Your thoughts are everything. They form your mindset, moods, attitudes and habits. This is why when you lead change, your success is directly dependent on each team member changing his or her mindset. 

If a leader spends thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours on a reorganization or the latest and greatest technology, and people don't change their habitual mindset, guess what?  It's money down the drain, lower morale, and change that’s unsuccessful. 

One of the greatest skills needed today is the ability to change and manage one's mindset. The first thing to understand is how your mindset forms in the first place.

How Your Mindset Forms

Research across disciplines including physics, neurology, psychology and education show that your mindset is formed by the combined interaction of habitual thoughts and their corresponding emotions and imagery.  Candace Pert, PhD, former head of Brain Biochemistry at NIH for 13 years, pioneered the studies that identified 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 a different set of reactions. After decades of research, Pert finally found that our body’s chemicals are the physical manifestation of thoughts and emotion.

Once your thoughts and emotions become habitual, they form a neural network that keeps the 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 software on your computer, you don’t have to think about it much.  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 the mindset … regardless of whether your thoughts are positive OR negative.

The Glue That Holds the Mindset in Place

These neural networks that hold the mindset in place have unique characteristics. One characteristic, as we’ve said, is they literally grow larger and stronger with repetition.  

For example, if you are in the habit of believing you are a victim of your work schedule, you are likely to feel resentful and trapped, assuming there is nothing you can do about it. You’re likely to complain and criticize others.   It becomes your “story.” You believe it.  The repetitive “story” develops a strong neural network which is like a substrate that hold the “victim mindset” in place.  

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. 

The second characteristic of a neural network is it “remembers” every time it is reinforced, AND preferentially selects for the same thoughts and emotions. 

The third characteristic is that 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.  Change your mindset, and you will change your life.

How Do You Change Your Mindset?

1) BE WILLING

Since beliefs are just a collection of thoughts, you can change them. You may have formed your beliefs when you were a child under the influence of a less skillful parent or teacher, but you are an adult today and have the power of choice.  

This is the essence of personal power: choice and responsibility. 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.” 

Be willing to change. Be bold. Be willing to 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.  Scientists find that every time you feed a positive mindset, it grows stronger and the negative one atrophies. How?  

Dare to imagine a new possibility, like you really are good enough to apply for that new job you’ve been wanting.  The mere act of imagining yourself in that new job, and enjoying it, creates the beginning of a new neural network.  If you keep repeating this, your new neural network becomes stronger than the old weaker one.  Feeding the positive weakens the negative.

This is not a new age fad, but a formula that has been proven by scientists across disciplines. 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 four months and missing the Olympic workouts.   Marilyn spent most of that time lying in bed watching videos of other athletes doing the pentathlon.   She visualized herself doing it …over and over.  Despite her lack of physical preparation, Marilyn placed second in the trials!  Thanks, she feels, to her psychological state and her ability to visualize her goal and mentally rehearse using affirmations and vivid imagery.

Scientists, psychologists, and perennial wisdom keepers agree with what Marilyn discovered: that 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!

You need passion for the new mindset you want to create. This creates endorphins in your body that are essential for change.  Pert found that endorphins are largely responsible for how you learn and change.  

The best way to make endorphins is through honest, genuine connections with people. It used to be thought that the runner’s high or sex produced the most endorphins in the body. What scientists find now is that genuine, authentic communication and inspiration produce far greater amounts of endorphins. They generate heart and meaning and the enthusiasm for 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, or one perspective. Imagine what you want instead. I mean really get wild into your imagination. Give yourself permission to play in your wildest mind.  Remember, any resistance you feel is just the neural network. It has nothing to do with your worth or your abilities.  Dare to imagine yourself into the future.  Use the power of your imagination to vividly picture what you really want. 

Now strengthen it by adding enthusiasm, inspiration, and fun. Mentally rehearse this for just 10 minutes a day, along with taking three small actions a day that reinforce that mindset. Do this at work and in your personal life. Change your mindset, and you will change your life.

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