Learn to use the power of your mind properly.
Have you ever done the fitness exercise known as the plank? (Check it out here if you’re not sure if you know what I’m talking about). It’s really good for your core strength, but what you may not know is it’s also a useful test of how our mindset can affect our behaviour.
If you’d like to try a little experiment to see how your mind influences your behaviour, then try doing the plank exercise three times, as described below (don’t run the attempts all together, space them out over a few hours/days so fatigue doesn’t play too much of a role!).
The first time you do a plank, try not to think too much at all. Distract yourself by singing, counting and looking at stuff, while you time how long you can hold the position before you give up.
The second time, you plank again. This time, tell yourself how hard the exercise is while you’re doing it. How much it hurts. How you just can’t possibly keep this up. Keep up the negative, weak thoughts and time how long you last.
Third time you plank, focus on being optimistic. Don’t say it’s easy (that’s not optimistic, that’s being in denial!), but use phrases like, I can go a bit longer, I can do this, I’m strong, I’m capable, you’ve got this, keep going. Time how long you last.
This experiment will demonstrate to you the power of your mind. Your strength doesn’t change much over the course of a few days. But the time you can last will vary depending on what you tell yourself (no prizes for guessing that you should be best with the third option. And if you think that the order of the exercises plays a role, mix the order up, the effect will still be visible.) Psychologists have demonstrated the role of mindset through many experiments on lots of different people, and they all show that you can endure pain the longest if your mindset focusses on strength and what you’re capable of.
Critics of the importance of mindset often misunderstand its role. They use extremes to ‘prove’ that mindset doesn’t work. For example, it’s true that if you say ‘I can’t walk’ you can easily keep walking while repeating that. Physical action will always beat mindset if you face them off in a fight together. This is because...
"Mindset is not a sledge hammer. Mindset is a little weight that tips the scales in your favour."
Mindset gives you an extra edge when you’re already really good at something, and it tips the scales in favour of whatever is in your mind, when the odds are about equal. If I’ve got great core strength and you don’t, you can’t hold a bridge longer than me by thinking positively. But you can increase your own ability to hold plank position by remaining optimistic and focussed on strength.
You cannot think yourself thin while eating junk and not working out.
But if you’re already committed to changing your eating habits, you can use mindset to get you through periods of cravings and on cold mornings when you’re scheduled to go to the gym.
If you’ve got a really low opinion of yourself, you can’t use mindset to magically become super-confident. But if you’re committed to improving your confidence, mindset will help you take small actions that will increase your confidence, like talking to a stranger or making a cold call to a new company, and those actions will increase your confidence - which then helps to fuel a more confident mindset. The actions and mindset work together and create a snowballing/ spiralling effect.
How to start to use mindset
Practise! The first step in using mindset more consciously is to really convince yourself of its benefits. Find ways to test out how this works. A good start is to find a boring type activity and experiment with how you think while you do the activity. Some activities that can work are:
Mindless type activities with kids e.g. kicking a ball, pushing them on swings.
Mindless type activities at home e.g. cooking, washing up.
Mindless type exercising like swimming, running, biking, hiking.
Leisure activities like watching TV, listening to the radio.
During meetings at work.
Before you start, take a quick guess at how much you expect to enjoy the activity, by giving it a rating out of 10. Then decide what attitude you’ll be taking: love or hate. Then when you do the activity, use phrases like those described above in the plank exercises to see the effect your mindset has on your enjoyment of the activity.
Strong phrases: I can do this, I’m really enjoying myself, this is great, I’m so thankful for this opportunity, this is easy, this is fun, I love this.
Weak phrases: I can’t stand this. How boring. Can’t wait for this to be over. I’m so tired of this. This is so difficult, I hate this, I’ve had enough already.
When you’re finished, rate how much you feel you did enjoy the activity. There’s no prizes for guessing which type of phrases help you to enjoy the activity more! This is just about noticing what kind of effect mindset can realistically be expected to have for you. With a few tries, you’ll notice how much your thinking can affect your enjoyment and motivation levels. And, you’ll naturally start to use mindset to change your experience. After all, if a quick change in thinking can make an experience that much more enjoyable, why wouldn’t you use it?
Remember, you won’t necessarily see big changes, and you’ll be struggling to get much effect if you already really enjoy/dislike the activity, because your mindset will seem ‘fake’ if you’re using it to fight a strongly held belief.
Ultimately, mindset is a really useful tool to help you reach your goals/ live by your values. Don’t try and use mindset to fix deeply held negative beliefs or to create gains in performance that need to come from action and hard work. Use mindset to get yourself to do those things you know are in your best interests (e.g. they get you closer to your goals or help you live your values) but about which you catch yourself thinking ‘too hard, too much effort, can’t be bothered, I’ll do it later.’ That’s where a mindset change can have the most effect.
Would you love help with your mindset so you can reach your goals and realise your dreams? Book an appointment with me and discover the exact actions to take and the mindset shifts you need to fast track you to what you want.
Lana Hall, Psychologist. Helping you to live your best life, using the power of psychology.