Your thoughts are everything. They form your mindset, moods, attitudes and habits. This is why when you lead change, your success is dependent on each team member changing his or her mindset.
As Victor Frankl wrote in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, “Everything can be taken away from a person but one thing – the last of the human freedoms, to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances; to choose one's own way.” This ability to choose one’s attitude is the essence of personal power and an organization’s success.
"Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?"
- Mary Oliver, The Summer Day
How Your Mindset Forms
Research across disciplines including physics, neurology, psychology and education shows that your mindset is formed by the interaction of habitual thoughts, emotions, and imagery.
Candace Pert, PhD, former head of Brain Biochemistry at NIH, pioneered the studies that found the link between our body and our mind. Pert mapped how positive thoughts and emotions like love and appreciation trigger one set of biochemical reactions in the body, and negative thoughts and emotions like resentment and sadness trigger another different set of reactions.
After decades of research, Pert discovered that our body’s chemicals are the physical manifestation of our thoughts and emotions.
Once your thoughts and emotions become habitual, they form a neural network that keeps your mindset habitually in place. This neural network is not just in your brain, it’s all over your body. It keeps you, literally, on automatic.
That’s why when you master a habit, like riding a bicycle or operating the new software on your computer, you’re on automatic. You’ve mastered the habit. The neural network is in place, like a groove in a record.
The mindset and its neural network continues developing stronger with REPETITION and PRACTICE. The more repetitive your thoughts, the stronger the neural network. The stronger the neural network, the stronger your mindset … regardless of whether your thoughts are positive OR negative.
The Glue That Holds the Mindset in Place
The neural network is the glue that holds the mindset in place. It has three unique characteristics:
1) Neural networks grow larger and stronger with repetitive use. For example, if you are in the habit of believing you’re the victim of your work schedule, you are likely to feel resentful and trapped. It becomes your “story.” Every time you repeat this “story” to yourself or someone else, it builds a stronger neural network and becomes the energetic substrate of the “victim mindset.”
2) A neural network “remembers” every time it is reinforced, AND preferentially selects for the same thoughts and emotions.
3) A neural network serves as a mental lens, filtering how we see and interpret our experience and the world around us. You begin to see what you want to see. Out stories become self-fulfilling prophecies.
Whatever “story” you believe…positive or negative…you gather evidence to prove yourself right over and over. When you feel resistance to change, it’s not that you're not good enough. It’s the strength of the neural network that makes you feel like you are up against a wall.
How Do You Change Your Mindset?
1) Be Willing
Since beliefs are just a collection of thoughts, you can change them. You probably formed these beliefs when you were a child or under the influence of a less skillful parent or teacher, but you are an adult today and have the power to choose something new. Be willing to change. Be bold. Be the chooser.
2) Feed the Mindset You Want
The fastest way to change your mindset is to feed the mindset you want to create. Feeding the positive weakens the negative.
Athletes have known this for years.
Marilyn King, an Olympic athlete, was a member of the 1980 U.S. team competing in the Pentathlon. Just before the Olympics, she was in a serious accident and suffered a back injury that resulted in her being bed-ridden for several months and missing the Olympic workouts.
Marilyn watched videos of other athletes doing the pentathlon. She visualized herself performing the events in detail…over and over. Despite her lack of physical preparation, Marilyn placed second in the trials! She thanked her ability to visualize her goal and mentally rehearse it using affirmations and vivid imagery.
Neurons don’t know the difference whether you are actually doing something or just visualizing it. Either way, the neural network grows stronger.
3) Love it!
Your new mindset or attitude needs to have heart and meaning for you. This creates intention and enthusiasm that keeps you going. It also generates endorphins in your body. Pert found that endorphins are largely responsible for how we learn and change.
Dr. James Zull, Director of Innovation in Teaching and Education at Case Western Reserve University, and Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence, found that the more you are feel inspired and emotionally engaged, and have fun in your life, the larger and stronger the positive neural network becomes. This process happens regardless of age and happens throughout the body including the brain. You learn faster and change habits easier.
Select one thing you want to change: one attitude, one belief, one perspective. Decide what you want instead. Use the power of your imagination to vividly picture what you really want. Remember, any resistance you feel is just the old neural network. It has nothing to do with your personal worth or abilities.
Now strengthen your new mindset and neural network by adding enthusiasm, inspiration, and fun. Mentally rehearse this for just 10 minutes a day. Do this at work and in your personal life.
Change your mindset, and you will change your life.
Be the Chooser!