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Your Mindset is...Everything?

“If you look the right way, you can see that the whole world is a garden.” —Frances Hodgson Burnett, novelist and playwright

Think about the most successful leaders on our planet: from Mahatma Gandhi, Elon Musk, and Steve Jobs to Martin Luther King, Malala Yousafzai, and Mother Teresa.

Now, ask yourself: “What made them so successful?”

What do you think? How would you answer? Was it their technology, their funding, their friends, or was it their mindset?

This was a question entrepreneur, physician, engineer, Peter Diamondes asked his hundreds of Twitter followers and later wrote about in his August 23rd blog (thank you again, Dr. Jim Brown, for directing me to his writings).

Diamondes agrees. He continues:

I believe that your mindset is the most important asset you possess. It’s the filter through which you see the world—it determines how you respond to opportunities and challenges, and how you navigate the tsunami of accelerating technologies coming your way.

Your mindset determines how you spend your time, who you spend your time with, what decisions you make, and where you invest your resources. If you agree with me, then the next questions to ask yourself are:

  • What mindsets do I have?

  • Where did I get them?

  • And most importantly, what mindsets do I need to help guide me during the critical decade ahead?

Similarly, Dr. Gerald Gibbons, reminded me in an email that it’s all about attitudes. Our attitudes make up our mindset, the beliefs we hold. I agree with all these folks.

Mindset means a lot, maybe everything, for our success and well-being. We’ve been talking about gratitude and putting our attention on what we have rather than what we don’t have…how that affects not only our health and wellbeing, but also our cognition, perspective, and creativity.

One of the people who shook up education was Dr. Carol Dweck when she introduced the idea of “growth mindset” versus “fixed mindset.” She was able to change performance by helping people switch their beliefs. A growth mindset is about how much you believe your basic qualities, like intelligence and talent, can be changed or developed. A fixed mindset is how much you believe your basic qualities are fixed or permanent.

Now most schools and parents are using phrases like, “No wonder you did well on that test, you studied really hard” to build growth mindsets. Versus “No wonder you did well on that test, you are good at math” which cultivates a more fixed mindset.

And some of these mindset studies are so far out, they are incredible. Like the studies which clearly suggest that it’s not that stress is so bad, it’s what we think about stress that makes it bad or good, really, physiologically! If you don’t believe me look at the research of Dr. Alia Crum at Stanford.

There is even wilder, legitimate research out there on the effects of mindset, for example, on losing weight. When cleaning ladies thought of their work as exercise, they lost weight. Those who did not think of it exercise did not lose weight. You have to see the research to believe it.

Here’s the one that struck me today from the new issue of Psychological Science, a report of 4 studies which ends up with this takeway …compassion fatigue is a self-fulfilling prophecy, believing compassion is limited increases fatigue and decreases compassion.

The new issue of Psychological Science includes a report of 4 studies: “Compassion Fatigue as a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: Believing Compassion Is Limited Increases Fatigue and Decreases Compassion.”

Here’s how it opens:

Many of us think that compassion drains us,

but I promise you it is something that truly enlivens us. —Dr. Joan Halifax

Now this is important because, as the article points out, humanity is facing a “compassion crisis.” Authors like Stephen Trzeciak and Anthony Mazzarelli say it is the world’s biggest problem. And we’ve been told to watch out that repeated exposure to suffering can deplete our compassion. There’s research to back that up. Why? Evidently because people believe it to be so.

Compassion is usually defined as a sensitivity to the suffering of others and an accompanying motivation to help. Compassion fatigue was conceptualized as an occupational hazard among healthcare professionals, and it is defined as “a healthcare practitioner’s diminished capacity to care as a consequence of repeated exposure to the suffering of patients, as “a state of exhaustion . . . as a result of prolonged exposure to compassion stress.”

The article continues with why mindset matters in general and specifically in terms of compassion:

Although the capacity to feel sustained compassion in response to ongoing suffering may be limited, it is also possible that believing compassion is limited (i.e., having a limited mindset) contributes to compassion fatigue. People with limited mindsets regarding willpower, for example, view their willpower as a “limited resource that gets depleted whenever used,” whereas those with nonlimited mindsets “reject this view and rather believe that using their willpower can even activate their mental stamina.”

This research suggests that people with limited mindsets may believe that compassion depletes their emotional resources while people with nonlimited mindset disagree, viewing their experience of compassion as energizing.

Here’s the abstract:

People’s compassion responses often weaken with repeated exposure to suffering, a phenomenon known as compassion fatigue. Why is it so difficult to continue feeling compassion in response to others’ suffering? We propose that people’s limited-compassion mindsets—beliefs about compassion as a limited resource and a fatiguing experience—can result in a self-fulfilling prophecy that reinforces compassion fatigue. Across four studies of adults sampled from university students and online participant pools in the United States, we show that there is variability in people’s compassion mindsets, that these mindsets can be changed with convincing information, and that limited-compassion mindsets predict lower feelings of compassion, lower-quality social support, and more fatigue. This contributes to our understanding of factors that underlie compassion fatigue and supports the broader idea that people’s beliefs about the nature of emotions affect how emotions are experienced. Together, this research contributes to developing a strategy for increasing people’s capacity to feel compassion and their social support.

And the researchers suggest that science media is the one responsible for inducing these beliefs. I love how the article concludes:

Viktor Frankl [psychiatrist and holocaust survivor] famously wrote in 1946, “We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances—to choose one’s own way.”

Gratitude, seeing and acknowledging the good, belongs to a certain mindset – made up of certain attitudes which direct our attention, create our stories of the world, help us flourish. And the ability to be grateful or compassionate is malleable, especially for those of who believe in a growth mindset.

The bigger issue here is to notice our mindset, our attitudes and beliefs (trust me, when I say this only touches the surface, the research is simply mindboggling. It's hard to grasp how much this can affect us). And the question Diamondes nudges in me…is to consider what mindset is most helpful.

How might we choose optimal mindsets for flourishing and Journey together to The Good Life?

(Here’s a picture of a frig magnet Jerry Gibbons sent to me today. Thank you, Jerry! He points out that gratitude is made up of many attitudes.)


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