How does the brain play into mindset?
Our brain is a complex organ – it’s constantly making predictions, scanning your environment for threats, and most importantly running the show when it comes to the mindset that we take with us through life.
If you think that your mindset is holding you back, just know that your brain’s wiring is not fixed. It’s constantly being reshaped through your own life experiences. Whether you know it or not, you’re always forming new beliefs about who you are, and this process of continuous adaptation is incredibly exciting.
It means that your confidence, abilities, intelligence, and overall view of the world can be fundamentally changed.
In this article, you’ll learn the answer to the question of, “how does the brain play into mindset?” But more importantly, you’ll learn how to re-shape your mindset in order to live a richer, more fulfilling life.
How Does The Brain Play Into Mindset?
I’m not here to give you a lesson on neuroscience, but it is important to understand the processes at work when you develop new beliefs about yourself and the world.
Here’s the quick 60 second version of how the brain’s processes shape your mindset.
Essentially, the brain is made up of many different types of cells, and one of these types of cells are neurons. These neurons transmit messages between each other, which causes them to form connections – these connections are known as neural pathways.
These neural pathways allow us to become proficient at certain skills, and they grow weaker or stronger depending upon our level of repetition when it comes to that skill.
For example, when you first started driving you probably found it incredibly difficult. That’s because you had never done it before – meaning you had exactly zero neural pathways dedicated to that specific skill.
But as you started messing up four-point turns, accidentally stepping on the brakes too fast, or not signaling your lane changes, your brain began consuming information and you started to learn.
As your neurons started firing together, neural pathways were created. And each time you got behind the wheel, the connections between those neurons got stronger, which meant that you got better at the intricacies of driving.
Fast forward to today, and you can now change lanes, park, make windy turns, all without thinking or expending any mental energy. That’s because daily repetition has made those connections so strong that they’re unbreakable.
But your brain doesn’t just form connections in order to develop new skills, it also does so to shape your worldview.
For example, most of us have the belief that being a kind person is beneficial to your social status. You didn’t just come out of the womb knowing that – it’s a view that you developed through repeated experience.
One time or another, you did something kind for someone and they returned the favor, or shared their gratitude with you. You probably felt pretty good about it too. This experience told our brain that kindness leads to reciprocation and friendship, and makes us feel positive emotions.
Other connections can be less healthy, like believing that failure is a bad thing. We’re conditioned to believe that failure is something to be avoided because when we fail, we tend to get ridiculed by other people and feel negative emotion.
Because our brain is always making predictions, it tends to steer us away from endeavors that could result in failure because it associates failure with negative feelings.
It’s trying to protect us, without knowing that it’s really destroying us.
What is Mindset Theory?
Now that you know a little more about the inner workings of your brain, let’s talk about mindset theory, which is a crucial concept that answers the question – how does the brain play into mindset?
Mindset theory was developed by Carol Dweck, whose findings turned the world of education and learning upside down.
Essentially, what she proposed through her research was that there are two types of mindsets that people have – fixed mindset and growth mindset.
- Individuals with a fixed mindset believe that their talents and abilities are set in stone and cannot be improved.
- Individuals with a growth mindset believe that one can change their personality and traits through focused effort.
Now, I know that most of you reading this know that you can develop new skills and change your personality – but simply knowing that does not mean that you have a growth mindset.
What really determines whether or not you have a growth mindset is the level of importance you believe that focused effort has on skill development.
You may know inherently that you can become more social by talking to more people but if you constantly say things like, “I’ve just always been an introvert” out of habit, then you’re not operating with a growth mindset.
Just because you know things doesn’t mean your brain actually believes them.
How Does A Fixed Mindset Affect The Brain?
A fixed mindset holds you back in pretty much every area of your life. If you think that your level of success is beholden to genes and traits that you can’t change, why have any reason to strive for improvement?
But what’s interesting is that there’s actually a clear distinction in brain activity in people with a fixed mindset, versus those with a growth mindset.
One study conducted by Jennifer Mangels asked participants a series of questions while they had an EEG cap on, which is a device that measures brain activity. Participants gave their answer, and then the researcher told the participant whether they were right or wrong. When the researcher did this, the EEG cap showed brain activity in all of the participants.
What’s interesting is what happened after the researcher told the participants the correct answer. After hearing the right answer, the brains of people with a growth mindset were significantly more active than those with a fixed mindset. It appeared as if the people with a fixed mindset were tuning out once they learned whether their answer was correct or not.
At the end of the study, the researchers gave the participants a pop quiz with the exact same questions, and not surprisingly the people with a growth mindset performed significantly better.
The main takeaway from the study is this – when you have a growth mindset, your brain believes that failure is a temporary condition that can be used to foster growth.
People with a fixed mindset tend to believe that failure defines who they are.
If you embarrass yourself in a social situation, it’s not because you haven’t quite developed your social skills yet. Deep down, you just believe that’s who you are and that’s how you will always be.
If you get a shitty grade on a test, it’s not because you didn’t study enough – you just aren’t a good test-taker.
These are the kind of self-defeating thought patterns that arise when you have a fixed mindset, and it actively prevents you from taking action to change your life.
What Happens To Your Brain When You Believe In Yourself?
We’ve talked a lot about the consequences of going through life with a fixed mindset, but what about the flipside of that coin?
To fully answer the question of, “how does the brain play into mindset,” we need to look at what’s going on internally when you’re actually operating a growth mindset, and the impact it has on your relationship with failure.
When you go through life with a growth mindset, you view failure and risk as opportunities to grow.
Whereas people with a fixed mindset tend to seek approval for characteristics that are not quite developed, people with a growth mindset have a passion for developing those traits so that the approval of others is irrelevant.
Personally, I experienced this for quite a long time with my social skills. I was never a loner, but I was always quite timid around strangers.
When I was with my friends, I was fairly adept at being outgoing, cracking jokes, and bringing positive energy into a conversation. But whenever I was around people I didn’t know, I felt like a completely different person.
I tensed up. I got nervous. I didn’t speak with as much certainty. Yet, instead of going through the difficult, private work of sharpening my social skills, I made the fatal mistake of trying to prove to people that I was someone else.
I wanted people to see me as someone who could effortlessly display good social skills and have engaging conversations, even though I couldn’t really do either. And what’s the easiest way to maintain an image that doesn’t align with your true self? Well, you simply avoid situations where you might disrupt that image.
By displaying avoidance behaviors instead of actually facing my inadequacies, I was trading one devil for the other. On one hand, I deeply wanted to fix this area of my life, but on the other hand I didn’t want to face the embarrassment of getting “exposed.”
How does the brain play into mindset and dictate your actions? There’s a perfect example right there of natural wiring getting in the way of things that we deeply desire.
At the heart of what makes the growth mindset so beneficial is that it creates a passion for learning and improvement, rather than a hunger for approval. The need to maintain a false image of yourself disappears when your priority shifts to personal development.
When you believe in yourself and your ability to change, you seek situations where your pride is at risk – the exposure to these situations is what teaches your brain that failure is OK.
Not only that, but Dweck found that people with a growth mindset don’t even see themselves as failing in those situations, rather they see themselves as learning. And when you change your relationship with failure, this gives you the freedom to fail over and over again.
This quote from Dweck’s book, “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success” illustrates this attitude perfectly:
“Why waste your time proving over and over how great you are, when you could be getting better? Why hide deficiencies instead of overcoming them? Why look for friends or partners who will just shore up your self-esteem instead of ones who will challenge you to grow? And why seek out the tried and true, instead of experiences that will stretch you? The passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well, is the hallmark of the growth mindset. This is the mindset that allows people to thrive during some of the most challenging times of their lives.”
Eventually, I got naked about my insecurities and finally snapped out of the fixed mindset that was perpetuating this deficiency. Every day, I went through the pain-staking, private work of facing up to my inadequacies and exposing myself to uncomfortable social situations.
I started chatting up random people in line. I started voluntarily exposing myself to gatherings where there were people I didn’t know. I even started chatting up girls I found attractive, and making an absolute fool of myself in the process.
It wasn’t until I finally embarrassed myself enough times that my social skills started to improve. Repeated, voluntary exposure to uncomfortable situations taught me that the potential embarrassment of facing my fears was far less dreadful than continuing through life pretending to be someone that I wasn’t.
3 Ways to Rewire Your Brain For Success
By now, I think we’ve fully answered the question – how does the brain play into mindset?
Now, it’s time to get practical and talk about ways that you can start fostering a growth mindset in your daily life. You can’t simply rewire your brain by saying a few affirmations and reading a few of the best books about mindfulness. At some point, you’re going to have to pair those things with action.
Here are some of the best ways to take action and start rewiring your brain for success.
#1 – Face Your Fears
Many of the fears that we have are predicated on one thing – the fear of failure or rejection.
It doesn’t feel good to fail. I hope that I’m not painting a rosy picture of failure, because it sucks.
But repeated failure is one of the most common habits of successful people. If you don’t fail very often, it’s probably because you haven’t faced up to your inadequacies and tried to overcome your fears.
When you start facing your fears, you’ll realize that they’re not bigger than you. And you’ll also teach your brain that taking action in spite of fear is far more rewarding than letting it run your life.
A perfect way to do this is by coming up with a list of challenges to get out of your comfort zone, and then start crossing them off day by day. If you feel up to it, take a peek at this article which will give you a bunch of ideas for challenges you can incorporate into your life.
#2 – Incorporate “Yet” Into Your Vocabulary
Remember, one of the key hallmarks of a growth mindset is the idea that you can always develop yourself, regardless of your flaws.
A crucial aspect of our mindset is our internal dialogue. Our thoughts become our words, our words become our actions, our actions become our habits, and our habits determine our beliefs.
Next time you find yourself saying that you can’t do something, change things up and add the word “yet” to the end of that sentence.
- “I don’t have good social skills” → “I don’t have good social skills yet”
- “I’m not good with numbers” → “I’m not good with numbers yet”
- “I’m not a good writer” → “I’m not a good enough writer yet”
See how that one word changes the entire meaning of the sentence?
By saying to yourself that you’re not good at something, you’re closing the loop and admitting defeat. But by saying to yourself that you’re not good at something yet, you’re keeping it open and leaving room for growth.
You’re being realistic and optimistic at the same time – realizing that you’re not where you want to be while also manifesting the belief that you can get there through focused action.
#3 – Emphasize Growth, Not Speed
One of the easiest ways to develop a growth mindset is compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not who someone else is today.
We live in a world where 30-day challenges and two-day seminars are accepted, and even promoted, as viable tools that can be used to transform your life in a short period of time.
Don’t buy into the notion that change is a linear process that happens quickly. It took me around a year before I truly felt like I had re-shaped my social skills, and even then there was still work left to be done.
What kept me motivated throughout the journey was measuring myself by one standard of improvement – my previous self.
You have to realize that if you’re looking to achieve something, there are already people who have attained the result you’re looking for through years of focused action. So why in the world would you compare your results to theirs when you’ve barely started down the path of improvement?
If all you focus on is being better than you were yesterday, or last week, or last month, you’re going to see progress at every turn. It’s this attitude towards improvement that will motivate you to keep going because you’re not tying success to some arbitrary standard set by someone else.
Final Thoughts On: HowDoes The Brain Play Into Mindset?
Developing a growth mindset is essential for achieving success in any area of your life.
We all tend to know that we can get better at something with practice, but there’s a big difference between knowing and believing.
When you truly believe that you can change your personality and you aren’t beholden to your current self, you’ll take actions that align with that belief. When you don’t, you’ll relegate into all-or-nothing thinking and self-sabotage yourself at every turn.
If you’re willing to face your fears, start incorporating “yet” into your vocabulary, and use your previous self as a baseline for improvement, you’ll start fostering a worldview that pushes you forward instead of holding you back.