Imagine the following situation: Mark is a very hardworking person, he is studying a part-time master, working full time, and is a regular runner. One day he finds out that he’s being made redundant, he receives a poor grade in his midterm essay and springs his ankle walking down the stairs at home. If you were Mark, what would you feel, think and do?
No doubt, Mark is in a hard situation for the following weeks. Some of us in his situation would feel useless, think of ourselves as a failure, and cry or engage in unhealthy drinking or overeating. On the other hand, other people would have similar feelings, but they will think and do differently. They might say “I actually didn’t like my job”, “I will do a review of my essay and ask my tutor how I could improve for my final submission” or “I’ll use my recovery time to look for a new job and advance my masters”. Certainly, these responses lead to very different long-term outcomes, so what makes people respond so differently to the same events? And most importantly, what can help us to respond proactively to unfortunate situations?
An essential factor that influences our behavior is our mindset. This is a set of triggered cognitive operations that will determine how we feel, think and act . As you can imagine, your mindset will have an important impact on becoming the person you want to be and living the life you want. In her book, Carol Dweck speaks about two important types, the “fixed” and “growth” mindsets, and how the latter triggers healthier and more proactive behaviors [1,2]. Her studies demonstrate that mindset can be learned, meaning that we can transform the way we think and act from the inside of our mind. We can examine ourselves and recognize how various activities and thoughts affect us so we can respond in alignment with our goals. Therefore, as important as it is to set goals in life is to train our mind and identify how we behave in certain situations.
An example of a very proactive mindset comes from the Stoics more than two thousand years ago. They combined a strong focus on their internals (i.e. their thoughts and actions) with reflection exercises that helped them build resilience against the setbacks of life. An important tool they used is called “the dichotomy of control”(use link here) and explains the thought process to focus your attention on worthy actions . Another important ability to develop is a flexible mind, known as “psychological flexibility” and is the main objective to work towards when engaging in an ACC (Acceptance and Commitment Coaching) program [4,5]. I’ve seen how ACC has a huge positive impact on people’s mindsets. It helps people build up their motivation and resilience through exercises like clarifying values (link to the lead magnet) or building an action plan. In this way, they focus their resources on what matters, and as a result, people report greater enjoyment, empowerment, and progress towards a better quality of life.
So, all in all, life events are more unpredictable than we think, but uncertainty is not the bit to worry about. What is essential is to have strategies that can help us cope with the unknown, growing our resilience and readiness to act. Of course, this is not to say that we have to avoid unwanted feelings and thoughts, but perhaps we want to be flexible enough to allow them to manifest and still act towards our goals. Discovering how our mind works improve our learning power and unlock our true potential. But unfortunately, this does not happen overnight, it requires training to equip your mind so you can build an effective mindset to march on towards your desired life.