Mindset Reset: Use your mind for more than studying.
Have you ever noticed that you can be getting good grades, or exercising regularly, or eating a healthy diet and some part of you still won’t let you catch a break?
I often hear from students that they can be pretty hard on themselves. They aren’t sure what’s good enough. They aren’t sure they are working hard enough. Even getting good grades or having some success doesn’t help them ease up on themselves.
If you have ever been hard on yourself, stay tuned. I’m going to cover some simple things you can do to upgrade your mindset so you can feel–and do–better!
As it turns out, your MIND is one of the most powerful tools in your toolbox. And, it’s not just for studying. Have you ever noticed your mind’s “inner chatter”? All the thoughts that run inside your head all day? But, your thoughts are a bit like a double edged sword. They can thwart you or support you. Mindset matters.
Lots of studies have demonstrated that your mood, behaviors and thoughts are all connected to each other. Several different theories in psychology address this: positive psychology, cognitive behavioral theory, dialectical behavioral theory.
How does it work? Well, basically this triangle–thoughts, behavior, emotion–all influence each other; if you make a change in one area and it can affect the other areas! Change your behavior, you can change your mood. Change your thoughts, you can change your behavior, and so on. It turns out that your thoughts trigger biochemical and hormonal changes in your brain that affect your body and your mood. And what kind of thoughts you think change the biochemical and hormonal reactions.
You can have healthy behaviors: exercise, eat healthy food, get a good night’s sleep, and still feel stressed or get depressed. That’s because if you are beating yourself up with your thoughts, then you’ve triggered a stress cycle in your body that depletes the hormones and biochemicals in your brain that support feeling happy or relaxed.
So, here are some ideas about how to start your mindset reset.
BECOME A STUDENT OF YOUR THOUGHTS
1. Step back and observe. Do a quick pop quiz: Try to think of every thought you’ve had since you woke up this morning. Write as many thoughts down on a sheet of paper as you can in 2 minutes. Seriously, take a break and do it right now.
2. Recognize that your thoughts are not YOU. You can observe and catalog and remember your thoughts now, and you are not continuing to have each of those thoughts every minute. Some of them are happy. Some are negative. Some are just neutral.
3. Get curious. Which thoughts have the most energy attached to them (and suck you in)? What kind of thoughts do you have the most of? Do you say a lot of negative things to yourself? What do your thoughts reveal about what you might be afraid of?
I believe our thoughts are habits we developed because it was useful to us at some point in our lives to think what and how we think. Most everything in our brain is trying to protect us from losing our sense of safety or security, our sense of belonging, or from losing love. Love. Safety. Belonging. Three core human needs. So, it’s likely that even our negative thoughts developed over time to protect those things.
So, now that we can identify and observe our thoughts–some that are supportive and healthy and others that may be negative or mean–we can ask ourselves: how is that thought trying to help me? (It may not feel like it is helping, but get curious about what it is TRYING to do.)
Let’s take a common example: Your brain tells you you are a lazy slug. You can’t take a break from studying because you can’t be trusted to get your work done. I call this your inner taskmaster. It is trying to keep you on track in school because school relates to your future safety and security (being able to get a job and take care of yourself). It may also be trying to protect your sense of belonging and love, if you think your family or friends will lose respect for you or be upset with you if you get a bad grade or don’t keep up.
In general, it may be really helpful to have an inner taskmaster. The difficulty comes when that voice never shuts up, never wants us to take a break, and tells us nothing we ever do is good enough–or worse, that WE are not good enough. If this sounds familiar, it may be time to upgrade your thoughts.
UPGRADE YOUR THOUGHTS
1. Hit the STOP button.
Our inner taskmaster may not really know how much is enough. It has lost it’s “off button”. Nothing is ever enough. We are studying and doing work and don’t stop to see our friends, or go for walks, or enjoy a meal. We must “go, go, go” without stopping. It’s exhausting. And, eventually it is also self defeating because humans aren’t wired this way. Working ourselves into the ground usually ends up making us physically sick, emotionally irritable or depressed, or stressing our relationships with people we care about. Part of our job as adults is to learn to hit the stop button. Create boundaries around how much is enough. And then choose to take a break, spend time with friends or family, and have some fun. (Note: if you are a person that struggles to start your homework rather than stop, then you still have some mindset challenges, but they may present more as procrastination than never letting yourself off the hook…)
2. Practice being gentle and kind to yourself.
Many of us have learned how to be hard on ourselves. Usually, it is part of how we achieved success. We pushed ourselves to put in the extra work and to try a bit harder. Get up when we get knocked down. But, sometimes we learn to push ourselves by using pretty harsh or mean internal self talk. We may call ourselves names (lazy, irresponsible, selfish, fat, stupid, worthless). We may have learned to talk that way to ourselves for survival or for motivation. These mental habits aren’t very useful to us in the long run. They can link to higher incidence of aggression, depression, and anxiety.
The easiest way to develop kinder, gentler self-talk is to imagine someone or something you can’t imagine treating badly: a puppy, a kitten, a small child. (Maybe even–if you are very brave–imagine yourself when you were a kid.) Then ask yourself how you would treat that someone or something if it were hurt or scared or mad? What would you say to be kind? Try that. Tell yourself, “you can do this” or “I believe in you” or “you are going to be OK.” Most of our disappointments and fears–even if they come true–are survivable. Disappointing, but survivable. That’s what we need to remind our scared inner child. We can also simply try some affirming self-talk: I am capable. I am hard working. I am kind. I am worthy. I am loveable. It may seem weird or strange or uncomfortable. But, learning to be kind to yourself helps build your resilience to survive hard things.
3. Recruit the gargoyles to protect you instead of attack you.
Another strategy I like a lot is to imagine the mean attacking voices in your head are like gargoyles that are the guardians of your castle. They are meant to ward off evil or frighten the enemy. Sometimes, it can feel like the voices in our heads are scary gargoyles attacking us: ‘You will never be loved.” “You will never be worthy.” “Nothing you do is enough.”
Take each of these attacks and invite the gargoyles to transform and recruit them to protect you:
‘Protect me from those who are not loving towards me.”
“Protect me from those who would tear me down.”
“Protect me from those who would steal my power.”
This is an imaginative exercise that can be fun… you have to practice with it a bit. One thing you can task your gargoyle to do for you is this: separate a behavior from and identity. So, you may have made a mess, gotten a disappointing grade on a paper you wrote, said something unkind, or overslept. Those behaviors are NOT an identity: “I am messy. I am stupid. I am mean. I am lazy.” Recruit your gargoyles to remind you that behaviors are not identities. You are worth protecting.
A mindset reset takes time and practice. We can’t undo our habits of mind overnight. But, your mind is capable of helping you live your best life. So, remember that you can do more with your brain than study history or business or chemistry. Your mind is one of the best places to start to improve your well being and health.
Written by Ginger Morgan, PhD
Director of Candid–Health and Life Coach