Mind your Mindset

The importance of mindset

A mindset refers to a person’s world view and core assumptions; somewhat interchangeable with ‘mentality.’ Given our mindset is the lens we see and evaluate the outside world, it is immensely rewarding to invest time into working towards more positive, productive mindsets.

Priming your mind

Priming is a technique whereby exposure to one stimulus influences a response to a subsequent stimulus.

In a simple example, if you say the word “yellow” to someone and ask them to respond, they are much more likely to think of a word related to yellow like “banana” than an unrelated word like “computer.” You have primed the the response via the introduction of yellow — and the respondent is much more likely to pick something they associate with yellow as a result.

Our mindsets prime our mental state. The mindset you’re in will influence the information you perceive, the feelings you take away and your overall perception and memory of an experience.

Image via Zurb Foundation — You Can’t Design Without a Growth Mindset

Mindset Models

Mindset models provide a framework for understanding how our minds are primed. These models are the software your brain is running and evaluating experiences against. Your mind is unconsciously primed via your mindset. Your mindset governs your understanding and reaction to stimuli, challenges and environments.

Fixed vs Growth Mindset

Carol Dweck popularized the idea of mindset with her seminal work on Fixed vs Growth mindsets aptly named Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.

In a Fixed Mindset, people believe their qualities and attributes are fixed traits and therefore cannot change. Those in a fixed mindset believe there is no real way to improve their intelligence and skills. Rather than working to develop and improve, they often give up and don’t seek out new challenges. They also believe that talent alone leads to success, and effort is largely irrelevant.

Conversely, in a Growth Mindset, people possess an underlying belief that their learning and intelligence can grow with time and experience. When people believe they can improve and acquire new skills via concerted effort, they put in extra work. This leads to a positive feedback loop where additional effort leads to skill acquisition and achievement.

Foster a growth mindset. There’s little downside to believe you can improve — especially since you can. Dweck also found that the growth mindset created a passion for learning rather than a hunger for approval.

The Fixed vs Growth dichotomy doesn’t apply just the way we view ourselves. It also influences our relationships. Those with fixed mindsets believe that neither they or their partners are capable of change and improvement, and can get frustrated if things aren’t perfect right away. With a growth mindset, partners are more likely to recognize their own flaws and work together to improve as they believe change is possible.

Abundance vs Scarcity

The abundance mindset believes that there can be win-win outcomes. The opposite is scarcity, which is the belief there’s a limited amount of resources that we need to compete over. Either you see the world as a zero sum game with limited winners or believe there are enough resources and success to share with others.

Abundant thinking was popularized by Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People — detailed in Habit #4 ‘Think Win-Win’. The goal is to see life as a cooperative arena, not a competitive one. We train ourselves to attempt to seek mutual gain in all interactions.

Abundant thinking also goes hand in hand with gratitude and generosity. Remembering what you’re grateful for and the generosity received help reframe zero-sum situations in potential mutually beneficial outcomes.

Abundant mindset allows you to challenge the belief that everyone is out to get you. This alone is a massive benefit.

Set & Setting

Michael Pollan’s book How to Change Your Mind introduced me to the concept of Set & Setting. The Set refers to the internal mindset during an experience, while the Setting references external factors prevalent in an experience. Pollan describes this concept in the context of hallucinatory trips, however Set & Setting can be abstracted to any experience.

Set is the mental state a person brings to the experience, like thoughts, mood and expectations; it comes from an abbreviation of ‘Mindset.’ Setting is the physical and social environment. Setting can describe the weather, the room’s atmosphere and even the social and cultural norms of the environment. These two elements are carefully considered while conducting therapeutic psychedelic experiences.

I’m drawn to the concept of Set & Setting because it’s impossible to isolate mindset from environment. Our mindset is inextricably linked to the social and physical environment we exist in. If you’re having trouble achieving your desired mindset, it may be due to the setting. Set & Setting speaks to our need to curate positive internal and external priming factors in our lives.

Value in a negative mindset?

Are there benefits from being in a slightly negative mindset? According to legendary designer Don Norman — yes!

A negative mindset is where the work gets done.

“A positive emotional state is ideal for creative thought, but is not very well suited for getting things done. Too much, and we call the person scatterbrained, flitting from one topic to another, unable to finish one thought before another comes to mind. A brain in a negative emotional state provides focus: precisely what is needed to maintain attention on a task and finish it. Too much, however, and we get tunnel vision, where people are unable to look beyond their narrow point of view. Both the positive, relaxed state and the anxious, negative, and tense state are valuable and powerful tools for human creativity and action. The extremes of both states, however, can be dangerous.”
From Don Norman’s ‘The Design of Everyday Things’

If we consistently live in the realm of possibility it’s hard to commit to anything. We are constantly dreaming, evaluating and finding better options. However, at some point the work needs to get done.

What gets us to actually do something? For many creative people it’s pressure and deadlines. Constraints are often a very powerful tool for creative work. We can then harness negative mindsets in order to provide the focus needed to complete a project and move forward.

It’s dangerous to spend too much time on either end of the positive-negative spectrum. This where deadlines and creative process can help. By having scheduled time to be both in a positive (creative) mindset and negative (focused) mindset, we allow ourselves the benefit of both.

How to change your mindset

Changing mindset is a long journey that requires concerted effort and shifts in perspective. While difficult, changing your mindset can change your life. There are certain actions I’ve found helpful in improving mindset.

Understand your Current Mindset

Evaluate which ones are useful to you and which you’d like to change. You may already possess some great mindset models. The key here is to be honest with yourself.

If it’s hard to accurately assess your mindset(s), look at your repeated behaviors and actions. You may be able to glean your mindset by seeing patterns in your feelings that preceded your actions.

Develop a Growth Mindset

The most essential part of change is believing you can change. Developing a Growth Mindset is an invaluable first step in journey to mindset mastery. Sincerely believing that you can change and improve will help alleviate destructive self-limiting thoughts.

Keep a Gratitude Journal

Self-awareness is crucial to work on mindset, so schedule a regular check-in with yourself. Keeping a Five-Minute or Gratitude Journal can be helpful here. Try to keep your records as timely and frequent as possible, for as time passes, we tend to remember experiences differently.

Create Rituals

Find a ritual that helps prime you into the right mindset. Rituals are powerful habits often accompanied by ceremonial activities. Meditation is a popular and effective way to reset, but it’s not the only option. Your ritual could be the gym, long walks or creating something. Experiment with several rituals to see what helps you get in the desired mindset.

Be Gentle With Yourself

Do not be a perfectionist when it comes to your mindset. Bad days and setbacks are inevitable. The key, as with most of life, is continuous effort over time. When you find yourself straying from your desired mindset, forgive yourself and use your rituals to help yourself re-align.

Set Your Mind

The mindset you cultivate has outsize impacts on your experience and your perceptions. Mindset is the software you apply to your day to day experiences; a set of filters you apply to any given experience. Your mindset determines which bits of information you pay attention, which ones you value and which ones are beneficial to ignore. It’s worth investing the time and energy to evaluate and cultivate the mindset you want.

It will change your mind.