In this guide, I am going to teach you the first step to achieving any goal that you want: change your mindset.
“Am I going to live?”
“What do I tell my kids?”
Christine (not her real name) stared into the eyes of her doctor, eagerly waiting for a sign of hope. Her doctor told her that she has stage 2 breast cancer.
Which means that the cancer hasn’t spread beyond the breast or nearby lymph nodes.
This means she has a fighting chance to survive.
After her appointment, she drove to pick her children up at their school.
It was a long and silent drive.
She wouldn’t dare to look at them. She understood what they would be facing soon. She just couldn’t bear it. No mother ever would.
Christine was a single mother struggling to find herself a permanent job. She had no money to even pay for insurance.
But she knew, no matter what, she had to survive.
She knew her three young boys needed her. Christine was scared and terrified but she also understood that her children were just as terrified.
Christine battled cancer and fought to live for more than 7 years.
She has had multiple surgeries, underwent chemotherapy, had a 12-hour breast reconstruction.
She was, as her friends and families called her, a true cancer survivor.
Today, Christine has started her own non-profit organisation, pushing for awareness on breast cancer and building a community for other women who would share the same story as her.
One might ask then, how was she able to endure those seven years of pain and torment?
What made her so strong that she was able to beat cancer?
How did she transform her life from a woman who was struggling to get a salary to a leader who can share her story and give back to the community?
It wasn’t just the help of the doctors. Or just the chemotherapy.
It was her sheer mental capacity. Her will to keep on pushing, to stay positive.
It was the thousands of positive affirmations that she repeated to herself that rewired her brain, that formed new clusters of positive thought neurons.
It was her mindset. She changed how she saw things. She changed her mentality.
Every one of us has heard these kinds of stories before.
A person who was able to overcome all the odds stacked against them.
A person whose mindset was able to defy what others thought was impossible.
Look at Sam Cawthorn, Nick Vujicic, Oprah Winfrey.
These are ordinary people who went through some of the most impossible situations, yet with their sheer mindset and determination, pushed themselves to become extraordinary people.
They are not any smarter than you.
They are not any greater than you.
They just have the right mindset to push them to be who they are today.
Imagine the profound impact it would have on you if you were able to shift your mindset.
Imagine the thoughts that you wake up with, the millions of neurons that have been formed every day inside your brain, gravitating and sending signals to you that you are powerful, that you are smart, that people want to listen to you, that you will get that promotion.
You would be much happier, you would be able to amplify your influence onto others, you would be able to achieve every single goal that you have set for yourself.
WHAT IS A MINDSET?
A mindset is simply the way your brain processes the reality of the world which will shape your behaviour, motivation, reaction, feelings and what you pay attention to.
It is more than just your collection of thoughts.
Psychologist, Dr Alia Crum from Stanford’s Mind and Body Lab studied the relationship between mindset and health. The study observed the behaviour and mindset of 84 hotel room attendants who carries out a lot of physical activity in their work.
The hotel room attendants were separated into two groups: Group A was told that the work that they do was considered as good exercise, group B wasn’t told that.
The weight and blood pressure of the hotel room attendants from both groups was measured.
After 4 weeks, they found that those from group A had lost almost 1kg in weight and reduced their blood pressure by up to 10 points.
THE NEUROSCIENCE BEHIND MINDSET AND HOW IT CHANGES YOUR BRAIN
You have two specific networks inside your brain that are simultaneously engaging with one another when you are deciding to do something and thinking about how you will do something.
1. Dorsolateral Prefrontal Cortex (dlPFC)
The dlPFC is the region in the frontal lobes and is a part of the Executive Function Network which is where you consciously make decisions, plan something and pay attention.
This is the network that allows you to be consciously present while you are understanding what you are reading.
It makes you mentally aware of your actions, thoughts and feelings and is also where you procrastinate and worry.
2. Default Mode Network (DMN)
The DMN is your non-conscious imaginative process that occurs every few minutes when your mind starts to wander off – basically it is when you are awake but not doing any mental activities.
If your brain spends too much activity in the DMN, you might be caught daydreaming and mind-wandering too much, making it hard for you to pay attention and focus at your work on hand.
Neuroscientists say that this is the part of your brain that recalls your memories, envision your future, evaluate what strategies you should take.
When one of the networks (either the dlPFC or DMN) is highly active, the other becomes no longer active.
The way you think is influenced by this ongoing back and forth cycle imaginative daydreaming and goal-oriented attention.
This is what your mindset is.
Neuroscience has also discovered that your brain, specifically the motor cortex and cerebellum, starts to make an action before you consciously decide to make that action.
That means that there is a delay when your consciousness processes a decision.
From that, neuroscientists were able to deduce that our brain, actually makes actions based on habitual patterns or memories and instinctual desires before it consciously decides what you want to do.
(This means that a lot of the actions that we make are based on our habits and instincts.)
This is why it is very important for you to start installing the right mindset for success.
According to neuroscientist, Mark Waldman, latest scientific research has shown that nearly every psychological and cognitive problem happens when the Dorsolateral Prefrontal Cortex (dlPFC) and Default Mode Network (DMN) poorly interact with one another.
WHY IS CHANGING YOUR MINDSET HARD?
Before learning exactly how you can change your mindset, you must first understand why changing your mindset can be difficult.
When your brain is in the process of learning new information or is installing a mindset that is in conflict or contradicts with an old belief or mindset, the brain stimulates a threat response that causes you to be more careful with the new information or mindset.
This is known as a form of “cognitive dissonance.”
Here’s an example of a cognitive dissonance:
When a person wants to be productive, they know that it is bad to check up on their phone and social media all day, but regardless, they still continue to do so.
Because neurologically the dissonance is shown through a conflict between:
(a) the biological impulse to check your phone where dopamine will be released to stimulate the feeling of pleasure and
(b) your prefrontal lobe processes to
(c) override that poor habit which is a memory-encoded behaviour. It helps to stop you from playing your phone too much or even helps you stop using it entirely.
This means that there are three competing neurological desires.
And that is why in the beginning of forming your new mindset or even habits, you will feel resistance to it. And you will feel that it is hard and almost impossible.
So how do you overcome this resistance and change your mindset?
HOW TO CHANGE YOUR MINDSET?
1. Be aware that your mindset is not fixed
Stanford professor and psychologist, Dr Carol Dweck says that a person with a fixed mindset believe that a lot of qualities that they have like intelligence cannot be changed and that they are stuck with it forever.
This means, she says, that they would value proving that they are correct over learning from their own mistakes.
(These are also the people that are most likely to cheat on exams to look smart rather than actually learn from their mistakes.)
She also notes that there is also a different type of mindset; growth mindset where you believe that the qualities that you are born with, are the ones that can be cultivated and nurtured with effort and perseverance.
One key way of changing your mindset, is to be aware of what kind of mindset that you have.
As simple as this seems, most people often neglect this step.
Once you are aware of the mindset you have, start asking yourself questions that can move you forward to the mindset that you want.
Because a lot of times, our mindsets is controlled by what questions we are asking ourselves or the answers we give ourselves.
What has to happen for me to shift my perspective?
What kind of mindset do I want? And do I truly want that?
Take around 3-5 minutes to sit down and take a deep breath while you mindfully become observant of your environment.
To deeply relax you can also try yawning and making gentle movements and stretch slowly.
Notice the activity that is going inside your brain.
Look at what your brain is trying to do.
Observe all the changing different thoughts that you are having.
The different feelings that are constantly changing in your mind.
What you are observing is the default mode network that was mentioned earlier.
Now, in that state, try focusing on a desired goal, an attitude, an outcome or a feeling. This will make it easier for you to increase your attention when needed.
What is happening is that you are stimulating the Salience Network which allows you to consciously create the balance between focusing on a task or goal and allowing yourself to relax and find intuitive solutions to problems.
When you stimulate the Salience Network, you can influence and change how you think.
3. Remove self-sabotaging mindset
Having negative beliefs is sometimes necessary because that is our brain’s way of trying to keep us alert and make us aware of any impending danger.
But sometimes those thoughts also pull us back from what we really want to achieve.
And this is what I usually call the self-sabotaging mindset.
What is the effective solution to help you change this self-sabotaging mindset?
Let’s say you want to lose weight or you want to start waking up early but you don’t seem to be making any progress.
You first have to take a moment and internalise:
- What actions have you taken?
- What do you want to achieve?
- Why do you want to achieve?
- How do you get there?
Write down what your plan is, the steps you need to take so that you can succeed.
If you don’t know what you need to be doing, then seek advice from someone you can trust.
Write down several ways that you might sabotage your goal. Then think about how you can overcome that.
Try to do this every morning and at the end of the day, evaluate how well you are doing.
After a week you will be better at identifying your self-sabotaging behaviours and mindset and you will slowly be able to tackle them with great ease.
WHY AM I STILL NOT CHANGING?
Here’s a likely scenario that almost all of us has seen before:
You’ve been to countless numbers of motivational programs, you have read all the latest tips and tricks about improving yourself and becoming a better person.
In the first few days, you seem to have really changed. You are more energetic.
You seem to have a new meaning in life.
You can feel that you are getting closer to achieving your goal.
But after a few months, maybe even a few weeks, you’re back to your old self.
But you have spent so much money on those programs, you have invested so much time, effort and sweat into trying to be a better person.
And you start to doubt yourself.
“Maybe I am just like this. I can never be successful.”
“I just don’t have it in me.”
So why is this happening to you?
The simple answer? Your brain!
Here’s a simple analogy:
Think of all the motivational programs that you go to and the mindsets that you have been trying so hard to learn and shift as a software.
That software is really great, up to date and has all the latest technology integrated into it.
Now, your brain in this case, would be the hardware. The computer.
If your hardware is outdated and not very well taken care of, no matter how great the software is, you will never be able to install it.
It’s no wonder why a lot of people are unable to consistently change themselves for the better.
In order for you to be making any lasting changes and to become the person you envision yourself to be, you must work on your brain health.
Your mindset is one of the most powerful arsenals you can have to propel you to success.
Take a look at the picture below. That is what your neural network looks like.
Your mindset, your habits, your beliefs are all wired up like that inside your brain.
Creating a new mindset requires you to train your brain everyday and repeat the exercises and the mindset techniques that you have learnt from this guide.
And while you are installing that great mindset, don’t forget to also work on improving your brain health.
I hope you have learnt a lot of value from my Change Your Mindset Guide.
And now, I would like to hear from you.
What mindsets do you have that you want to change?
What strategies are you going to use to change them?
Let me know in the comment section below.
Dr. Rizal Abu Bakar
Dr. Rizal is the CEO of Malaysia Brain Academy. More importantly, he spends most of his time researching and learning all there is about the brain and its application.