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4 Ways to Leverage Your Mindsets for Wellbeing

Thinking is more powerful than you might think.

Key points

  • Your wellbeing is mirrored in your mindsets.
  • To build healthier mindsets, practice reframing and rehearsing.
  • Mindsets influence your physiological processes.
  • Consider the impact of a specific mindset.
Kevin Mueller/Unsplash
Source: Kevin Mueller/Unsplash

To become a person who is caring well for their psyche, it's important to develop an adaptive awareness of your most common mindsets.

Mindsets are the internal scripts that are mentally rehearsed as if they were true. These fundamental assumptions often remain unquestioned throughout our lives. Picture a mindset as a kind of guiding compass for your brain to map where to go in a particular context with its preferred route, the one with the least mileage.

Relevant research affirms that our mindsets are much more than a mere placebo effect or simply thinking positively. Keeping these four strategies in mind can help you leverage your mindsets more effectively.

1. Be aware that you have mindsets about almost everything.

Each of us has a worldview that has been simplified from our interpretation of reality. Mindsets develop consciously and unconsciously from our childhood and adult experiences, from cultural influences, and from our reasoning.

Practice curiosity to discover your mindsets, especially in areas of desired growth. Perhaps you would like to be more present with your young children but find yourself losing interest in the play. Explore your mindset about this first before attempting to alter it.

2. To build healthier mindsets, practice reframing and rehearsing to recreate a mindset.

To intentionally change a mindset that you are aware is problematic, research suggests that you explicitly define the more adaptive mindset.

If you lack previous learning in a particular area, then you can often more easily establish a healthy mindset. Well-traversed mindsets require consistent reframing in order to trigger renewal because essentially, you're building new connections within your previously-established neural pathways.

One client of mine, for example, recognized a dysfunctional mindset when her panic symptoms increased. She thought: “I’ve worked so hard at managing my panic disorder. I would be failing to have a panic attack after having gone two years without having one.” In therapy, she modified that mindset to a more adaptive and compassionate one: “I’ve grown in my anxiety journey. I’m stronger. The feelings of discomfort are signs of my new learning with these new triggering events”.

3. Consider the impact of a specific mindset.

It may be difficult to assess the veracity of a mindset. In those cases, examine instead the outcome of the mindset. Are you struggling to reach a goal, for example? There’s likely a mindset that is interfering.

Watch out for anxiety and avoidance behaviors as potential clues that you may have an injurious mindset. Often, mindsets influence anxiety levels, which can negatively impact important life goals or overall well-being—and sometimes even cost us our physical health.

To give an example: Oral immunotherapy is an effective treatment method to desensitize people with allergies. Yet the anxiety and discomfort from side effects often result in high dropout rates before remission can occur. In a study, Howe and colleagues reported significant gains in improving the reduction of participants’ peanut allergy by fostering a patient mindset that a symptom, like swallowing difficulty, is a sign of successful treatment—for example, “The lump in my throat means this medicine is working.”

You can utilize this neurobiological principle by adopting a mindset that normalizes your initial discomfort when pursuing a new goal or desired outcome. Another common example is when someone is attempting to develop stronger social support; often, the process of building community triggers self-consciousness. Instead of seeing this feeling of awkwardness as evidence that you are failing at building new friendships, an adaptive mindset might see it as a sign that you're doing the hard work to create a social network.

4. Mindsets influence your physiological processes.

Mindsets can change your body’s biochemistry. For example, many people have unhelpful deprivation mindsets regarding eating healthy foods. Vegetables are “rabbit food” and are overall considered less satisfying.

In a study entitled "Mind Over Milkshakes," researchers found that participants experienced fullness based on what they believed about the nature of the food they consumed. Their mindset appeared to communicate to an enzyme in their gut, ghrelin, about whether they should experience satiation. In another study, researchers found that housekeepers’ metabolic rate increased after they were informed that they were meeting the medically recommended activity levels through their daily work—without them actually changing exercise or increasing their steps.

By examining your unhelpful and inaccurate mindsets, you can alter the communication from your brain to your physiological systems that support your physical health. And by simply exploring your mindsets, you have a tool that can improve your well-being without expense or procedure. Leverage your beautiful brain to work more fully on your behalf.

References

Crum, A. J., Corbin, W., Brownell, K. & Salovey, P. (2011). Mind Over Milkshakes: Mindsets, Not Just Nutrients, Determine Ghrelin Response. Health Psychology.

uilford Press.

Crum AJ, Langer EJ. Mind-Set Matters: Exercise and the Placebo Effect. Psychological Science. 2007;18(2):165-171. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9280.2007.01867.x

Goyer, J. P., Akinola, M., Grunberg, R., & Crum, A. J. (2021). Thriving under pressure: The effects of stress-related wise interventions on affect, sleep, and exam performance for college students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Emotion. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1037/emo0001026

Howe, L. C., *Leibowitz, K. A., *Perry, M. A., Bitler, J. M., Block, W., Kaptchuk, T. J., Nadeau, K. C., & Crum, A. J. (2019). Changing patient mindsets about non-life-threatening symptoms during oral immunotherapy: A randomized clinical trial. The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: In Practice.

Walton, G. M. & Crum, A. J. (eds.) (2020). Handbook of Wise Interventions: How Social-Psychological Insights Can Help Solve Problems. New York, NY: G

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