Habits and Mindset

When it comes to making lasting positive changes, our mindset can range from a total deal breaker to an invaluable asset!

Habits and Mindset

As we all know, changing unhelpful habits can definitely be a tall order! Well, there are typically many things to consider when striving to make lasting positive changes, and one of those things is our mindset. But first, a word or two on habits…

Habits are behavior patterns that have become ingrained through repetition.  For the purposes of this discussion, behavior refers to the things we do, the thoughts we have, and our emotional reactions to events and circumstances.  Many habits are ingrained to the point wherein they are performed unconsciously –or nearly so.  Habits (be they behavioral, cognitive, or emotional) allow us to perform behaviors, process information, and react to our environment much quicker and with far less mental energy than if we had to think everything through.

This improved efficiency is referred to as automaticity -and automaticity is a really big deal. Riding a bicycle requires constant minor adjustments and without automaticity your bike riding experience would always be akin to your first time on a two wheeler! That said, automaticity is a sword that cuts both ways. Golf and Tennis pros find it far easier to teach newbies (who obviously have no habits) than it is to teach hacks and duffers (who -pretty much by definition- are chock full of bad habits).

Okay, that covers behavioral automaticity -what about emotional and cognitive automaticity?

Well, this certainly can manifest itself in a number of ways, but let’s consider the classic Hot Head. When frustrated, the Hot Head immediately experiences intense anger (emotional automaticity) and this reaction is invaraibly accompanied by thoughts that fit the mood -as in, this is outrageous!, how dare you!? etc. (cognitive automaticity). Of course, there is a behavioral component to being a Hot Head -as in pitching a fit…

Got it. So where does mindset come into play?

Habits are –pretty much by definition- ingrained, so changing them almost always involves stepping out of our comfort zone.  Put another way, breaking habits that don’t serve us well is a serious challenge! Mindset plays a major role in determining whether we can break out of our comfort zone or are fated to remain trapped there. 

Sounds like a pretty big deal. So what is mindset?

Mindset is our overall attitude toward making positive changes.  A can do mindset views making changes as doable and views roadblocks and setbacks as challenges (i.e. problems that can be solved).  A willing to try Mindset is uncertain if significant positive change is possible but is willing to try to overcome the roadblocks and setbacks that bar the way.  A can’t do mindset is basically the opposite of the can do mindset (views making positive changes as not doable and views roadblocks and setbacks as insurmountable).  It probably comes as no surprise to learn that can do and willing to try mindsets lead to positive outcomes far more often than can’t do mindsets.

Got it – mindset is a big deal. So, what about the classic “get in shape” New Year’s resolution? The local gyms are swarming with fitness seekers in January, but most of them drop out after a month or two. Surely, all of these dropouts started with a “can do” or a”willing to try” mindset.

Absolutely! That said, mindsets are malleable -they can shift as we pursue our goals. It is not at all uncommon for young children to seriously doubt whether they can master riding their bike without training wheels. After a period of trial and error followed by a successful short ride or two, their mindset shifts from willing to try (but chock full of doubts) to can do -as in “I got this -whee!

Of course, mindsets can shift in the other direction as well. After hitting the gym for a month, the stage is set for newbie fitness seekers to make two accurate observations: all this “get in shape” business is way outside my comfort zone; and when I look in the mirror -I don’t look any different than before I started! This frequently leads to a can’t do mindset or a commonplace variation of this mindset -the won’t do (not willing to try -or continue trying) mindset. This mindset views goal achievement as potentially doable but simply not worth the bother.

But getting shape would literally be my dream come true! How did my mindset shift from “willing to try” to it’s “not worth the effort”?

Two quick points. First, your “get in shape” goal will not happen anytime soon -it will require a lengthy sustained effort*. Put another way, your goal is going to require some serious delay of gratification! Second, hitting the gym and eating more salads in no way guarantees an “in shape” outcome. Taken together, goals that require sustained effort without guaranteed results definitely set the stage for a won’t do (not worth the bother) mindset!

When it comes to goal achievement (which frequently involves replacing unhelpful habits with helpful ones), we are very well served by taking stock of our initial mindset and closely monitoring our mindset along the way! Well, our mindset is but one of multiple issues we face when striving to achieve our goals. At Thrive Psychology Consultants, we specialize in helping our clients achieve and maintain healthy goals. To learn more about us and our approach to working with clients, just link to our site http://https//galleriapsychologist.com

*Just so you know -whereas having the commonplace “I’m going to get get in shape this year” goal is laudable, it is (as many an earnest fitness seeker can attest) at serious risk for being a pipe dream rather than an attainable goal. As to why -well, that’s a separate topic. Suffice it to say that achieving meaningful goals typically involve achieving a series of well considered intermediate goals.

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