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Creating change for better performance: Distinguishing between fixed & growth mindsets

Change happens on a cellular level. The gist is this: we all get hooked on hormones. For example, if you are used to being stressed all the time, your cells not only adjust to the high levels of cortisol (that’s the “stress hormone”) in your system, but you actually begin to like it, and then need it.

In short: you get “addicted”.

Ever feel weird while or shortly after relaxing, after experiencing a lot of stress? It’s because you’re on withdrawal; your downtime has literally become your rehab.

The same thing happens when you workout a lot: you get used to working out, your body produces and gets used to “consuming” dopamine and serotonin, and then proceeds to whine about not having those hormones when the workouts stop.

Personally, I've always had a hard time taking a real vacation (to the complaints of my wife). Going from high stress/high stimulation environment to peace and quiet was unsettling.

I was programmed for stress and stimulation and would unconsciously stress in order to keep my cortisol levels up, making me fidget and want to do something instead of just sit around and enjoy my vacation.

Even though my mind told me I needed to relax, my body was crying for me to be stressed out.

What a strange conundrum, and one that makes for a difficult transition into necessary downtime.

So what’s the deal?

Bodily miscommunication

Just like the mixed signal between mind and body in the example above, you can often misinterpret your cells reaction to change. The initial reaction is to feel like all change is bad.

Change creates vibrations that feel unfamiliar and you might immediately attach a story to that unfamiliarity, i.e. “This doesn't feel right.”

Your bodies learn to stabilize in a given environment and condition—anything from physically moving from one temperate zone to another to small changes in diet (coffee headache, anyone?) to alterations in how you exercise can set its sensitive balance off kilter.

The truth is something will almost never ‘feel’ right when it’s different. That’s why the greatest change can come when you are about to quit.

Oww brain vs. WOW brain

According to Todd Herman of The Peak Athlete, when it comes to facing change you have two kinds of brains: the Oww and the Wow, otherwise known as fixed and growth mindsets. One brain (or mindset) wants you to stay fixed right where you are. “No change for me!” it says. The other encourages growth, shoving you forward into whatever change your heart contrives, chanting “Go, go, go!”

These two brains are yin and yang—one’s a pessimist, believing you cannot grow or change, while the other is an optimist, believing change is the key to your success.

While they each have their roles and necessary purpose in your life, their constant bickering can drive us into confusion and may often lead us to make choices which aren't always in your best interest.

The Oww Brain

When change occurs and things get hard—like when you stop pumping cortisol, dopamine, or serotonin into your body—the Oww Brain starts ranting its negative stories in your head, making you feel

  • Stuck
  • Bored
  • Unsafe

Your Oww Brain will make you want to stop the change from happening, even if you know in your head that it’s good for you (like when you’re trying to consume a healthy dose of relaxation).

A common example is changing from an unhealthy diet to a healthier one. You know more vegetables are good for you, but your Oww Brain tells you otherwise, making changing your eating habits and thus improving your health more difficult than it ought to be.

Wow Brain…

Like its name implies, the Wow Brain gets excited for change; it’s the ultimate idealist and visionary. It’s that friend that says “yes” to everything, even a bad plan. When you introduce change to the Wow Brain, you’ll feel invigorated with

  • Growth
  • Confidence
  • Adventure

When talking about change for the better—say, in regard to starting a new (or improved) fitness regimen or altering from a poor to good diet—the Wow Brain is the one you want coaching your cellular team.

Its game plan is precise and effective, nullifying each of the Oww Brain’s attempts to jeopardize your efforts with a counteractive one-two-three punch that leads to a positive and powerful leap forward for you. That leap gives you…

  • Momentum. (Growth and confidence is the opposite of being stuck.)
  • Excitement. (Confidence and adventure is the opposite of boredom.)
  • Transformation. (Growth and adventure is the opposite of feeling unsafe.)

So how does one activate this powerful Wow Brain tool? Here are

5 Steps to powering up your Wow Brain

#1. Create a vision.

Construct a vision that’s clear and specific of the person you wish to become. Keep this vision in mind, as it will help you to maintain your focus as you progress through the identified change.

 [Tweet "I'm creating changes to power up my WOW Brain and improve my performance with @PositivePerform."]  

#2. Make trigger goals.

Micro changes lead to bigger changes, and trigger goals are small actions that ‘trigger’ the next step on the road to accomplishing your big vision.

For example, if you have difficulty taking time away to meditate, first identify a special place where you’ll meditate. Next sit down for a couple of minutes each day (or each week) in that special place to simply adjust to taking that small time away from other distractions.

You don’t have to do anything at first but sit. From there, start with belly breathing or closing your eyes for a minute or two, and slowly build up from there to full-on meditation.

#3. Make improvement goals.

Designate numbers with dates to the trigger goals you’ve assigned to your vision. These are small yet precise accomplishments with due dates attached.

For example, make the goal to improve by X number of seconds on your 400m sprint by date Y; or, by date X, make the goal to improve your leg lift by Y pounds or Z reps.

#4. Gather your tribe around you.

Support groups aren’t only for drug addicts and single parents. According to a paper by Richard Taflinger, “the higher the neural complexity of the animal, the more the social group is used to enhance survival.”

The support group, then, is truly a survival tactic based on the human need to be understood (which means it helps that they’ve been where you are now) and supported through positive feedback, constructive criticism, empathy, and encouragement.

Your ‘tribe’ is the group of teammates, friends, and/or family who have been in your shoes and will encourage you as you move forward with this change in your life. Surround yourself with them!

#5. Script your setbacks.

Don’t beat yourself up over failure or backsliding. Make a plan for it instead! Ask yourself: ‘What am I going to do when I fail?’, ‘How am I going to react when faced with temptation/adversity?’

With those answers, you’ll be better prepared to accept and move past barriers and glitches that come your way.

"Failure is not fatal, but failure to change might be." - John Wooden

Do you struggle with creating change? Let us know in the comments below.


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