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Cultivating a Healthy Mindset

April 05, 2021 by Britt Fulmer

The Anatomy of a Mindset

Mindsets are a culmination of our thoughts, beliefs, and assumptions that influence our actions. We arrive at these mindsets through our life experiences, which shape the way we look at the world. Through each of these experiences, we learn something new, such as life lessons or new skills. Our brains soak up these learnings, feeding our belief systems and shaping our world view. 

A mindset has three distinct parts: 

  1. Beliefs about ourselves. This includes beliefs about our abilities, talents, and skills that inform how we see ourselves. 
  2. Beliefs about our relationship with the world. This includes how we view our ability to make our way in the world and achieve our goals.
  3. How these beliefs manifest in our actions. This is the critical aspect of our mindset. It’s not about the inward beliefs and thoughts that float in and out of our consciousness on a daily basis, but the beliefs and thoughts that make a difference – the ones on full display in how we show up for the world. 

Having healthy mindsets opens doors for growth and success, helping us move toward a hopeful future and a happy present. Unhealthy mindsets, however, can make us feel stuck and trap us in harmful patterns of behavior. 

There’s no reason to worry, however, as healthy, positive mindsets can be developed. Similar to our muscles, we can exercise our minds and strengthen our mindsets over time, bolstering our life satisfaction and well-being. 

Mindset Types 

The term ‘mindset‘ has origins traced back to the 1930s, defined as ‘habits of mind formed by previous experience.’ Since then, the way we think about mindset has evolved, as we now understand that our mindsets can be cultivated and learned. 

Growth and Fixed Mindset

The most popular and well-known theory is Stanford University Psychologist Carol Dweck’s distinction between a growth and fixed mindset. Her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success popularized mindset and its applications to different fields. Her research took a deep dive into the power of both our conscious and unconscious beliefs, demonstrating how these beliefs dictate various aspects of our lives. 

Essentially, having a fixed mindset means that you believe your capabilities are static or unable to improve. You believe your abilities thrive on talent alone, which can ultimately set you up for major letdowns. On the other hand, a growth mindset means that you believe your capabilities can always be improved or grown. You believe you thrive on your ability to persevere. As you can imagine, a growth mindset is wildly beneficial, especially as you face life’s failures and setbacks. If you’re hoping to develop a growth mindset for yourself, consider these questions: 

  • What strategies do I need to push through roadblocks when things are hard?
  • How can I develop a skill in which I am lacking?
  • What skills or abilities have I recently developed? What did I learn about myself?

While Growth Mindset is one of the most popular forms of mindset studied in the world of Positive Psychology, it is not the only game in town. There are several other mindset models that Positive Psychology researchers continue to analyze and develop. Each of the mindsets below can be cultivated, strengthened, and leveraged to give each person a chance at living a flourishing life. 

Optimistic Mindset

An optimistic mindset boils down to two key beliefs: the belief in a hopeful future and the belief in your agency over your future. If you truly embody these beliefs, you’re more likely to overcome life’s adversities and setbacks with greater ease. This is because a positive mindset influences the way we see problems, allowing us to think clearly and properly assess potentially troubling situations. 

Optimistic thinking goes beyond just the way we handle our problems. It also builds positive emotion, bolsters several physical health markers, and helps reduce troubling mental health symptoms tied to anxiety and depression. 

Over the years, Positive Psychology researchers have identified a number of ways that more optimistic thinkers manage their lives. Optimistic thinkers are more likely to reframe the way they think about stressors. For example, if an optimistic thinker is stuck in traffic, they might see the extra time in their car as space for creative brainstorming or the opportunity to finish a favorite podcast. This is because optimistic thinkers are more likely to accept the things that are out of their control, like traffic, and instead focus on the things they can control, like how they spend their time in their car. 

Optimistic thinkers focus on identifying solutions and taking appropriate action. They rarely ruminate on the problems they face. The next time a challenge or adversity rears its head in your life, ask yourself these questions: 

  • How can I reframe this to see it from a more positive angle?
  • What is under my control?
  • What solutions can I generate, given the situation I am faced with?
  • How can I take action on this problem today?  

Proactive Mindset

A proactive mindset is the difference between accomplishing a goal or task now vs. procrastinating the task until later. This isn’t to say that people with a proactive mindset need to do everything ‘now.’ Quite the opposite is true. Proactive thinkers plan ahead to ensure that things are moving along in a timely, efficient manner. On the other hand, reactive thinkers struggle to plan ahead and often rely on their ability to respond quickly to sudden changes in their environment. 

For example, when a proactive thinker is stuck in traffic, it’s likely they are already aware of an alternate route. Or, perhaps they call into work to give an update and offer assistance over the phone. Alternatively, reactive thinkers are more likely to hit the panic button and stress about the prospect of being late. 

Proactive thinking doesn’t just save you from those ‘oh, no!” moments; it has also been linked to lower stress scores and higher self-efficacy. With stress linked to a number of both physical and mental health problems, it’s easy to see the importance of generating more proactive strategies in your life. 

Like optimistic thinkers, proactive thinkers are solution and action-oriented. They think through potential obstacles that might arise in their world and make back-up plans. This kind of thinking significantly lowers stress and bolsters one’s ability to cope with difficult situations. If you’re looking to build your proactive mindset, try asking these questions: 

  • What is something I can do today that I’ve been putting off?
  • What strategies can I put in place for an upcoming project?
  • How would my life be different if I planned my next steps today instead of putting it off to tomorrow?
  • What systems do I need to leverage to be successful?

Resilient Mindset 

Resilience is one of the most complex and multi-faceted topics in Positive Psychology, and several protective factors contribute to its effectiveness. Truly resilient people tap into a multitude of resources, ranging from an optimistic mindset to positive relationships, to help them navigate difficult situations. Thus, building a resilient mindset first means knowing what resources you have at your disposal and learning how to leverage them in situations that require their presence. 

Resilient thinkers are highly self-aware, and with this awareness, they can better control their thoughts. For example a resilient thinker stuck in traffic might hear themselves start to complain or panic. When this happens, they assess whether or not their thoughts are helping them manage the stressor. With this in mind, they actively change their thoughts to something helpful, such as, “I should call my boss to let them know,” or, “This isn’t anyone’s fault, and I can’t do anything to change it.” Their ability to challenge counterproductive thoughts enables them to stay focused and think clearly as they manage difficult situations. 

Studies show that resilience can lower symptoms of depression and anxiety and bolster overall life-satisfaction and well-being. In addition to optimism, relationships, and challenging counterproductive thinking, several other factors play a role in resilience’s ability to have these kinds of effects. Learning and leveraging one’s character strengths, cultivating positive emotions, and tapping into mindfulness practices all play a part in building one’s resilience. Consider asking these questions to help you build your resilience: 

  • What is my relationship with counterproductive thoughts?
  • What positive emotion can I cultivate today?
  • How is this thought helping me? What isn’t helping me?
  • Who can I reach out to that can help me in this situation? 

Mindful Mindset

Mindfulness has been practiced for centuries, and Positive Psychology researchers have been leveraging the benefits of mindfulness for decades.  

A mindful thinker is thoughtful about their decisions and stays in the moment. This prevents things like anxiety or worry from taking control. For example, a mindful thinker stuck in traffic is unlikely to dwell on the things that led up to that moment, nor are they likely to worry about what will happen after. Instead, they remain focused on what’s happening in the moment and make their decisions based on real-time observations. A mindful mindset means being present, taking your learning as it comes, and making decisions based on what’s happening right now. 

Studies indicate that the experience of mindfulness has positive benefits for emotion regulation, decreased reactivity, and greater cognitive flexibility. By focusing on the way the mind perceives the world around it, psychologists and psychotherapists can help their clients identify the emotions, thoughts, and behaviors that distract them from the present moment. From there, mental health professionals can work toward building mindfulness.

But you don’t need a psychologist or therapist to build a mindful mindset. In fact, there are many apps, websites, and resources available for anyone interested in starting their own mindfulness/meditation practice. New trends, such as mindful eating and mindful play, have popped up in recent years. This further asserts mindfulness as an effective way to build positive emotion, develop adaptive stress responses, and improve well-being. If you’re hoping to be more mindful, consider these questions: 

  • What am I learning by staying present with the moment?
  • What do I need to let go of to stay present?
  • How can I leverage mindful strategies in stressful situations?
  • What strategies do I need to develop to be more mindful every day?

Why Mindset Matters

Negative emotions and thoughts have a way of creeping into our minds and tampering with our ability to think and make decisions productively. Without an effective ability to conjure positive emotions and thoughts, this negativity can linger, creating harmful thought patterns that work against our future success. 

Each scientific study outlined in this article highlights the crucial impact a growth mindset can have on a person’s mental and physical health. From lower symptoms of depression and anxiety to increases in positive emotion and well-being, having the right mindset is crucial for optimal life satisfaction. 

While Carol Dweck’s growth mindset is an excellent place to begin building healthy thought patterns, it is only one of many. Any of the mindsets listed above can be cultivated, developed, and strengthened to build a healthier and more meaningful life. And it is with those mindsets that you will start to see purposeful change take place in your life.

If you’re interested in learning more about how to strategically use mindset to elicit positive change, check out our coach training programs, and help people transform into their best selves.

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