MINDSETS

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22 October, 2021

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Who am I? What do I want? How do I get there?

These three questions are at the heart of what Ash Barty’s mindset coach asks her to focus on. Barty sees Ben Crowe as a critical part of her coaching team. What is a ‘mindset coach’?

Over the last two decades or so much research has been done around ‘mindsets’ in many aspects of life and many fields of work and in education. Prof. Carol Dweck’s writings about growth mindsets (as opposed to fixed mindsets) are widely referred to in business, sport, and education. Prof. Jo Boaler’s work on mathematical mindsets in education is another example. Dr Martyn Newman’s work on the importance of Emotional Intelligence (EQ) for leaders in the corporate world identified an optimistic mindset as a key competency of successful leaders.

A mindset can be defined as ‘a disposition, or a frame of mind: a mindset is your collection of thoughts and beliefs that shape your thought habits.’ Our mindsets in a whole range of areas lead our thinking and our actions to tend one way or the other, generally somewhere on a continuum rather than at one end or the other of a balance. Importantly, we now know that while our mindsets are to some extent inherent in our nature, in large part they can be taught and learned. We can rewire our brains.

Taking optimism as an example, research suggests that 85% of people have either an optimistic or a pessimistic mindset (measured by brain activity), with a spread of the degree to which we are one or the other of these. Those with an optimistic (glass half full) mindset experience many life benefits in comparison with those nearer to the pessimistic end of the spectrum, with the proviso that it is ‘realistic optimism’.

Some of the benefits of an optimistic mindset reported include better mental health, better physical health, better coping strategies when faced with adversity, stronger resilience, greater flexibility, increased problem-solving capacity and longer life span.

How, then, do we support students (as well as ourselves) to develop and enact more optimistic mindsets? A handful of easy to implement strategies to consider are:

  • Shifting one’s perspective simply by consciously thinking happy thoughts. The more frequently this is done, it starts to change one’s mindset and the longer this continues the brain is being trained to instinctively think more positively.
  • Model social environments for young children where the atmosphere is relaxed, predictable, caring and loving.
  • Positive emotions are contagious (as are negative emotions), so be sure to choose some optimists among close friendship groups and peers.
  • Turn off the news! A few minutes of news to catch important headlines can be valuable, but the longer news is viewed or listened to the harder it is to maintain an optimistic outlook,
  • Writing in a diary or journal each day just one or two or three things that we are grateful for from the day has been shown to yield increased optimism and build resilience. Better sleep, improved heart health and fewer depressive symptoms are benefits identified from daily journal writing in this way. This is a central element of the Resilience Project implemented across the College this year.
  • Practising mindfulness helps to resist the tendency to over-think daily stressors and to focus more on things within our control. Acknowledge what we can control and what we can’t control.
  • Remember to still acknowledge the negative side of situations at the same time as striving to be optimistic. Optimism is seeing the positives, but not through rose-coloured glasses.

The development of our own mindsets is something that we can control. The learning and life benefits of an optimistic mindset are very significant.

Who am I? What do I want? How do I get there?

Lachie Wright
Head of Junior School

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