“Why don’t you stop being so anxious?”
“You’re anxious about that?”
“Why won’t you quit worrying so much?”
Has anyone ever asked you any of these questions?
I’ve been asked all these questions — not all at once, thank goodness — at some point in my life.
Here’s a thought for you: what if there is some truth to these questions?
What if the annoying naysayers were right — or, at least, partially right?
That is, what if all you and I need to do is change our mindset and our mental health issues would disappear?
The Mindset Hypothesis
In the world of mindset research, Stanford professor Carol Dweck is hard to beat. Her 2006 book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, has sold over one million copies.
In her book, Dweck talks about how she used to believe that you either had talent or you didn’t. You either had the skill to overcome what was troubling you or you didn’t.
But her later work — research to which she has dedicated her life — proved otherwise.
In her research, she discovered the existence of two different mindsets:
1. The fixed mindset
2. The growth mindset
As it would turn out, each mindset had massive implications for how a person approaches the world.
Fixed Mindset Versus Growth Mindset
A person with a fixed mindset believes that talent is a trait that you either have or you don’t — that it’s next to impossible to achieve greatness if you weren’t born with the ability to be great.
A growth mindset is completely different. It’s the belief that it’s not inherent ability that makes a person great; it’s what a person does day by day that makes him who he is.
We see the star athletes and assume that they got lucky. The star athletes know that’s simply not true — that it was countless hours of grueling effort that got them where they are.
A person with a growth mindset believes that learning comes from the process — that the process of learning is what matters.
Failure is not viewed as a sign of incompetence but as one step in a journey that will ultimately lead to success.
In fact, Dweck argues, success isn’t even the destination for the person with the growth mindset.
It’s the knowledge that a person can learn new skills at any point in life — and that those new skills can lead to an indefinite process of getting better.
So what does this mean for mental health?
Applying the Growth Mindset to Mental Health
I fully admit, applying this idea to mental health issues is risky business.
I’ve worked in the mental health field for a number of years now, and stating that what’s needed to feel better is to change one’s mindset is not a popular idea.
Why can we apply this idea to skill development, like learning to play an instrument or becoming a star athlete, but not to improve our mental health?
I think it goes back to the “medical model,” which is the belief system that having a “mental illness” means that you’re deficient in some way. That you’re sick because you fit into a certain diagnostic category.
Applying the growth mindset to mental health is to adopt a “recovery model,” which is a strengths-based way of viewing mental health issues. It states that people can get better with access to proper resources and the opportunity to develop their skills.
I believe that a big reason there is so much fear and stigma about mental health issues is because we immediately jump to “mental illness” and not “mental wellness.”
With “mental illness,” your fate is sealed. You now have flaws that you must learn to live with.
With “mental wellness,” you have to pause for a second to figure out what that actually means.
Your flaws aren’t the whole story. In fact, they are just one part of what it means to be “you.”
Now, your mental health issues are the raw materials to transform into greatness. They give your life meaning.
They lay out the precise road map for improvement and for finding joy in the process of learning about yourself.
So what? Ideas are worthless if they can’t be implemented. Like anything else in life, making that happen is up to you. And it’s wise to start small.
1. Decide if applying a growth mindset to your mental health might work for you
2. Make a list of the settings, events, and relationships that impact your mental health in a negative way
3. For each item on your list, determine how you could apply a growth mindset, that change is possible — instead of a fixed mindset. that change is hopeless
4. TRY IT OUT!
5. After taking each small action, take a step back from your life and write down what you learned
Did you notice anything? Did you feel different? What worked well, and what didn’t work so well?
6. Report back and yell at me and/or share your victories
If you don’t believe this could work for you, then that’s ok. Disregard it! Move on and find something that will work in your life.
My goal here is not to prove that I’m right but to show that there are many ways of looking at something.
So if you want to give it a chance, go ahead and try the growth mindset on for size.
If it fits, come back and let us know how it went.
For me, the idea that all I needed to do to improve my mental health was to change my mindset — well, it was beyond obnoxious.
But then I tried it.
It wasn’t a panacea. It didn’t cure me of all my issues. But it did make me realize that maybe, just maybe, being “cured” isn’t the point — that “fixing myself” is the wrong way to go about it.
It made me realize that being so sure about how to feel better didn’t actually help me feel better at all.
Thank you for reading!
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Originally published at medium.com