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Mindset: What It Is, What It's Not, and How to Shift It

Feel Good EffectRobyn DownsComment

In the never-ending search for a solution to wellness, we’ve forgotten something monumental.


It seems we’ve gotten so wrapped up in the outer layer of the wellness circle—the perfect diet, perfect workout, perfect morning routine—that we’ve forgotten about the driving force behind these decisions and actions.

And that? That’s mindset.

So if you want to know what mindset is, what it’s not, why it matters, and how can you start to shift it, then this post is for you.

I’m here to remind you that mindset matters when it comes to change, growth, and busting out of old patterns that have you feeling stuck.

So if you want to know what mindset is, what it’s not, why it matters, and how can you start to shift it, then this post is for you.

Let’s dive in!

Mindset: What It Is, What It's Not, and How to Shift It

Mindset is Invisible

The tricky thing about mindset—the reason it’s often overlooked in the wellness conversation—is that it’s…well, it’s invisible.

The sneaky saboteur, so ingrained that it can keep us stuck and feeling terrible for years.

And when something is invisible? Well, then we’re less likely to be able to change it.

Why Is It Important to Define Mindset?

Hey, if we’re going to say that mindset matters; if we’re going to embrace the fact that our brain (and how we use it) has a direct impact on our behaviors and decisions, well then, we need to know what it means.

Like, really know what it means.

Especially since mindset is popping up everywhere these days, used to mean anything from feelings, emotions, thoughts, attitudes, and everything in between, it’s more important than ever to have a clear definition.

Whether it’s wellness, entrepreneurship, personal growth, or really any area of life, it’s important to have an operational definition of mindset.

Having common language around mindset allows us to create awareness and understanding, which is essential to true growth.

Plus, knowing what mindset actually means allows us to shine the light in the dark, bringing the invisible to the visible, and ultimately to begin the process of shifting it.

What Mindset is Not

Okay, so before we get to the definition of mindset, let’s first talk about what it’s not.

First, mindset is not the thought itself, and it’s not about trying to control our thoughts.

Mindset is not about trying to think positively, or choosing a happy thought, or choosing to be happy.

Mindset is not manifesting or the Law of Attraction.

Finally, mindset is not about more discipline, more willpower, or working harder.

Mindset is not about trying to force yourself to be someone you’re not, or to view the world with rose-colored glasses.

Seriously, there’s nothing wrong with positive thinking or with the Law of Attraction and the point here is not to slam these perspectives.

These approaches and perspectives are simply just different tools in the toolbox.

But they’re just not the same as mindset.

Knowing the difference allows you to choose the approach that’s right for you, at this moment, in your life.

Cool? Cool.

A Definition of Mindset

Okay, ready for the definition of mindset? Here we go!

Mindset is the ingrained thought patterns that affect how we feel, act, make decisions, and ultimately, affect how we form habits and the results we get.

It’s not what we think, but rather the way we think.

Let that last part sink in, because it’s important.

It’s the actual way we think—those ingrained thought patterns that you may not even be aware of because right now they’re invisible.

To be clear, mindset impacts everything: from how you process information, to how you form habits, to how you make decisions.

Maybe an analogy will help make the concept of mindset a little clearer.

Think of mindset like a pachinko game: similar to pinball, but instead of levers, pachinko has lots of brass pins, several small cups, and a holes at the bottom into which the ball will fall if it isn't caught by one of the cups.

To play, a small metal ball is dropped at the top, and then proceeds to bounces from pin to pin, making its way from the top to bottom, creating a unique pathway.

Think of mindset--the ingrained thought patterns in your brain—as the ball making its way through the brass pins.

Over time, it begins to wear the same path, and that pathway becomes automatic, which literally changes the way our brain is wired.  

Even though there are infinite paths the ball can take to get from top to bottom, it ends up following the path of least resistance, because that’s the path that it’s used to traveling.

Because of this neuroplasticity (neurons that fire together wire together), eventually, these thought patterns become a part of us--and we don’t even notice that they are there.

Mindset Defined: What It Is, What It's Not, and How to Shift It

How Mindset Works: Understanding the Process

Okay, so if mindset is the way we think, and if the way we think affects everything in our life, then how exactly does that work in real life?

The Four-Part Mindset Process

Think of the process in 4 parts:

1 | we take in information + experiences → 2 | our brain interpretations this information according to existing thought patterns → 3 | which leads to actions + habits → 4 | which leads to results.

So this process is happening all the time, as we move through our day, and it’s impacting everything in our lives.

Crazy, right?

We take in information or have an experience, our mindset (existing thought patterns) interprets the information, which leads to an action or habit, that impacts the results in life.

And this happens over, and over, and over, all day everyday.

The tricky thing, as we now know, is that since mindset can be invisible we often don’t realize this is happening.

Because we aren’t necessarily aware of mindset, we can end up practicing the same thought patterns over and over, getting the same results or feeling stuck, without ever really knowing why.

The other tricky part is that, in the past, we’ve focused mainly on things that don’t shift mindset, that outer circle of wellness like what to eat, or how much to exercise.

For true change, though, we need to refocus to the inner circle, and that’s mindset.

Mindset Applied: Growth vs. Fixed

One of the most well known, applied examples of mindset is growth mindset.

It’s important to note that growth mindset is a type of mindset, and that there are many types of thought patterns beyond this one.

That said, growth mindset is a great jumping off point for better understanding mindset, and shows the amazing power of shifting mindset.

First described by Carol Dweck (check out her research, here and TED talk, here) in work related to student learning, growth mindset describes the thought pattern that results in risk taking, learning, and growth.

One the flip-side, fixed mindset describes the thought pattern that results in less risk taking and growth.

Here’s what the two mindsets look like when we use our use our Four-Part Mindset Process to understand what’s going on:

Fixed Mindset

challenging academic experience → i can’t do this → give up → less risk taking, lack of growth

Growth Mindset

challenging academic experience → i can’t do this, yet → keep trying → risk taking, growth

The difference between these two mindsets is deceptively simple: I can’t do this, versus I can’t do this yet.

However, through her research, Dweck was able to show again and again that students with a growth mindset—those with thought patterns that said I can’t do this, yet—were less likely to give up, were more likely to take risks, and more likely to grow in the long term.

This is the incredible power that is mindset.

And the good new? The good news is that mindset is malleable. Which means it can change.

5 Ways to Begin Shifting Mindset

Okay, so you’re all aboard the mindset train, now what?

Well, now there are a few simple steps to begin the process of shifting.

1 | Know That Mindset Matters

Simply knowing what mindset is (and now you do!), and knowing that mindset matters can make a big difference.

Knowing that mindset matters begins to open the door to the possibility that you are not the problem.

Leaning into mindset means that you may just have some thought patterns that aren’t serving you

2 | Know What Mindset Is Not

Mindset is not the thought, nor controlling the thought, nor choosing an emotion or feeling, nor manifesting.

Knowing what mindset is not allows you to choose the approach that makes sense for you in your life right now.

3 | Shine The Light

Once you know that mindset matters, and you know what it’s not, you can start to simply bring awareness to your thoughts.

Do you have any ingrained thought patterns? Are there ways you think that may be happening over and over?

The aim here is to simply start to notice, to shine the light into the dark, and to turn the invisible into the visible.

4 | Make the Connection

If you can start to notice thought patterns, then the next step is to begin thinking about that Four-Part Process.

Here are some questions to get you started:

1 | what is the information + experiences? →

2 | what are the thought patterns? →

3 | what are the resulting actions + habits? →

4 | what are the results?

Simply thinking about this feedback pattern can be a game-changer when it comes to understanding your mindsets and how they impact your life.

5 | Open the Door

Now that you’ve begun to understand the feedback pattern you can open the door to the possibility of changing thought patterns.

For example, shift from “I can’t do this” to “I can’t do this, yet.”

Changing your mindset is the key to changing your brain, which can change your mind, which can change your life.

Cheers to that.

Please share!

Sharing this post is an amazing way to get the word out about mindset. So, please, share it on social media, send a link via email, or tell a friend.

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