In my last article I broke down for you the health benefits of mindfulness. Today I would like to talk to you about how to improve your mindset. “Its all in your head.” How many times have you heard that?
The phrase is often used as shaming technique (or at least it was in my experience as a child and youth). But it’s a little more true than we might have realized, especially when it comes to whether or not a person makes healthy choices, like eating well or exercising.
Let me briefly explain why this is actually incredibly exciting and positive. Here’s why. What you think can change everything. Your thoughts are actually in your head.
Since you can change what’s in your head, you can change what is happening. (That’s called growth mindset and letting go of limiting beliefs.) So indeed, it’s all in your head. Now THAT is exciting and positive!
“Mindset” is a modern term, relatively little used until Carol Dweck’s Mindset: The New Psychology of Success became a bestseller when it was released in 2006. Dweck’s work disproved a number of deeply rooted beliefs, including the idea that intelligence is fixed, and people can’t get any smarter than they already are.
As it turns out, intelligence is not as important as mindset, or whether a person believes they can learn. The two primary mindsets, as laid out in Dweck’s research, are 1) fixed mindset, and 2) growth mindset.
When a person is in fixed mindset, they are believing that nothing can change, themselves not least. In growth mindset, every challenge is an opportunity for learning and change.
Not surprisingly, those who are in “growth mindset” are far more successful than those who are in “fixed mindset.”
Ability is not primarily innate. That is, talent is made more than it is born, and the most successful people are those who put in the effort, time, and learning that is necessary to improve. Of course, putting in the effort is really only possible if you believe that you can change your ability through practice.
A fixed mindset is a prison. A prison built on a foundation of falsehood and made from lies. A prison that makes you both warden and prisoner, a prison that you can only get out of my allowing yourself to change your mind and believe that growth, change, and hope really are possible.
When you change your mind and open that prison, growth mindset begins. Instead of a prison, your mind becomes a laboratory, a place to explore and learn and make mistakes and try again. A place to have fun and develop and change.
Prison or laboratory, the choice is yours. When you begin the process of moving from a prison to a laboratory, some of the underground reinforcement that kept the prison intact needs to be removed. That reinforcement is called “limiting beliefs.”
Understanding Limiting Beliefs
Limiting beliefs can be incredibly destructive and are often at the root of self-sabotaging and unhealthy behaviors.
It’s worth taking the time to look at why we continue to do harmful things or, even if we aren’t harming ourselves, why we are not doing things that will help us live longer and better.
Identifying a Limiting Belief
Because limiting beliefs usually operate in the subconscious mind, identifying them is often difficult. Begin by paying attention to your self-talk, the loops that are running in your brain.
Listen for “never”, “always”, “I can’t” and “I have to.” For example, I have several friends who believe that they have to eat a high-carbohydrate snack in the middle of the afternoon to avoid an energy slump.
I used to believe that I didn’t have enough time to pack a healthy lunch, and therefore I had to eat whatever was available in the vending machine.
That caused me to gain nearly 20 pounds, develop carb tolerance issues, and become addicted to energy drinks. A good way to identify limiting beliefs is to make a list of the behaviors that you do that you know are not good for you.
For each item on the list, ask yourself why you need to do it. Often that simple exercise will bring up what seem to be excuses, but in reality are deeply rooted beliefs.
Going through your list with a trusted friend and asking them to help you identify the excuses/limiting beliefs can be extremely revealing and powerful. Beside each behavior, write the limiting belief that’s behind it. Hang on to the list. You’ll need it later.
Changing a Limiting Belief
To remove a limiting belief, a deep psychological change needs to take place. This can take time, and the process is not always linear.
Tony Robbins uses the classic Dicken’s A Christmas Carol to explain how this takes place. Basically, what Robbins says is that when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of staying the same, you will change.
For example, I knew a woman who had gained significant weight over several decades and was obviously making food and activity choices that were going to continue the progression unless something changed.
But she didn’t change. Not until being overweight began to interfere with her ability to care for her son, who has severe disabilities. When she was faced with the harsh reality of either losing weight or putting her son into an institution where others could care for him, she decided to change.
That was almost exactly one year ago. She has lost over sixty pounds, decreased the amount of blood pressure medication she needs, walks with less pain, is able to bend and lift, and best of all, caring for her son at home is looking like a very real possibility.
But the change couldn’t happen until the pain of staying the same was greater than the pain of changing.
Steps for Changing a Limiting Belief
Perhaps you’ve identified a few limiting beliefs. Things like, “Weight loss won’t work for me.” “I’m just going to gain it back anyway.” “Exercise is too hard.” “If I don’t try, I won’t risk failure.” “I have to have ___.”
That’s awesome! You’ve done a first crucial step.
To make it easier for me to remember how to deal with a limiting belief when one comes up (which is still fairly often), I came up with a simple acronym. ACT.
ACT to change.
Acknowledge. Become aware of and acknowledge to yourself which scripts are running in your head. Which have to’s are you listening to?
Confess. Talk about the scripts. Tell someone. Perhaps ask someone to pray with you about them—that can do a deep reprogramming that almost nothing else can do.
Truth. It isn’t enough to kick out the limiting beliefs. You need to replace them with what is true. Go back to your list. For every limiting belief that you wrote out, write the corresponding truth.
Lie: “Weight loss won’t work for me.” Truth: “Weight loss may not be easy, but it is possible. I need to find the things that work for me.”
Lie: “I’m just going to gain it back anyway.” Truth: “If I lose weight through sustainable lifestyle changes, there is no need to gain it back.”
Lie: “Exercise is too hard.” Truth: “Exercise is hard work, but I can do it.”
Lie: “If I don’t try, I won’t risk failure.” Truth: “If I try, I have a chance to succeed.”
Lie: “I have to have ___.” Truth: “I really want _________, but I don’t have to have it.”
Get Out of Prison!
This article is only an overview, and much more could be written about. In fact, many people have, and one of the best guides that I’ve found to lead you on a prison break is Dr. Neil Anderson, a Christian psychologist and counselor who is well-known for tackling the spiritual aspect of these mindset issues.
If you are a Christian (or even if you’re not, although it will probably be a tough read) Anderson’s book Bondage Breaker is a great resource.
So what are your thoughts on how to improve your mindset? What will you do this week to improve on your mindset? Share your thoughts below. Be Well!