What is Mindset really?

What is mindset really? And why does it matter?

Mindset is far and away the most important variable in your long term success. In my coaching, there’s a reason that mindset comes first in the holistic wheel (pictured below). The way you think about the process is going to not only dictate your behaviors in the long term, but also the quality with which you do your healthy habits and even the effect your habits have on your body. But… what the hell is mindset really and why does it matter?

The Holistic Wheel: 6 components of healthy living

Now, there are a lot of labels people will use to describe mindset, and they often fall on spectrums (Growth vs Fixed Mindset, Amateur vs Pro mindset, Rich vs Poor Mindset, etc).

Sometimes you’ll hear labels get used to evoke an “ideal” concept or identity people live up to (like the old WWJD bracelets, or “Spartan Mindset” or “Iron Man Mindset”). Sometimes those labels can serve as a role model for you to try to imitate in your own life.

But those are examples, none of them really tell us what Mindset is. So let’s define mindset and then let’s create a model that explains mindset and how it works.

Your Mindset is the predominate thought patterns and responses you have.

To use a couple examples from above, the Growth vs Fixed mindset spectrum. A growth mindset has a thought pattern that is predominantly forward thinking and looks for opportunities for improvements. In response to an obstacle, a growth mindset response would be to use that obstacle as a way to improve your skills or habits. On the other end of that spectrum, a Fixed Mindset tends to think everything is as good as it’s going to get. When faced with hardships, the response of a fixed mindset is to stop and quit at that obstacle because it’s a barrier or a limit to your abilities.

Mindset is all about how we think and how we respond. And thankfully, you’ve seen with your own growth that mindset can change over time if we try and we work at it.

Now why does Mindset matter?

I want to answer that by presenting a model of what mindset really is. I got this model originally from the late Bob Proctor of the Proctor-Gallagher Institute (and he got it from a psychologist who got it from another psychologist from the 1930’s… as the story goes)

A visual representation of “mindset”

In this model, there are several parts of the chain and it flows in a downward trend.

  • The conscious mind. This is where our thoughts live and are created.
  • The sub-conscious mind. This is where we store our software. This is where habits, routines, and patterns live. Your emotions also live here and has a great influence on the programming process.
  • The body. It’s your body. The vessel of your lived experience and actions.
  • Actions. They are the physical manifestations of the programmed habits and routines we have as well as forced behaviors we have in the moment.
  • Results/Outcomes: That’s a general term to describe what you are and what you have (or alternatively, what you WANT to be or have). Generally, a person’s life results and outcomes are categorized in three most common groups: happiness results, health results, and wealth results.

Now, this is a top down model as I mentioned. The predominant repetition of thoughts and responses of your conscious mind will eventually program themselves into the automatic processes of the sub-conscious mind. Repetition breeds habit, right?

Your sub-conscious mind is the auto-pilot system for your body and your life. Psychologists tell us over 80% of our day is done by habits and routines, but I think that’s an under-estimate. In fact, one study showed that people brush their teeth with nearly a 100% repeated motion each time. Each stroke being the same you took the day before because it’s an automatic program without thought. People often walk the same routes with little thought about where each step goes. We never forget how to ride a bike.

Your body, as mentioned above, will operate how the mind tells it to. Especially as the sub-conscious mind dictates. Your body isn’t anything special, it’s merely a tool of the sub-conscious mind to do the automatic programming.

Actions are the plaything of the body. What your body does is your action.

Your results and outcomes are a result of your actions.

With it being a top-down model, we can then say that every result and outcome begins then in the mind. This is why mindset is so incredibly important. Your mindset is where we plant the seeds of our outcomes.

Every result and outcome begins in the mind.

It’s also critical to be diligent with what we seed in our minds then. If weeds grow, they can choke out the seeds of results we hope to plant. Because our brains are hardwired for negativity, we easily fall into a mindset trap that pulls us away from our desired results.

Now, people often try to shortcut this. They see the closest thing to results and outcomes is actions, so let’s just bully actions. “If i just do the right things I will get the right results!” Unfortunately, the mind is inseparable here. Just discussing the model and not the copious amounts of real-life horror cautionary tales, actions can only come through the body, and the body is a slave to the mind’s programming.

Research actually backs this up in a couple ways. One fascinating study showed that the brain releases different chemicals when exercise is voluntary vs when exercise is forcedSame action, but different results because of a different mindset.

There’s also a fascinating experiment done by Dr. Alia Crum who gave participants milkshakes and measured their biochemical response. She gave them a milkshake labelled as 630 calories and gave another group a milkshake labelled as 130 calories. The group with the light milkshake released more hunger hormones and felt less full, which you would expect if they had less, right?

Problem though, the milkshakes were the same exact milkshake and same amount. The calories in fact were the same. But she lied about the labels. The action was the same (Drink Milkshake), but the outcomes were different because she manipulated the mindset of that milkshake.

We cannot skip the mind in favor of actions. The mind overrules our actions.