Can You Really Change Your Mind?

03/29/2017 09:14 am ET Updated Mar 29, 2017

by Kara Baskin

Imagine this: You just got word from senior management that a long-term project you’ve been working on has taken a huge turn in direction. What’s your reaction: Do you think, “Ok, we’ll have to adapt our plan, but we can make this work,” or “Well, that’s it…this project is doomed. This company never sticks to a plan.”

If you’re the former, you probably have what’s called a growth mindset—you believe that you can evolve, whether it’s by cultivating a personality trait like patience or learning a new skill like cooking.

If you’re the latter, you might believe that “people can never change.” You probably have a fixed mindset and see characteristics as predetermined. Your husband will always leave dirty dishes in the sink, your daughter will never be good at math, and you’ll be terrible at every sport you try.

This concept was originally defined in relation to depression. People with a fixed mindset believe that problems are unchangeable and permeate everything in life. On the other hand, people with a growth mindset tend to perceive issues as a one-time occurrence.

Who do you think is buffered against depression? Those with a growth mindset—because they feel more empowered to persist after experiencing a setback. In other words, they are more resilient.

At meQuilibrium, we know that people aren’t necessarily born resilient—but they can learn to be. One way to foster a growth mindset is by modifying your Why Style—the way you explain “why” things happen.

For instance, let’s say you’re stressed about your finances. You feel like you’ll never master your budget or put in place a solid financial plan. You can break out of this rut by learning to spot “always” and “everything” thoughts. “Always” thoughts usually contain the words “always” or “never” and frame issues as permanent. For example: “I’ll never be able to manage my budget because I’ve always been bad with numbers.”

“Everything” thoughts, meanwhile, take one issue and apply it to every area of your life: “I’m such a mess; I forgot to pay my credit card bill again. Why am I so disorganized?” The conclusion drawn about your ability to be organized isn’t directly correlated to forgetting to pay your credit card bill. And yet, in making this statement, you are taking one mistake and making a general (and negative) statement about your character—unwarrantedly affecting your self-image.

The next time you face a problem, try out this strategy:

1. Identify why it’s happening. (Maybe you’re “always” too busy to review your finances; maybe you believe you’ve “never” been good at budgeting.) Whatever it may be, write down your reasons. 2. Notice the words “everything” and “always” in your answers, and circle them. These are dead-ends. 3. Reframe the problem to find as many solutions as possible. Instead of saying, “I’m no good at budgeting,” you could say, “I haven’t found a budgeting tool that I like yet.” 4. Integrate new solutions now that you’ve broadened your thinking on possible causes, like, “I’m going to find a budgeting tool geared toward financial novices” or “I’m going to set aside a time when I’m not stressed to review my retirement plan.”

We all face challenges in our lives. But what’s not predetermined is how we view them. By reframing your challenges as something solvable, you’re becoming more resilient and open to growth—and positive change.

Kara Baskin is a Boston-based journalist who writes about food, health, wellbeing, and lifestyle for The Boston Globe, Boston Magazine, Women’s Health, and AARP’s Life Reimagined. She’s also the author of “Size Matters: The Hard Facts About Male Sexuality That Every Woman Should Know” (Random House). Find her on Twitter @kcbaskin

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