When Stress Enters Our Mind
Can you recall the last time you went to the dentist? Ideally, it was in the previous year (but maybe it’s been longer because of the pandemic). No matter, can you recall what feelings you had in anticipation of the visit? Would you dare say you were excited to go? Or did you have mixed feelings? Apprehension about what the hygienist might say about the level of care you’ve provided to your teeth since your last visit? Anxiety, fear, or even dread at what the dentist might find lurking inside your mouth? The reality is that the experience isn’t full of excitement and joy.
When Our Mindset Is Clouded
Far too often, our mindset about medicine, medical interventions, and even healthy activities (exercise, nutrition, therapy) is clouded by fear, anxiety, mistrust, and, quite frankly, inconvenience. The wonders of medicine and science have provided many cures to ailments and diseases that long ago killed large percentages of the human population. It seems we should be excited about all the available treatments and the countless professionals who have made it their life’s work to do no harm and heal all people. What do our beliefs, attitudes, and cultural beliefs and attitudes have to do with going to the dentist? From pioneers in the field of growth mindset like Dr. Carol Dweck to more modern researchers like Dr. Alia Crum, scientists believe that our mindset towards treatment and intervention can act as a catalyst for improved outcomes. While there is still much to learn and understand about this field, behavioral psychologists are touting the special connection between positive beliefs and their influence on hormones and neurochemicals that aid in repairing the mind, body, and nervous system. Imagine if people’s mindset towards visiting the dentist was anticipation, relief, and joy towards maintaining healthy oral hygiene. It looks likely that all people want healthy gums and teeth. Most people would like to know if their food choices (or snacks) could lead to painful interventions (fillings for cavities, gum disease, root canals) or help prevent those (does an apple a day keep the doctor away?). These are some of the basics of oral hygiene. Many other benefits come from early interventions, including the detection of breathing disorders, under development in the jaw or palette, and many other cranial-facial issues. This same positive mindset about oral hygiene would also benefit the daily habits that help prevent disease, like brushing after meals, flossing, drinking enough water, and avoiding sugary snacks and beverages.
Growth Mindset vs. Fixed Mindset (As Seen By A Trainer)
Healthy food and beverage choices can be tough to maintain. Still, research shows that positive tying beliefs about the outcomes of healthy behaviors aid in implementing and developing long-term habits. As a former personal trainer, one of the essential elements of my client’s success was shifting their mindsets from “exercise as an obligation” to “exercise as an opportunity”. When a client would say they were struggling to find the time to work out, I would nod my head knowingly. I tried for a long time to find the time as well. The truth is that there simply isn’t enough time to do everything. The time people are looking for is not lost or forgotten; it’s been replaced by other obligations. I encouraged my clients to adopt a different terminology to create time for exercise. I taught them to see exercise as an opportunity to improve their physical well-being and boost other areas of their lives. An abundance of research shows that routine exercise can improve appetite, mood, and sleep. As these areas improve, there are huge gains in productivity at work, improved interpersonal relationships, and mental health benefits. Much like the beleaguered dental community I mentioned above, personal trainers aren’t always greeted with open arms, clear eyes, or full hearts. Too often, new clients dread the idea of sore muscles, wrestle with inferiority complexes (gyms scattered with all levels of athletes and body types), and lack confidence in even the basic tenets of exercise science. Typically, a fixed mindset I would encounter from clients would be that of the “non-athlete,” this belief that the person was not athletic, nor did they come from a lineage of athletes. Therefore, they were not truly capable of getting in shape. While this thinking has numerous flaws, the most difficult hurdle is the fixed belief that one cannot become something they have never been. That doesn’t mean with a great deal of work, all people can someday run a marathon in record time or play wide receiver in the NFL. A growth mindset allows us to encounter what fitness looks like for us individually, without comparison or expectation.
The Biggest Hurdle to Future Accomplishments
There will always be obstacles that deter us from making progress precisely how we hope. Still, the most significant barrier for most people is their mindset. Developing a self-examination routine to discover which area one has the strongest fixed mindset can be beneficial in determining if coaching or mentoring is necessary to create a growth mindset. Numerous books offer insight (I highly recommend Healthy Brain, Happy Life by Wendy Suzuki, PhD). You don’t have to be a neuroscientist to discover the tremendous benefits of the growth mindset. You are probably already using your own in areas where you find happiness and success.