Whether you flourish or struggle in your teaching career depends on a choice you can make today. Will you be able to quickly bounce back from setbacks? Will you be able to perform your best when it matters the most? The answer to these questions depends on your mindset!
“Mindset” is a simple, but powerful idea, proposed by world- renowned Stanford University psychologist, Carol Dweck (the author of “Mindset”). Backed by years of research in the psychology of achievement and success, Dr. Dweck discovered that teaching people to maintain a “growth mindset,” where they can modify and eliminate elements as needed, is a powerful ingredient for success in any field of endeavor. Her findings show that, regardless of our hard-wiring and upbringing, we are all capable of modifying our mindset habits and developing a success oriented mindset through conscious effort and practice.
Here are three of the most important ingredients of maintaining and nourishing a healthy mindset:
Maintain Optimistic Expectations
Neuroscientists have discovered that self-talk is an essential determinant of your mindset, both on and off the job. If you fill your mind with negative, self-defeating thoughts, this negative mindset will undermine much of what you want to accomplish and can actually lead to stress and mood disorders, such as anxiety, depression, and fear.
You can actually re-wire your brain in either a very positive or very negative way, depending on whether that self-talk is optimistic or pessimistic. This re-wiring process is called “neuroplasticity.” One of the best ways of changing your thinking is to develop an optimistic interpretation of every negative event that you experience. To put it simply, find the silver lining in every dark cloud.
Teachers face many challenges: difficult students, lack of appropriate parenting, work-life balance issues, etc. But it’s not the events or situations that you face that cause stress or negative attitudes. It’s your inner dialogue that determines your mindset, and it’s your mindset that determines whether or not you will be stressed, anxious, depressed, etc.
Let’s pretend you tell yourself that you have lost control of a difficult student and that loss of control is unlikely to change. This leads to feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, exacerbating your stress level. However, if you tell yourself that you will not be manipulated by this student and, if he persists, you will have him removed from your class and that you can control the situation, then you don’t feel helpless or hopeless. You expect that you will handle the situation appropriately by being more assertive with both the student and his parents as needed.
Studies by Dr. Martin Seligman (author of Learned Optimism) that challenged people to change how they reacted to disappointing events by employing more optimistic thinking show that, when people develop optimistic expectations in the face of negative events, they can even recover from physical challenges related to chronic depression and anxiety, such as headaches, back pain, or hypertension. Studies have even shown that people recover more rapidly from diseases and can even extend their lives.
So how can you modify your mindset so that it consistently embraces optimistic expectations? How do you persevere and remain resilient under adverse circumstances? How do you condition yourself to look at setbacks as temporary hurdles that can be overcome, rather than permanent obstacles to your success?
Compare How Pessimistic and Optimistic People View Setbacks:
When bad things happen, pessimistically-oriented people tell themselves, “It’s my fault; it’s a permanent flaw of mine; it’s going to be this way for the rest of my life.” They look at the outcome or setback as having an internal cause, being permanent and pervasive, indicative of their overall incompetence. I refer to this kind of self-talk as “linguistic toxicity.”
When good things happen to pessimistically-oriented people, they view it as Externally Caused (“I was lucky.”), Temporary (“This won’t last.”), and Exclusive (“I was lucky with this, but the rest of my life is awful.”)
People who learn to give themselves optimistic explanations for setbacks view them as Externally Caused (“This was a fluke and an exception to the rule of how things go with me.”), Temporary (“This is unlikely to happen again.”), and Exclusive (“I had difficulty dealing with this, but in the rest of my life I am thriving.”). I refer to this type of self-talk as “linguistic nutrition.”
Optimistically-oriented people expect good outcomes to occur frequently and view them as Internally Caused (“It’s my skills, work ethic and motivation that caused this to happen.”), Permanent (“I certainly expect good things to continually happen to me.”), and Pervasive (“This is just one example in my life where I have the skills and talent to be successful.”).
It’s important to continually practice recognizing your old, pessimistic reactions to situations, stop them in their tracks, and change them quickly to optimistic reactions. Wear a thick rubber band (like the ones that come with the mail) on your wrist and snap it every time you recognize a pessimistic self-talk habit. Then quickly change it to an optimistic one.
Laugh Yourself into a Nourished Mindset
Research on the powerful effects of laughing on the body and mind started with the groundbreaking book by Norman Cousins, The Anatomy of an Illness. Cousins chronicled how he recovered from a terminal illness by laughing out loud several times a day for at least a few minutes each time. He produced the humor by watching the funniest videos he could find (“The Three Stooges,” “Candid Camera,” and others) while hospitalized for his illness.
Once he saw how his pain subsided while laughing, he convinced the medical staff to take his blood pre- and post-laughing. The results were remarkable. His symptoms went into remission and he soon helped fund massive research projects studying the effects of laughter and having fun on brain chemistry and the eradication of physical symptoms.
One of the more modern advocates of the power of bringing fun and humor into ones’ life is Dr. Steve Allen, Jr., a physician and the son of the famous comedian, Steve Allen.
By laughing, watching funny shows and movies, and finding ways to have fun, your mindset will be similarly nourished and thrive.
Keep a Gratuity Journal on Your Nightstand
Research in the area of Positive Psychology points to the nourishing impact of focusing on what you are grateful for each day, rather than focusing on what you are not happy about or the anticipated aggravations you may face tomorrow.
Make a deal with yourself to write down at least three things that you were grateful for that day. Fall asleep with those pleasant thoughts in your mind and watch how much happier you will be the next day. You’ll be amazed by how much you’ll begin to appreciate the things you take for granted. A bonus side effect of doing this is that you may fall asleep much easier and remain asleep much longer.
There you have it. Do you want to build amazing resilience to stress, add joy to your career and life and even extend your life longer than you dreamed possible? Grow your mindset by:
- developing an optimistic expectation habit
- bringing fun and laughter into every day
- religiously writing in your gratuity journal each evening before you retire
You will be amazed at how your career and your life will flourish!