Words like mindset and gratitude get thrown around a lot these days, and for good reason. In times of uncertainty, maintaining a positive outlook is essential for physical and mental well-being. But what exactly does it mean to have a good mindset, what are the measurable benefits, and what does the science tell us?
A healthy mindset facilitates healthy behaviors and coping strategies, the benefits of which improve mental health and quality of life.
Mindset conditioning and cultivating gratitude go hand-in-hand. Practicing gratitude elevates your sense of appreciation and optimism. This, in turn, reinforces a positive mindset.
What Is Mindset?
In simplest terms, mindset is your unique outlook and perspective of the world. It’s a combination of attitude, reactivity to stress, and philosophical outlook. Your mindset determines your behaviors and how you react to everyday situations.
Some think your mindset is defined only by how you react to negative aspects of your life, but this isn’t true. Your attitude towards joyous occasions and success shapes your mindset as much as your attitude towards stressful or unwanted situations.
What Is Gratitude?
Gratitude is a mindset of its own — the abundance mindset, to be specific. When you practice an abundance mindset, you take stock and appreciate the things in life that mean most to you.
In contrast, a “scarcity mindset” means you have a tendency to focus on things you don’t have or worry you may lose. A scarcity mindset stems from a place of fear and anxiety. The best way to move beyond a scarcity mindset is to regularly practice gratitude.
A mindset of gratitude teaches you to pay attention to the little things. Studies have shown that those with a positive mindset feel happier and more fulfilled in their lives, even despite some socioeconomic barriers.1 This supports the old saying; money truly can’t buy happiness.
Growth Mindset vs. Fixed Mindset
These two terms, initially coined by Stanford University researcher Carol Dweck2, are opposite ends of an intriguing spectrum.
When you operate under a fixed mindset, you consider yourself at the mercy of your personality. You believe your traits to be concrete and non-negotiable. Sayings like “People never change” or “You either have talent or you don’t” stem from a fixed mindset.
A growth mindset is rooted in fluidity. It means you believe you hold the power to change and evolve into the best version of yourself. That’s not to say you have to change who you are, but it can be empowering to know that you’re capable of changing the things you feel hold you back in life.
Dweck recommends striving for a growth mindset. Research has shown that those who favor a growth mindset do better academically, professionally, and socially.3 That’s because when they identify something in their life that needs improvement, they work to change it. On the other hand, someone with a fixed mindset avoids the thing they believe they aren’t good at. Therefore, they never improve.
The practice of bringing awareness and attention to your mindset is often referred to as mindfulness. By improving your ability to be present and aware, mindfulness teaches you to face those areas of perceived inadequacy and turn them into new strengths. In this way, you can avoid structuring your life around the things you think you can’t do.
Benefits of Gratitude
Cultivating gratitude is one of the easiest ways to improve and maintain your mindset. A feeling of gratefulness is an obvious benefit, but practicing gratitude can also:
- Reduce overwhelm
- Refine coping mechanisms
- Make it easier to feel joy and fulfillment
- Lead to healthier relationships with loved ones
- Realign focus to the things that matter most in your life
- Improve confidence, attention, and productivity
- Feel better equipped to deal with challenges
The benefits of practicing a gratitude mindset aren’t limited to the psyche. Numerous studies have shown significant health benefits as well. One study published very recently in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research linked a strong gratitude mindset with reduced blood pressure, improved regulation of blood sugar, better-controlled asthma, and reduced inflammation.5
This mind-body connection is one of the foundations upon which functional medicine was built. You can’t focus on one thing while simultaneously ignoring another. That’s why our team practices medicine that heals both the body and the mind using tools like qigong, stress management, and coaching groups, while simultaneously working on gut health, hormone balance, and chronic inflammation (to name just a few examples).
The Physical Implications of Perception
While the benefits of a good mindset are often touted as the key to professional success and personal development, the effect on physical health is often overlooked.
Exactly how much do mindset and perception affect our body? It’s a question that Alia Crum, PhD, Stanford researcher and Principal Investigator at the Mind and Body Lab, set out to answer, and she stumbled upon something incredible.
In one experiment, Dr. Crum and her team measured ghrelin, a hunger hormone, after participants consumed two milkshakes.6 During the first round, participants were told that the shake was “healthy” and low in calories. A week later, the same group consumed the second shake. This time they were told it was “indulgent” and calorie-rich.
In truth, the shake was exactly the same both times. Since ghrelin levels were thought to drop in proportion to the number of calories consumed, post-consumption levels should have been the same both times. Instead, ghrelin levels dropped almost three times lower after drinking the shake billed as “indulgent” than they had for the “healthy” shake. Perception alone had tricked the brain into thinking it had consumed far more than it had.
This strong influence around perception is what’s known as the placebo effect. Once you strip away the negative connotations attached to this term, you realize how beneficial it can be. Your brain needs your perception of an event in order to formulate an appropriate response, so it waits for your signal.
If our mere perception of something can trigger such a radically different chemical response from the brain, what else is our mindset capable of? These are the questions that the mindset movement is out to answer, and the results are promising.
Mindset, Stress, and Self-care
A focal point of mindset conditioning is stress management. As we cover in our Stressful Times Toolkit, it’s important to distinguish stress management from stress elimination. Having a healthy mindset does not mean you don’t feel stress or that you eliminate all stress. It means you perceive and respond to it in a more advantageous and beneficial way.
In line with Crums’ research, some suggest that our very perception of stress is actually what makes it so bad for our health. Psychologist Kelly McGonigal argues that very point in her book “The Upside of Stress” in which she explains that stress is all about perception.7
McGonigal analyzed a group of people who all reported experiencing high levels of stress on a regular basis. People who consider stress as bad for them are more likely to suffer negative stress-related health implications like cardiovascular disease and insomnia. Those who view stress in a positive light don’t suffer the same stress-related health effects as their peers nearly as often. In fact, these people can better use the stress to grow, adapt, and thrive.
Like the milkshake, it boils down to perception.
Ways to Improve Mindset and Practice Gratitude
Studies have proven the power of our own self-limiting beliefs.8 If you say to yourself “I can never seem to focus”, you eventually find it to be true. The idea behind mindset training is that instead of giving power to self-limiting beliefs, one can turn the tables on the brain to make it easier to achieve what you desire.
The key is to use mindfulness to become aware of the nagging voice in your head, and then using positive affirmations and self-support to accept the need to shift and change for the better. If you’re having a hard time focusing, say to yourself (out loud) that it’s going to be a productive and accomplished day. Or you can also tell yourself “even though I am having trouble focusing right now, I love and appreciate myself just how I am.” Repeat these a few times. You may feel silly, but science has proven that when we say things out loud, it has a more pronounced positive impact.9
Another helpful tool is the morning routine. This is a quick, easy ritual that you perform each morning before starting your day. The benefits can be life-altering.
Some things you can incorporate into your morning routine include:
- Gratitude journaling — Research shows that keeping a gratitude journal has a positive effect on your mental health.9 Start by writing down five things you’re thankful for three to five times a week.
- Meditation — Meditation is beneficial to both the mind and body. It helps increase self-awareness and bring your focus back to what matters most.
- Listen to relaxing music — Try listening to soothing music while you sip your morning tea or coffee.
- Exercise — You know exercise is good for your body, but it’s equally helpful to your mental health and mindset.
- Read — Read one chapter of an inspirational book each morning.
- Say and listen to positive affirmations — Write down 10-15 affirmations, record yourself saying them, and listen to them.
- Listen to a podcast about mindfulness — Instead of hopping on social media first thing in the morning, try listening to a podcast that teaches mindset shift.
Have fun building your routine and don’t be afraid to change things up. Find what works best to get yourself centered and ready to take on the day.
Attitude of Gratitude
Our minds and behaviors have a profound influence on our lives, yet few people take the time and effort to practice true introspection. Trying to solve the challenges of life with a negative mindset is like going out tomorrow morning and trying to run a marathon without training first. It is going to be painful!
Instead of forcing blind positivity, really train your brain to express gratitude and thankfulness. Daily gratitude practice keeps you in this healthy mental state and avoids negative thoughts.
When it comes to wellness, your body and your mind are equally important. CCFM is committed to healing both. For more information on improving your mindset, be sure to check out our Stressful Times Toolkit.
- Health Outcomes of Gratitude. (2019). Holistic nursing practice, 33(6), 319. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31609868/ Retrieved on 10 January 2021.
- Haimovitz K, Dweck CS. The Origins of Children's Growth and Fixed Mindsets: New Research and a New Proposal. Child Dev. 2017 Nov;88(6):1849-1859. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28905371/ Retrieved 10 January 2021.
- Claro, S., Paunesku, D., & Dweck, C. S. (2016). Growth mindset tempers the effects of poverty on academic achievement. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 113(31), 8664–8668. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27432947/ Retrieved 10 January 2021.
- Cascio, C. N., O'Donnell, M. B., Tinney, F. J., Lieberman, M. D., Taylor, S. E., Strecher, V. J., & Falk, E. B. (2016). Self-affirmation activates brain systems associated with self-related processing and reward and is reinforced by future orientation. Social cognitive and affective neuroscience, 11(4), 621–629. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1093/scan/nsv136 Retrieved 10 January 2021.
- Boggiss AL, Consedine NS, Brenton-Peters JM, Hofman PL, Serlachius AS. A systematic review of gratitude interventions: Effects on physical health and health behaviors. J Psychosom Res. 2020 Aug;135:110165. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32590219/ Retrieved 10 January 2021.
- Crum, A. J., Corbin, W. R., Brownell, K. D., & Salovey, P. (2011). Mind over milkshakes: mindsets, not just nutrients, determine ghrelin response. Health psychology : official journal of the Division of Health Psychology, American Psychological Association, 30(4), 424–431.Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1037/a0023467
- McGonigal, K. (2016). The Upside of Stress: Why Stress Is Good for You and How to Get Good at It. Retrieved 10 January 2021.
- Alana L Conner, PhD, Danielle Z Boles, BA, Hazel Rose Markus, PhD, Jennifer L Eberhardt, PhD, Alia J Crum, PhD, Americans’ Health Mindsets: Content, Cultural Patterning, and Associations With Physical and Mental Health, Annals of Behavioral Medicine, Volume 53, Issue 4, April 2019, Pages 321–332, Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1093/abm/kay041 Retrieved 10 January 2021.
- Cunha, L. F., Pellanda, L. C., & Reppold, C. T. (2019). Positive Psychology and Gratitude Interventions: A Randomized Clinical Trial. Frontiers in psychology, 10, 584. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30949102/ Retrieved 10 January 2021.
- Crum, A. (2016). Change Your Mindset, Change The Game [Video]. TED Conferences. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_YVnFuFG1dk Retrieved 10 January 2021.
- McGonigal, K. (2014). How to Make Stress Your Friend [Video]. TED Conferences. https://tedsummaries.com/2014/05/08/kelly-mcgonigal-how-to-make-stress-your-friend/ Retrieved 10 January 2021.