in your life?


Get better at life, together.

Join interstory today.

Learn More