This blog post has been adapted from my latest book, Mind Over Matter: How To Build The Ultimate Dieting Mindset, which you can purchase on Amazon today, HERE.
Sportspeople are often defined by their ‘natural talent’ or ‘raw ability’.
Their success, in whichever sport they compete in, has risen from an innate gift and it’s only a matter of time before their pre-destined success surfaces.
‘His rise to the top was inevitable’, or, ‘She just had that underlying talent ready to share’, people will declare.
Elite athletes, Michael Jordan, Babe Ruth, and Cristiano Ronaldo would argue emphatically against such deep-rooted and misguided assumptions.
They believe it’s not about talent but growth.
It’s not about succumbing to a limited genetic or talent-based celling, but breaking through those hurdles and believing individuals, teams, and populations can not only get better, but work hard at getting better.
It’s this desire to strive for continual improvement, and embracing challenges, that can not only teach us about our mindset, but allow us to delve deep into how people can, and should, view their weight loss journey.
Do You Possess A ‘Growth’ Or ‘Fixed’ Mindset?
Your mindset explains the theories you use – often subconsciously – to define certain experiences. How you view these certain experiences forms a deep impression on how you lead your life.
-> Ask yourself what beliefs you possess that drive success or failure.
-> How will you react to victories or setbacks?
-> How do you view the influences that your effort and energy have on your dieting venture?
Answers arise from the assumptions you assemble regarding your ability levels.
Dr Carol Dweck, a pioneering researcher in the field of motivation, explains that our mindset exists on a continuum, from ‘fixed’ to ‘growth’.
A Fixed Mindset
Believing that your physical and mental qualities are pre-set – that your ability to perform specific tasks is set in stone – will limit your chances of successfully shedding weight, or building muscle.
This has been coined an entity or fixed mindset.
People who believe that, because of inborn talent, they can’t improve the attributes life has given them – whether those focus on their physical ability in the gym, or mental traits, such as discipline – often find themselves stuck.
Why bother if their impaired ability won’t aid their situation? Why keep persevering if their efforts are in vain?
A Growth Mindset
Believing your qualities can evolve – through effort, appropriate planning, and constant adaptation – will lead to greater achievement and mastery.
This is known as an incremental or growth mindset.
People who believe they can transform their physique through hard work, and a modification of diet and exercise habits, provide themselves with a sturdy foundation on which to thrive.
Why worry about failure, when it serves as an opportunity to attempt something new? Why eschew an opening to undertake a unique challenge and boost competence?
The way you view your efforts play a prominent role in defining success.
It’s not about the perfect training programme, polished meal plan or flawless, high-protein snack list – but in appreciating the importance of managing the way you think about your skill set.
From your capacity to improve the execution of weight loss behaviours, to displaying resilience during unexpected challenges, placing confidence in your capability at improving will lead to long-lasting physical changes.
Individuals with a ‘fixed’ mindset seek to validate themselves; those with a ‘growth’ mindset focus on developing the inner self.
Do You Believe You Can Lose Weight?
It’s been found that individuals’ beliefs about their bodyweight can affect whether they’re able to lose weight or not.
Those who believed their weight was fixed (for example, agreeing with the statement, “You have a certain bodyweight and you can’t really do much to change it”) were less likely to display the trait of perseverance.
This fixed mindset not only predicted their chances of evading effort and hampering positive expectations, but meant they lost less weight than those operating with a growth mindset.
The take you possess on your exercise behaviours, eating habits, and bodyweight will often dictate progress more so than the actual tasks themselves.
The majority of people continually fail with dieting attempts. No matter the effort, there’s minimal progress. No sooner has the weight disappeared, than it returns.
It’s easy to see how individuals become cornered into this fixed mindset. “If I could have succeeded, I would have done so by now”, they tell themselves. “What’s the point? I’ll never get to where I want to be”.
The cycle persists and disillusionment with dieting emanates.
Taming the growth mindset, however, allows people to prosper. Not only can they achieve more, but their feelings and optimism improve. Failures soon become openings. Activities become challenges.
Succumbing to four scoops of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream now shifts to an opportunity to practice portion size control, instead. Similarly, missing a gym session now transforms to a chance to sharpen planning and preparation skills.
Growth itself becomes the vessel for change.
You Can Change Your Brain, Too
Just as we can amend our behaviours and habits, it’s possible to physically reconstruct our brains, too. This is commonly known as neuroplasticity.
Neuroplasticity refers to the brain’s ability to adapt and change shape.
When you learn a new skill or behaviour, the pathways that information travels on lay down a labyrinth of circuitry, called ‘grooves’. These new grooves form in the wake of learning, activity, and experience.
Just as repeating the act of riding a bike will reinforce and sustain that skill, the brain will similarly strengthen and grow when it encounters frequent thoughts and actions.
Every time you rehearse a belief, feeling, or habit, you bolster the pathways between neurons – those ‘grooves’ – and essentially rewire your brain to adapt to new situations.
The connection between a growth mindset and neuroplasticity is significant; the two concepts mirror one another.
An incremental mindset asserts that your innate skills, talents, and abilities can be cultivated and improved upon, just as neuroplasticity refers to the brain’s ability to adapt beyond the usual developmental period of childhood.
Both indicate that change is possible. Merely believing that you can transform your body shape will not only beget a superior mindset, but enable the brain to thrive and regenerate in a similar way.
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Adopting A Growth Mindset With Exercise
How much you believe in your ability to transform into a fitter individual will dictate your chances of increasing long-term exercise frequency, and your capacity to fulfil your physique’s potential.
If you believe that strength, technique, and ability are all fixed attributes – that your efforts to change are unavailing – you’ll curtail opportunities to make progress.
Those who struggle to visit the gym consistently may believe that all their efforts are futile and, because they can’t see results immediately, that there’s little point in trying any further.
This is the fixed mindset in play.
Those who train consistently, however, assume a different viewpoint.
They believe that exercise is an opportunity to improve healthy behaviours. That their efforts in the gym will help them acquire their desired physique, even when results may seem concealed behind an elusive dream. This is what coaches mean when they harp on about, “trusting the process”.
Positive perceptions of physical activity have been found to induce significant, long-term effects on health, through shifts in motivation, emotion, and physiological responses.
This is the growth mindset at play.
Let’s consider the activities of hotel maids, as an interesting example.
They’re on their feet every day, continually moving, ferrying heavy trolleys, as well as bending and scrubbing. Ask them if they’re physically active, however, and they’ll often respond with an affirmative “No”. Given that their activity levels easily eclipse most sedentary workers, it seems strange that their mindset rests in the ‘idle’ camp.
A group of researchers at Harvard University decided to examine this very situation.
They briefed a group of maids, who far exceeded the definition of an ‘active lifestyle’, on the number of calories each of their daily tasks burned. They weren’t instructed to exercise more, nor eat less.
One month later, following the surprising information that they had been primed with, it was found there was a remarkable decrease in those maids’ weight, as well as their waist-to-hip ratio and blood pressure markers.
While the busy cleaners reported no significant changes in their subsequent behaviours, it was evident that their physiological improvements were affected by the footing their mindsets held.
How you perceive your activity levels will govern your ability to change.
By simply believing your efforts are aligned with a certain goal, or that you possess the skills to cultivate progress – no matter what your baseline competence may be – you can make significant changes to your exercise frequency, effort level and, ultimately your physique.
Adopting A Growth Mindset With Nutrition
It’s been found that the category of mindset that individuals hold – relating to beliefs about whether their physique is malleable or fixed – will also regulate their eating behaviours and, subsequently, chances of losing weight.
Researchers in one study set out to test whether peoples’ eating choices were influenced by the type of mindset they displayed.
They found that, when offered raisins – a ‘healthy’ snack – there were no differences in the number of calories consumed between fixed and growth mindset groups.
When, however, they were offered M&Ms – an ‘unhealthy’ snack – those who possessed a growth mindset consumed fewer calories than those exercising a fixed outlook.
If you believe that dietary choices have little impact on your weight loss journey, (for example, “I’ve always been overweight, so another few M&Ms won’t make a difference”), you’re less likely to implement healthy eating behaviours.
If you believe the decisions you make are linked to dieting success, however, (for example, “I can make a difference to the changes in my body, so I’m going to choose the fruit instead”), you’ll be more inclined to favour healthy eating habits.
Eating ‘healthily’ requires less self-regulation to resist overeating. We’ve been programmed to believe that apples and broccoli are ‘good’ for us; it’s not hard to say, ‘no’ to another piece of fruit, is it?
Eating ‘unhealthily’, however, encourages a constant battle between the two sides of your brain.
One moment it’s telling you to eat nutritiously; the next, it’s urging you to inhale one – or maybe, even, all – of the fourteen custard doughnuts at the breakfast buffet.
If you believe you’re in control of your ability to change, however – that each decision will influence results – then you’ll invariably adopt smarter choices.
It’s why the belief that dieting is inherently difficult (a fixed mindset) can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Participants in one study who agreed with statements such as, “Eating healthy means sacrificing taste”, and, “Things that are good for me rarely taste good”, displayed a greater Body Mass Index (a measure of weight relative to height), and were less likely to consume ‘healthy’ food.
The mere expectation that losing weight can be a struggle, or that consuming certain foods makes dieting more challenging, leads to a greater propensity for weight gain.
Accepting that your diet is a challenge – and not an enterprise destined to fail – is crucial. Differentiating between a growth and fixed mindset, and subsequently adopting the former, will lead to healthier eating intentions and higher expectancy-value beliefs.
Even by merely valuing a nutritious diet and its impact on health, you’re more likely to engage in healthier eating behaviours.
How To Create a Growth Mindset
The type of mindset that you nurture will surface in your life the most. If it’s that fixed mindset, it will occupy your life in various ways. You’ll blame others, avoid challenges, and concede defeat, before you’ve even started.
Embrace a growth mindset, however, and you’ll adopt resultant behaviours that help to reform and elevate you.
You’ll accept each challenge with vigour; you’ll take failure as a chance to improve – and you’ll persist with the necessary skills required for success.
You’re Just Not There, Yet
You must appreciate that every aspect of your weight loss journey is a skill. Just like playing chess, or learning to draw, each can be improved with repetition.
From learning to consume a vegetable with every meal, to practicing self-acceptance, each, continually-refined behaviour contributes to that overarching ambition. You can use each, demanding opportunity you encounter to better yourself – to improve.
It’s not always about dropping those ten stubborn kilograms, nor fitting into that swimsuit, but using each part of your journey to refine your character and your ability to work hard.
Whenever a thought, or flurry of negative words, infiltrates your mind, simply place the word “Yet” at the end of the self-induced remark that’s attempting to penetrate your belief system, such as:
-> “I haven’t lost the weight, yet.”
-> “I’m unable to overcome the guilt I feel surrounding consuming certain foods, yet.”
-> “I don’t have the motivation to get to the gym consistently, yet.”
The addition of that simple, three-letter signal remodels your thinking from one of fixed to growth. This seemingly trivial extension now promotes a mindset comprising persistence and anticipation.
By accepting that you haven’t obtained those ambitions, or mastered that reformed mindset as it stands, you permit yourself to remain devoted to the direction you wish to take.
You’re now a work in progress, as opposed to something that can’t be rebuilt.
Learn From Your Failures
Those with a fixed mindset will accept failure as part of who they are. They’re less likely to persevere and display levels of robustness.
“I’m not cut out for losing weight”, they’ll tell themselves.
Setbacks are viewed as inevitable.
Adopting a growth mindset, however, will help when confronting failure. When you overeat, you’ll be more likely to interpret the reasons why that event occurred, and endeavour to make your next meal a healthy one. When you take measurements to gauge progress and realise you haven’t lost any centimetres from your waist, you’ll be more likely to focus on the process and keep visiting the gym.
Setbacks are viewed as a chance to progress, not quit.
To cultivate the growth mindset, instead, it’s therefore important to not only accept failure as a necessity, but forecast how you’ll react to those inevitable slip-ups.
Prepare for how you’ll behave in the face of defeat.
Having these actions and thoughts written down, ahead of time, will ensure that you’ll know how to proceed when any such disconcerting moments arise. It helps to start embracing the notion that pain, suffering, and failure will usually precede goal achievement.
Take The Right Action
Cultivating a growth mindset doesn’t arise from poring over a treasury of self-help books and declaring, confidently, that you’ll “…work harder next time”.
It isn’t just about effort.
It’s important to remember that changing your physique is the ultimate aim at play, and, by only endorsing determination, you’re restricting the tools you have available to succeed.
It’s also about continually refining the learning process and ensuring you’re always advancing towards the end goal, with the right actions.
When we admire effort exclusively, ignoring the outcome, we submit to what’s commonly known as a False Growth Mindset.
Just working harder, whilst implementing the wrong strategies won’t yield the transformation you seek.
Is working hard, for the sake of working hard, a productive strategy? People can easily fall into this widespread trap.
They believe they need to implement more behaviours, more training sessions, and more effort, when, in fact, they just need to work smarter.
‘More’ doesn’t always equate to ‘better’.
Every action, whilst underpinned by character and determination, must be bound to the outcome.
Dive Into Tasks That Scare You
People can become scared of exposing any home truths regarding their behaviours, so that, instead of being open to learning and improving, they avoid activities that fill them with unease.
They may avoid the gym, shy away from keeping a food diary, or flee the work required to improve their relationship with food and their body image.
Unravelling and embracing this fear will enable you, instead, to cultivate a growth mindset.
When you welcome the inevitable apprehension experienced with attempting something untested, you’ll start to crave repetition and increase determination.
No longer will fear forestall your actions; excitement at tackling a novel challenge, and potentially making mistakes, will emanate. Instead of enduring anxiety, therefore, at appearing potentially defeated, you’ll be able to pinpoint that underlying feeling and quickly flip it to a willingness to master new experiences.
Discovering such clarifications can provide critical insights into your flaws and subsequent cover stories.
-> Are you actually too busy, or are you fearful of confronting mistakes once you start?
-> Is your bodyweight ‘set point’ really fixed, or are you fearful of what a personal transformation will do to your life? I
-> Is it really not the ‘right time’, or are you fearful of the uncertainty that starting can provoke?
This Article Was Too Long And I Didn’t Read It; Can You Summarise It Please?
-> People stuck in a fixed mindset will become entrenched in a belief system that asserts that they’re powerless to improvement, unable to change their body shape, and that their weight loss journeys have already been mapped out for them. They subsequently avoid challenges, quit easily, and are fearful of change.
-> People who embrace a growth mindset firmly believe they can improve, that they can influence their physique, and have control over their weight loss journey. They subsequently try new activities, persevere, and are eager to learn and improve.
-> Those who adopt a growth mindset possess heightened expectations, partake in increased exercise frequency, display better coping strategies, and hold greater nutritional habits.
-> Start adding the word ‘yet’ to any negative thoughts you have, surrounding your ability or effort levels – and embrace the opportunity to attempt new tasks that scare you (e.g., “I haven’t lost any weight, yet”).
-> At every opportunity, start to cultivate that growth mindset and avoid any pre-destined and fixed thoughts that surface regularly. Make a note of every time one of these thoughts pops into your head and make an effort to change it – there and then.
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