What is mindset? This is a topic that has always intrigued me.
Mindset – A Personal Experience
Many years back when I was serving in the military service, I dreaded the outfield experience the most. As this is a conscripted army, many Singaporean males would likely to share a similar experience. During outfield, we would be hot, sweating profusely, and dead tired in the tropical humid heat. Every Sunday night, when we had to book-in back into the camps, it was a pain emotionally and physically.
However, after I completed my military service, I would go on hiking trips with my friend. The treks were often more strenuous, more wild, and definitely more unpredictable compared to those army outfield scenarios which were under strict supervision. In other words, we were many times safer during our outfield training than we were during those hiking trips.
I would never forget this trek at the Golden Gate National Park in South Africa. It was winter and it would turn dark by 6pm. We looked at our clock, it was slightly past 2pm and we decided to go on a trek, with an estimated trekking time of 4 hours, as shown on a faintly printed paper.
We informed the hotel receptionist that we were going for the 4-hour trek and her nonchalant response misled us over the difficulty of the trail. We spent the first two hours strolling, taking pictures, and posting on Facebook. By 4.30pm (2.5 hours into the trail), we thought we were close to the end of the trail. In my mind, I thought “What an easy trail!”
We were wrong. As we continued on, we climbed higher and higher, to a point that we could not turn back. Then we rechecked the piece of faintly printed map. We were only half way there. We had not past the summit. We panicked. Our phone was left with less than 10% battery. Turning back would mean another 2.5 hours or more, considering that many parts of the trail were easy to climb up but difficult for descend. Moving ahead would be no better as well. We had more than half way to go.
We were stuck.
It was a moment when our brains froze and all our muscles tightened. It was a fight and flight response triggered by an impending danger. We were sweating profusely even as the temperature began to drop quickly.
We started running wherever we can. We reached the summit at 5.30pm. The sunset illuminated the whole landscape with a soft golden glow. Our hearts were pumping too fast for us to take in that beauty. We had 30 minutes before it would turn dark.
For the remaining downhill journey, we ran, slid, and occasionally tumbled. Finally, the sun set and it became dark. Although we had our headlights on, we were pretty lost. My phone had 3% battery left by now and I wondered if we were to call for help, my phone would not be able to last. Our best bet was to bash towards the highway at the foot of the mountain which was illuminated by the headlights of an occasional passing car.
After 45 minutes of tumbling downhill, we could finally hear the stream at the foot of the mountain. We crossed the steam and came to the highway. We walked along the highway, back to our cottage, and sat down at the table. We could not move for 15 minutes. We were recovering from the shock and our adrenalin must have depleted all our strengths to help us to survive.
This experience was definitely more dangerous than any of my military outfield trainings. Yet, I did not dread it. In fact, after this hiking experience, I fell in love with hiking and went on to do many more hiking trips.
Why would I react less positively to an environment with seemingly more favourable conditions, such as during the outfield trainings?
It lies in my mindset.
I had a different mindset towards outfield trainings compared to the hiking trips.
I felt coerced to do the outfield trainings. But for the hiking trips, I wanted to do it.
Research on Mindset
Mindset is the lens through which we see the world and hence derive our corresponding responses (Crum, Salovey, & Achor, 2013).
The implication is profound. The same event, if viewed with different lenses, may derived different responses. This is exactly like a phrase that we commonly hear, “It’s not what happens to you that matters; it’s how you think.”
Because of the different mindsets I adopted towards to equally strenuous experience, my body could have responded differently. This hypothesis is backed by research.
Alia Crum, a psychologist from Stanford University, and her colleagues were interested to study the effects of mindset on physiological functioning.
Mind over Milkshakes (Crum, Corbin, Brownell, & Salovey, 2011)
A group of participants were given a “low fat” milkshake. They were hooked up to an intravenous (IV) that drew their blood to measure grehlin level. Grehlin, is a peptide, that signals to us that we are hungry and decreases when we are full. After the “low fat” milkshake intake, grelin level decreased, as expected.
A week later, the same group were given a “high fat” milkshake and grehlin level was measured. As expected, grehlin level decreased at a faster rate since this milkshake was supposed to have a higher fat content.
The catch – both milkshakes had the same fat content; what was different was the label.
When the group assumed that they were taking in a higher fat content milkshake, the body responded accordingly by secreting grehlin at a faster rate. This study suggests the power of mindset as having the ability to influence even physiological functioning.
Another study also demonstrated the effect of mindset on physiological functioning.
Mindset Matters (Housekeeping attendants) (Crum & Ellen, 2007)
A group of 84 Room attendants from 7 different hotels across the USA were recruited and divided into two groups for this study.
One group (informed-group) was given a 15min presentation informing them that the work they did (housekeeping work) was good exercise, fulfilling the Surgeon General’s recommendation for an active lifestyle. The other group (placebo-group) received the same information as the informed group except that their work was exercise.
After 4 weeks, both groups did not differ in actual behaviour, but the informed group (work is exercise group) experienced a significant drop in systolic blood pressure, body fat, weight, and a significant increase in job satisfaction.
What Mindset Do We Carry In Our Work?
Why do some people thrive and some people languish under the same work environment?
Rethinking Stress (Crum, Salovey, & Achor, 2013)
Alia Crum and colleagues wanted to study the effect of rethinking about stress. It is common knowledge that stress brings about negative health symptoms.
This study was conducted at UBS with two groups of randomly assigned adults who faced the possibility of retrenchment after the 2008 Financial Crisis.
Both groups watched a 3-min presentation about true research anecdotes about stress, but each oriented differently – stress is enhancing versus stress is debilitating.
Over time, the group that saw the presentation that stress is enhancing experienced a significant drop in negative health symptoms and an increase in work performance.
The mindset that we carry with us in our work has an impact on our work outcome and our personal wellbeing.
So what is the kind of mindset that will help us to achieve more?
Achieving More – Growth Mindset versus Fixed Mindset
Carol Dweck, a psychology professor from Stanford, theorised the presence of two types of mindset – Fixed mindset and Growth mindset (Dweck, 2006).
A Fixed mindset views intelligence, talent, and character as fixed traits. A Growth mindset views intelligence, talent, and character as changeable traits.
Individuals who adopt a growth mindset, as opposed to a fixed mindset, view intelligence, talent, and character as having the potential for growth and development.
Individuals who adopt a growth mindset are more likely to embrace challenges, persevere in the face of obstacles, put in more effort to gain mastery, are open to criticism, and find lesson and inspiration in the success of others. As a result, they achieve more.
Mindset Board Game
I have been trying to teach the concepts of Growth and Fixed Mindsets to children and adults for some time. The key ideas can be summarised into a one Power Point slide. However, it often felt instructional. Participants would understand the concepts at best but would be far from internalising them.
The Mindset Board Game was created to introduce one kind of mindsets that will bring about greater achievements.
Imagine if students (and adults) love challenges, view failures as stepping stones to success, see effort as a process towards mastery, persist in the face of obstacles, and are inspired by the successes of others, they are more likely to achieve more.
The Mindset board game is created to introduce the ideas surrounding a Growth mindset. And through introducing the importance of a Growth mindset, we hope to encourage players towards living up to their true potentials.
The research suggests that mindset can have a great influence on outcomes.
On a personal level, mindset has greatly influenced my life.
I am not suggesting that with mindset everything is possible. But with the right mindset, we never know where the boundaries are.