Another year has flown by, and 2024 is just about here. The holiday season can be packed with temptations to overindulge – This often feeds a mindset that we must take the opportunity to “pig-out” and then beat ourselves up for it by “cleansing” (a.k.a. starving/depriving) ourselves a month later. Instead of jumping on the inevitable January resolutions merry-go-round, why not begin the year anew by practicing better thinking habits today?
One theme that’s been coming across my path repeatedly this season is the power of the mindset. I’ve begun to really reflect on my own. How healthy is my mindset? Do I see or speak to myself in negative ways? I am learning that, if my expectation of myself is failure, best believe I will set myself up for failure 10 out of 10 times.
Quiet confidence in knowing who you are – your inherent worth and value, can lead to courage, which is a light in the face of fear and uncertainty. Genuine love can melt the iron bars of a heart to open it up and accept the healing balm of compassion. Being vulnerable doesn’t make one weak. That perceived “weakness” is exactly what is strong enough to inspire another person to keep going. All of these qualities are essential to a positive mindset.
I have met new people these past few months, and they’ve spanned the gamut on the self-confidence spectrum; some are “very pleased with themselves,” to “okay, it’s clear this person hates themselves” based off their self-talk in conversations. Of those that I’ve observed behaving like the latter, I’ve noted that what they hate is actually not there; At least, it’s not noticeably obvious to the outsider. What they hate seems to live completely in their own heads and so this story of failure, guilt or shame is one they have attached to themselves. It has fed a mindset that is happy to remind you of their own shortcomings. It is a mindset that has come to expect the worst. A person stuck in this mindset can’t see the permission they give others to see them in the same negative way. To me, the saddest part is that it’s not even true, but it appears to be so, once spoken out loud.
That is the power of the mindset.
Dr. David J. Hellerstein, a Professor of Clinical Psychiatry at Columbia University, states, “in brief, we have realized that neuroplasticity (the ongoing remodeling of brain structure and function), occurs throughout life. It can be affected by thought patterns.”
Isn’t that amazing? Our thoughts lead to thought patterns, and these patterns – whether positive or negative, essentially build the brain roads in our own heads! These roads influence our behavior and then others around us. This can be a terrifying thought, but it can also be great news – it proves that it’s never too late to call the construction team and begin building new roads.
Animal and human research repeatedly demonstrates that environmental influences have great effect on our cognitive function. Uniqueness, challenging situations, and focused attention have been demonstrated to be essential components of enhancing our brain’s ability (Mahncke et al., 2006a,b; Houillon et al., 2013).
A positive mindset is what I am suggesting we begin to exercise these last days of December.
For me, I know that I have always struggled with negative self-talk. I didn’t realize until much later in life that this was a big piece that was holding me back from amazing experiences and accomplishing more. I only shot for right in front of my nose, so I kept my head down for a long time. It wasn’t until I picked my head up to look around, discovering inspiration in others, and having people in my life that believed in me, that I started aiming for more. The more I learn, and surround myself with like-minded people, the more I’m starting to trust myself and the less my brain looks for the negative.
What does nurturing a healthy mindset look like to you? Maybe it involves carving out more “alone time” for yourself, dedicated to daily journaling, meditation, prayer, and mindfulness. Maybe it looks like speaking prayers and affirmations out loud, over yourself. Perhaps some goal setting is what will help you – challenges are our friend! Our brain’s positive paths get reinforced when we set a goal and accomplish it. Whatever you do, know that it takes a lifetime of practice. Don’t give up! Let these last days of December serve to set you up for success so you can positively hit the ground running in 2024.
Hellerstein, D. (2011). Neuroplasticity and Depression. Psychology Today, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/heal-your-brain/201107/neuroplasticity-and-depression#:~:text=In%20brief%2C%20we%20have%20realized,well%20as%20by%20thought%20patterns.
Shaffer J. (2016). Neuroplasticity and Clinical Practice: Building Brain Power for Health. Frontiers in psychology, 7, 1118. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01118