I have seen “Mindset” as a popular topic in self-help communities for quite some time now and it is true, your mindset matters! How you THINK about any topic or category will play a significant role in how you will experience that thing on a psychological, physical, and even a physiological level. That may seem obvious to some people due to their own experiences, but it is not generally known just how deeply our mindset affects us in our everyday lives. To oversimplify, mindsets are core assumptions that we have about a particular thing, topic, or category. It could be useful to ask yourself a few simple questions before continuing.
Do you view stress as good or bad?
Do you view healthy foods as satisfying or unsatisfying, and to the contrary do you view sugary and unhealthy foods as satisfying or unsatisfying?
What is your mindset about exercise?
Stress has been demonized throughout our culture which has instilled and reinforced the notion for many people that “stress is bad”. This of course leads to people doing everything in their power to avoid stress despite the fact that it’s an inevitable factor of life. Stress is in fact necessary and important for your basic survival. Stress is what helps us meet those important deadlines. It’s also what boosts your immune system and helps fight off diseases and infections by deploying white blood cells (this is why after long bouts of stress you may catch a cold or get sick due to the rapid swing from high stress to little/no stress). It even plays a role in simply getting you out of bed in the morning. It’s been shown through rigorous studies that those who have a “stress is adaptive” mindset, benefit from increased drive, motivation, improved emotional and mental well-being, better appraisal from others in work settings, amongst many other things. Alia Crum, who is one of the leading scientists on mindsets said it best, “Stress is inevitable when you’re living a life that’s connected with things you care about. And learning how to embrace it, learning how to work with it is really what helps us thrive and grow and perform at our highest level.”
Acute stress also provides other benefits such as but not limited to:
Enhances performance and productivity
Increases brain processing speed
Can improve health, vitality, and immunity
Physiological and psychological toughening
Mindset on things such as diet and exercise shouldn’t be understated either. A study done on a group of 84 female hotel employees showed that simply being educated on the amount of physical activity that their job demanded, created significant changes in their health. A portion of the group was educated on the amount of physical activity they did while at work and how it surpassed the surgeon general’s recommendation (none of them were aware of this previously of course). The other group wasn’t privy to all this information and just continued doing what they were doing previously. Four weeks after the intervention, the informed group perceived themselves to be getting more exercise than before and they also showed a decrease in weight, blood pressure, body fat, waist-to-hip ratio, and body mass index. The only thing that changed was their MINDSET to what they were doing, nothing else. This is absolutely incredible. Another example of this was a study done by the same person where they simply told a group of people that they would be ingesting two different milkshakes over a couple week period where they would then be tested for different physiological responses. They were told one of the milkshakes would be a high fat and high calorie “indulgent shake”, while the other was a low fat and low calorie “sensible shake”. Unbeknownst to them it was the same shake both times. Despite it being the same shake, the “indulgent” one significantly decreased ghrelin (hunger hormone) and satiated the subjects far more than the “sensible shake”. How they psychologically viewed each shake determined how their body processed it, NOT, what the actual nutritional value of the shakes were...
Mindset expands to all aspects of life and behavior. Are your mindsets serving you or are they hurting you? Of course, the laws of mother nature apply. You can’t simply eat a big mac and lie to yourself about the nutritional value of it hoping to get a positive outcome. Similarly, I wouldn’t suggest that someone seek a life of chronic stress due to the adverse health effects of that (although some emerging studies suggest that mindset may be playing a significant role in those adverse effects rather than the stress itself). It’s nice to see the education come out on the benefits of self-induced stress such as ice baths, Wim Hof breathing techniques, saunas, and other tools that are useful in initiating an almost immediate stress response (an ice bath will be immediate!)
I challenge you to look for certain beliefs or mindsets you carry that do not serve you and work diligently on shifting them to a more adaptive one. Do you believe people are not trustworthy? Do you believe that healthy food is gross and unsatisfying? Does going to work or an AA meeting suck? Are you just, “not a morning person”? What’s your mindset about life as a whole? The stories you tell yourself around these mindsets will correlate strongly in the way you experience them in real time. Make sure the stories are exciting and encouraging. Stress is a non-negotiable aspect of life, the only thing you get to decide is how you choose to deal with it.
(Attached are more resources and literature around mindsets. The first link is a video podcast that is most user friendly)