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Your Mindset: Your Health

mindsetI recently watched a TEDx talk a friend of mine, Ed Briceno, gave a few months ago in Manhattan Beach.   His talk is anchored in research done by world-renowned Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck, an expert in how mindset creates motivation and productivity and the author of the appropriately titled book, Mindset.  Her premise is that we all operate in one of two ways: using a fixed mindset (the belief that our basic abilities are fixed traits) or a growth mindset (the belief that basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work).

I am most familiar with this point-of-view as it relates to parenting and education.  It’s all the rage among yuppie parents nowadays to “praise the process, not the product;” and I am constantly thinking about this as I give feedback to my kids (i.e., “wow, you’re working really hard,” instead of “that tower is amazing”…””I love the colors you chose for that painting,” versus “that painting is beautiful”).  Until I watched Ed’s talk, however, I hadn’t thought a lot about how mindset impacts adults (our work, health, relationships, and overall growth).

The role of mindset is particularly interesting as we think about our health goals and practices.  Now, let’s be honest, when we’re talking about your physiology, some things are hard-wired (my mom eats an incredibly healthy diet and still has high cholesterol, thanks to her genetics).  But, a ton of things aren’t, despite  what we may train ourselves to believe.  There are countless examples of people achieving amazing things, in large part,  because they adopted a growth mindset: Jarmo Pitkanen, a clinically obese endurance athlete from Denmark, completed one of the most grueling footraces on the planet — the Marathon des Sables; Sarah Reinertsen became the first female leg amputee to complete the Ironman; Josh Waitzkin became both a chess master and martial arts champion (Ed Shares Josh’s story in his talk).

A growth mindset is foundational to our ability to make shift from unfit to fit, puffy to svelte, disconnected to connected, dull to bright, goal-less to purposeful, etc.   It frees us to dream about what could be…what might be…and what will be instead of trapping us within the confines of “what is.”  This growth mindset doesn’t always come naturally, particularly in our 240-character existence where we regularly see accomplishments with limited understanding all the work that went into the end product.  But it’s possible – and worth it — to shift it.  In Ed’s talk, he offers three simple ways to improve our growth mindset:

1)   Accept mindset as truth: Recognize that mindset is a real thing supported by neuroscience and accept it as a framework

2)   Learn how to develop our abilities: Learn and teach others about how to develop each of our abilities (through effort and practice)

3)   Actively shift: Listen for the fixed mindset voice, and when we hear it, respond with our growth mindset voice (think “Little Engine That Could”)

If this is new to you, I’d love to hear your thoughts.  Do you have a fixed mindset about certain parts of your life and a growth on about others? How might an intentional focus on a growth mindset help you live within the guardrails in your personal wellfesto?  And if you’re aware of the concept of mindset, how has it impacted the way you live, work, and set goals?

One Comment Post a comment
  1. ebriceno #

    Hi Brynn. Cool, I’m glad the talk sparked food for thought on how mindset impacts adults. You may be interested in checking out this study that showed that a growth mindset helps in weight loss (http://psp.sagepub.com/content/36/3/410.abstract), or this one that shows that a growth mindset helps in the workplace (http://cdp.sagepub.com/content/17/3/219.abstract).

    Thanks for sharing your story about your mom eating an incredibly healthy diet and still having high cholesterol. Adding my 2 cents: I agree with everything you say. I’d also give height as an example of something that we tend not to be able to change after a certain age (so NBA player Chris Paul didn’t worry about that as he saw that as something he couldn’t control, as he explains in his book Long Shot, yet he became a great basketball player despite being relatively short, as did Leo Messi in soccer). Yes, our qualities have a “nature”/genetics component and a nurture/environmental component. But the key insight that mindset research has contributed is that people’s internal explanations make people behave differently. People who tend to think that they can control their health, or cholesterol, for example, tend to eat healthier diets than people who think that their cholesterol is fixed. Perhaps if your mom never thought that she couldn’t do anything about her health, she wouldn’t have gotten into the habit of eating so healthily, and she wouldn’t be eating so healthily now and her cholesterol would be higher than it is. The important thing is to realize that we can change ourselves (to what extent, we don’t know, since we don’t know what anyone’s “potential” is, and potential is something that changes as we change ourselves). But if we don’t focus on the growth/change process, we never know how much we can change (and by not trying, we see ourselves not changing, which confirms our beliefs). I think it’s fine to make a decision not to change certain things, either because you make a decision to see things as static as Chris Paul did (Leo Messi took a different stance – he took growth hormones to change his height), or because you make a decision not to grow in certain things so that you can focus on others. But the most important thing to realize in this topic is that the view of something as fixed or malleable changes our behavior and our outcomes (just like you described).

    January 12, 2013

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