Here’s the second of my two blogs based on my recent interview with ABC South West.
The first one looked at neuroplasticity – our brain’s amazing capacity to support new ways of thinking and being. It also explored how a fixed mindset holds us back when it comes to becoming our best most adaptive optimistic selves.
This blog looks at ways to soften a fixed mindset so you can take advantage of your hardwired gift for growing and changing your mind.
Moving from a fixed to a flexible mindset means gently nudging yourself towards viewing the world and your place in it differently.
The biggest challenge is to ditch the unhelpful belief that your key characteristics – intelligence, creativity and personality are part of your fixed inheritance – like eye colour and height and having your grandmother’s nose.
Tackle this challenge by taking a look at scary thoughts that pull you up short anytime you’re confronted by an actual or imagined big new thing. This is your opening move towards a more flexible adaptive mindset.
It’s time for some healthy disruptive action
Observe your difficult thoughts
Practice seeing these thoughts without judging them – no ‘should’ or ‘shouldn’t required. See if you can simply identify them – ‘there’s fear’ or ‘there’s anger’ without hooking into the strong feelings they bring along for the ride.
This is tricky skill to master so here’s an astoundingly useful bit of biological insight to help you. It’s called the 90-second emotional rule
Apply the 90-second rule
In the words of the woman who discovered it, bio anatomist and stroke survivor Dr Jill Bolt Taylor,
‘When a person has a reaction to something in their environment, there’s a 90 second chemical process that happens in the body; after that, any remaining emotional response is just the person choosing to stay in that emotional loop.’
So, if you can just sit quietly with a scary thought and a strong feeling for a minute and a half without getting swept away – chances are they will simply disappear. Reflect on how often you observe the arrival of all sorts of strong feelings and difficult thoughts compared to how often you note their going.
Taking the sting out of scary thoughts and their emotional sidekicks – anxiety, fear, and frustration gives you the calm and clarity you need to make your second move.
Unmask your limiting beliefs
Find out just how fake these fear-fuelled ideas really are. Generally speaking, I’m no fan of acronyms but when it comes to nailing limiting beliefs, here’s one that works.
False Evidence Appearing Real
Fixed minds tend to think alike. They’re especially prone to unhelpful thinking that shores up their limiting beliefs. Unobserved and unchallenged, these thoughts can stop you in your tracks when you try to do something differently, recover from a set back or start something new. Think of them as your own special stash of ‘alternative facts’. No amount of actual evidence about your competence, capability or courage can counter them.
See if you can spot your favourite forms of unhelpful thinking in this excellent list of 10 common limiting beliefs courtesy of Dr Tim Sharp at the Happiness Institute. He calls them ANTS, short for Automatic Negative Thinking.
Identify your ANTS so you can start to challenge and dispel them.
Sometimes it’s helpful to ask yourself where your ‘ANT infestations’ started. Perhaps you ‘inherited’ them. If you did, try reminding yourself that although it might feel like it, ANTs are not a fixed feature of your genetic or cultural makeup.
Contrary to what your fixed mindset tells you, failing doesn’t make you fatally flawed or utterly incompetent. It simply makes you a courageous, curious human.
When things go awry it’s natural to feel bruised and bereft. This is another human trait. It’s not confined to fixed minded folk – we all feel it.
Once you’ve dealt with hurt and humiliation (hint – remember the 90 second rule) try thinking like persistent genius and light bulb inventor Thomas Edison, who said of his gazillion ‘failures’,
“I have not failed, not once. I’ve discovered ten thousand ways that don’t work.”
Take a clearheaded look at what ‘didn’t work’. Without a skerrick of judgment ask yourself how well you planned and prepared and how much effort you invested.
Honest answers kindly given will teach you something about how to do things differently and better. Sometimes this means arming your self with new knowledge and trying again from another angle, other times it means taking a completely different direction.
Finally failing doesn’t mean you made ‘a bad choice’. You did your best with the resources you had at the time. All our choices are chances to grow and learn if we’re prepared to see them as opportunities rather than threats. If your keen for a practical, heart lifting read on this topic, try Susan Jeffers’ classic ‘Feel the fear and do it any way’. Jeffers’ message is simple – you can handle anything if you believe every decision you make has life enhancing potential.
So let’s finish where we began – with your brain’s hardwired capacity to do extraordinary things, every single day. If you choose to trust the neuroscience and back your brain’s plastic fantastic ability to adapt you can literally change your mindset.
It will take time and energy and persistence but even the smallest shift in your thinking, feeling and being can make an enormous difference.
Keen to swap ‘fixed’ for ‘flexible’? I can help