How Your Mindset Can Change Your World

How Your Mindset Can Change Your World

When I saw the title The Expectation Effect: How Your Mindset Can Change Your WorldI couldn’t resist. Published in February 2023, this new book by British science writer David Robson brings the medical research into the placebo effect (you believe the sugar pill will reduce your pain, it reduces your pain) and the nocebo effect (you believe the sugar pill will cause negative side effects, you experience those side effects) up to date with the latest psychosocial research on the power of our mindset to shape our perceptions of reality, especially about the detrimental or the energizing effects of stress. 

Study after study now documents that while indeed stress can be harmful to body and brain when we believe it will be harmful, when we re-frame stress as a signal of challenge and opportunity, it can function as an energizing resource.

When people are taught that stress can enhance their performance and contribute to personal growth, they tend to show more muted fluctuations ins cortisol – just enough to keep them more alert without putting them in a long-last state of fear.  – Alia Crum, PhD, Stanford University

The stress response, instead of becoming this thing to be avoided, actually becomes a resource. – Jeremy Jamieson, PhD, University of Rochester

My favorite perspective in the entire book was the impact of our beliefs, positive or negative, about growing older. A longitudinal study by Becca Levy at Yale School of Public Health followed 1,100 participants from the age of 50 until they died. The average person with a more positive attitude toward aging lived 7.5 years longer than a comparable person with a more negative attitude. 

Part of this more positive attitude included focusing on the benefits of aging: with more life experience, greater knowledge of how life works, we have better emotional regulation and clearer decision making. And this positive attitude (seeing positive challenges rather than life threats) actually slows the body’s epigenetic clock.  Less stress – less cortisol – less inflammation – less arthritis, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s disease. 

Robson presents the applications of the research in so many areas important to modern life: the expectations others have of us, based on race, class, gender, on our actual performance, and how individuals can recognize those cultural scripts, reject the narrative, and create their own sense of self-worth and then the life plan based on that sense of self-worth. 

He does note that many of the self-care practices so common these days – breathwork, gratitude journals, mindfulness meditation – have a much more positive effect on our health and well-being when we believe they will. 

The brain evolved to make predictions, drawing on our own previous experiences, our observations of others, and our cultural norms – a process that underlies our very perception of reality and prepares the mind and the body for whatever we have to face. And we now know the ways we can reappraise those expectations to create our own self-fulfilling prophecies. – David Robson.

Here’s an exercise I teach all the time to help shift our perceptions of reality from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset. It works, especially when you believe it will work.

1)Take a moment to reflect on many different situations where you faced a challenge, even something simply new or unknown.  Reflect on your own thought process and your own behaviors.  

2)Discern times when you did hang back, hesitate, or refuse to attempt something you perceived a bit beyond your capacities.  

3)Discern times also when you approached a challenge as a learning opportunity, with interest, curiosity, and some confidence, at least willingness to give it a go.  Most of us have experienced elements of both fixed mindset and growth mindsets.

4) For one of your times acting from a growth mindset, reflect on what made your decision to try and your perseverance in trying possible.  Identify both internal and external resources.

5)  For one of your times being caught in a fixed mindset, imagine how you could have behaved differently, finding your courage and encouragement from others to go ahead and try, engage, persevere, try again and again until you experienced some success, or at least a healthy pride in your effort.

6) Identify a new situation now where you could try coming from a growth mindset rather a fixed mindset.  Choose a situation where you might realistically have a chance for success.  Focus on shifting your mindset from fixed to growth.  

7) Reflect on any difference this choice makes on your behavior.