I recently had the honor of presenting at the National Strength and Conditioning Association’s BC conference. I spoke about the importance of mindset and how coaches and therapists can help empower their clients and patients towards improving their health and performance.
Here is a summary of what I covered.
1. Mindset is simply a way of thinking. A collection of beliefs and thoughts… a mental inclination or disposition. A belief that shapes the way we handle situations – the way we navigate what’s going on and how we respond. Your mindset impacts how you make sense of the world, and how you make sense of you.
2. Mindset can be changed – with powerful consequences. The principle of neuroplasticity dictates that our brains wiring can be changed over time through grooving new habits.
3. Aside from genetic components, mindset is massively influenced by cultural, geographic, social and environmental forces. The cultural impact on negative and otherwise fixed mindsets should not be underestimated.
4. Humans have anywhere from 12,000 to 60,000 thoughts per day. Approximately 80% of those are negative. That is anywhere from 9,600 to 48,000 negative thoughts per day! Perhaps even more importantly, we carry around 98% of the same thoughts daily.
5. Social media has served to fuel the negativity – largely by being a breeding ground for comparative mentalities. As Winston Churchill once said “comparison is the thief of joy”. And when joy suffers, so too does progress.
6. We have a perfect storm working against us as we have ancient brains that were designed to survive and consume in a modern environment with easy access to hyperpalatable foods. While we think we are under the control of our logical, “new” brains, it is really the ticklings of our reactive and instinctive “old” brains that win out in the end. Just think about tasks you’ve been putting off for months or the produce – once destined for a salad or stir fry rotting in your fridge.
7. The above has historical and contemporary examples. Plato described the charioteer (logical brain) trying to corral the wild horse (instinctive brain). Chip and Dan Heath in their book “Switch” used the elephant, the rider and the path. The rider being the logical brain, trying to steer an elephant (ancient brain) in the right direction.
8. Our perceptive of motivation from a social media standpoint is horrendously dysfunctional. Most of the “fitspiration” is any combination of trite/shaming/misleading/polarizing. True motivation is not delivered from a stage, nor is it found in a meme or mantra. In fact, positive affirmations tend to work for the people who need it the least and backfire on the people who need it the most. Researchers find that those who suffer from low self-esteem are inclined to reject the messages as they feel them to be untrue.
9. Fitspiration fails under social scientific scrutiny. In a study of 106 College aged women, “fitspirational” images both failed to impact exercise engagement and lead to greater body image concern (Body Image. Volume 22, September 2017, Pages 65-71)
10. The importance of motivation is generally overstated and misunderstood. To get the most out of “motivation” often requires action first, focusing on intrinsic motivation (ie. doing something for its own sake) and aligning actions with values.
11. One of the hallmarks of intrinsic motivation is to work on trying to achieve a state of “flow” whereby one is aware of how she wants an activity to feel and the experience becomes “autotelic” (auto = self, telic = goal). Ryan and Deci’s research on self-determination theory further bolsters this idea. Self-determination Theory suggest 3 basic needs;
- Competence: Seek to control the outcome and experience mastery.
- Relatedness – the universal want to interact, be connected to, and experience caring for others.
- Autonomy: The universal urge to be causal agents of one’s own life and act in harmony with one’s integrated self.
12. Having a growth vs fixed mindset is crucial for sustainable success. Those with a growth mindset see obstacles and failures as challenges and are eager to learn and grow in the face of setbacks. Those with fixed mindsets on the other hand tend to see themselves as good at something or not, more prone to give up when things get difficult and see ceilings for their potential.
13. Self-talk is vital to re-framing any setbacks and changing your brain’s wiring towards healthier paths. When it comes to self-talk, motivational experts recommend what’s called “interrogative self-talk” whereby instead of saying “you can do this” you ask the question; “can I do this?”. Asking the question prompts thinking about actions steps and internalizes the “how” of your pursuits.
14. Another simple, yet helpful re-frame is replacing “I can’t” with “I won’t”. Other variations may include “I choose/choose NOT to”. This puts the responsibility and sense of control and autonomy in the hands of the user.
15. Mindset as we age: Older people, despite physical deterioration are overall happier than younger people. Why? According to researcher Dr. Laura Carstensen “As people get older, they’re more aware of mortality, so when they see or experience moments of wonderful things, that often comes with the realization that life is fragile and will come to an end. But that’s a good thing. It’s a signal of strong emotional health and balance.” She also recommends envisioning ways to thoroughly enjoy the years that lie ahead and imagine what it would be like to live a healthy, happy 100 years. “Design your social and physical environments – home, spending habits, eating habits – so that your daily routine reinforces your goals. Diversify your expertise and activities and avoid putting your social investments into only your spouse, children or job”.
16. Most of the studies on mindset and aging show that we are only as old as we believe we are. In the words of renowned researcher Dr. Ellen Langer “Let’s treat mind and body as just words”.
17. Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)–which, includes paying close attention to feelings, thoughts and other stimuli while meditating–has a myriad of benefits including;
- Stress reduction
- Reduced rumination
- Decreased negative affect (e.g. depression, anxiety)
- Less emotional reactivity/more effective emotion regulation
- Increased focus
- More cognitive flexibility
- Improved working memory
18. Happiness: The great western disease is “I’ll be happy when____” The problem with society’s view of happiness is that it is perceived as destination.. We are finding “happiness” in short spurts of hedonic and fleeting things and adrenaline-inducing experiences.
19. One of the most comprehensive studies on happiness yielded the following recommendations for being happy;
- Good for others: Cherish your most important relationships. Contribute to causes and purposes you believe in.
- Good at it: Do more of what you’re good at and challenge yourself at things you are not necessarily good at but want to be better at.
- Good for me: Take care of yourself,your health and well-being, your financial security, and your work/life balance.
20. Mindset change is possible – inevitable even.. When one commits to changing their own personal narratives. We are all an unfolding story and we are editors of that story. Everything we encounter is about how we frame situations. Our framing and re-framing will help re-wire our brains towards healthy habits.
Stay tuned for part II where we will delve into the specific strategies for mindset change!