The Cambridge dictionary defines the phrase “mind over matter” as “the power of the mind to control and influence the body and the physical world generally.” We are all vulnerable and often succumb to unhealthy thought patterns, which can impact our ability to make the small, sustainable habit changes that result in a healthier lifestyle.
It’s important to recognize which specific thought patterns you are at risk for, because consistent negative thought patterns can lead to a destructive mindset. Some common unhealthy thought patterns include: all-or-nothing thinking; overgeneralization; disqualifying the positive and downplaying accomplishments; jumping to conclusions; and magnification or minimization of positive or negative traits. Others include labeling and mislabeling behaviors (which can become self-fulfilling prophecies); personalization (when everything is your fault or responsibility); and mental filters (when you focus on negative things and filter out positives).
Your mindset has a big impact on your success in life — career, relationships, and health goals. Stanford University psychology professor Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D, is a leading researcher of mindset and its connection to motivation and success. In her best-selling 2007 book, Mindset, The New Psychology of Success, she explores the two main mindsets linked to human potential: fixed and growth mindsets.
Being of two mind(set)s
She explains that a fixed mindset leads to a defeatist attitude focused on failure and making excuses for lack of success. A person with a fixed mindset believes that skills are innate, something we are born with, and as such, learning new skills is of no value and impossible. A person with a fixed mindset often avoids challenges and rejects any kind of feedback that may suggest there is room for improvement. They also compare themselves with other people, feel threatened by the success of others, and are less likely to celebrate or collaborate with people. This kind of static mindset keeps a person in a cycle of defeat, focused on reproducing only what they already know. The outcome is a life of barrenness and the inability to evolve or grow.
On the other hand, Dweck describes the growth mindset as one that focuses on developing skills through hard work and effort. Although people may be born with certain talents, skills can be acquired and refined. This mindset emphasizes the value of investing effort and therefore encourages feedback, because it is viewed as an opportunity to learn and improve. A person with a growth mindset embraces challenges and celebrates personal achievements and those of others. Failure and mistakes are not viewed as evidence of lack of intelligence, but instead as stepping-stones on a path to growth and the stretching of existing abilities.
Developing a growth mindset
One detrimental way that a negative mindset impacts living a healthy lifestyle is expressed when people feel stuck with regards to achieving their health goals. At certain stages in life, which could often be age-related, it is so easy to believe that nothing new or good can happen, especially if you have struggled with significant health challenges. You can become vulnerable to unhealthy thought patterns like “I’ll never lose weight now, so what’s the point of trying?” or “It’s too late to learn to play tennis/golf/swim/ski.” An accumulation of these unhealthy thoughts could translate into unhealthy behaviors and lead you farther away from achieving your health goals.
So how do you develop a growth mindset and take practical steps to achieve your health goals? These steps below (in no particular order) are worth a try.
- Renew your mind. A Google search on “brain plasticity” explains how scientific research proves that your brain is wired to grow and learn regardless of your age. Get curious about the world around you and study. It might motivate you to explore and discover new things!
- Acknowledge and embrace imperfections. Practice self-awareness which helps you identify your strengths, weaknesses, and growth areas. There is no need to criticize yourself for not being perfect; no one is perfect. Self-awareness is a gift that you can give to yourself and the people around you.
- View challenges as opportunities. Recognize that mistakes and failure can be an opportunity for improvement rather than a reflection on you as an imperfect or inadequate person. Use them wisely.
- Pick your tribe. It is important to surround yourself with like-minded people. Be intentional about who has access to your mind space. In addition, the books you read, the shows you watch (news, social media), and the music you listen to, all impact what kind of mindset you nurture, so choose wisely.
- Change your vocabulary. Use the words “I’m learning” to do something rather than “I’m failing.” Use “yet” more often, as in saying, “I haven’t done it yet” or “I haven’t been successful yet.”
- Value process over results. Try to focus more on the journey and all the discoveries you can make during the process, and not on the destination alone. This can also help you hone your skills in being more present.
- Be realistic about time and effort. You most likely will not master everything or achieve your goals all at once or immediately. Be patient with yourself and the process of learning or starting something new.
- Cultivate grit. Don’t get overwhelmed by aiming for perfection. Aim for continuous excellence and let your measure of success be that you are better than you were yesterday. You walked more steps today than yesterday, or tracked your meals for three days straight versus just two days.
- Make new goals. Set new goals or refine existing goals. When you accomplish one goal, push yourself to go higher and do better. Keep moving forward!
- Cultivate a sense of purpose. Desire to leave a legacy that influences others to achieve their goals as you achieve yours. Even without speaking, you are a person of influence to your coworkers, friends, and family, whether you believe it or not.
- Take ownership of your attitude. As you develop a growth mindset and recognize the life-changing benefits, be proud of it, celebrate it, and go on to Inspire others.
Having a “growth mindset” helps you achieve the goals you set for yourself and empowers you to keep making progress towards a healthier (and more satisfactory) lifestyle. Good luck!