Why Your Mindset Matters

Several years ago, my wife invited me to attend a workshop on Essential Oils and Emotions since it seemed like an interesting crossover of our two worlds – hers being Dietetics/Nutrition and mine being Counseling.  I’m always eager to hang with her, especially if we get to learn and talk shop, so I said yes. I’m a pretty open-minded person, having a strong draw to embrace the unknown wonders of this strange universe. However, this workshop oozed a woo-woo vibe, which felt a little uncomfortable, even for me.

I was the only male in a class of about thirty or more.  We sat on the floor, cross-legged, passing various essential oils around the room smelling them blind with labels hidden.  We recorded which oils were pleasant and which ones weren’t. It was fun. I was along for the ride, enjoying myself and entirely skeptical of the whole thing.  When the facilitator unveiled the types of oils we had been smelling, everyone rifled through a little guide book to see what emotional properties were associated with the oils on their favorites list.  As I waited for my turn, I gently poked fun at my wife and dropped well-placed comments about crystal balls, horoscopes, and voodoo. Then I read my results.

Oh crap.

My smug sarcasm quickly transformed into a welling up of emotion in my throat.  I focused all my God-given strength on denying it an outward expression. Nope. Not here in this woo-woo workshop, thank you very much.  I was in disbelief of how accurately my list of oils reflected my circumstances. I had recently decided to quit my decent paying community mental health job, take a three-month sabbatical, and start my own counseling business, relying heavily on our savings.  It was risky (in hindsight, a bit irrational) and was a big change for me and the family. I was desperate for a practical path forward and I was afraid of failure. According to the workshop facilitator, the oil you least like smelling might be one that you need to use to find health and resolution.

My least favorite oil was Rosemary – “The Oil of Knowledge and Transition.”

I felt a battle rage in me.  This is a total joke!  Yeah, but these oils just read my mail.   Are you kidding me? This is ridiculous, don’t let yourself get sucked into such nonsense.  Well, what I’m doing isn’t working, what do I have to lose? Back and forth I went.  The evening culminated in a guided meditation where the facilitator invited us to engage our self-dialogue.  She suggested that if anyone in the room had an inner dialogue sounding like “I don’t know what I want” to consider telling ourselves the opposite, such as “I know what I want” since the former was only a perspective and a limiting one at that.

Something in me wanted to kick and scream and stomp out of the workshop.  For so long, I had no idea what I wanted. I couldn’t name it, so I couldn’t go get it.  It felt beyond me, something that I had to go discover, not something within me that I could uncover. This advice felt cruel and unfair.  But I realized my inner turmoil had nothing to do with the class or the facilitator. I was bumping up against a problem related to my mindset.  And that insight changed my life.

A dictionary defines “mindset” as the established set of attitudes held by someone.  Even beyond that I believe that mindsets are a way of making meaning – they are perspectives, filters, different ways of interpreting what we experience as reality.  As I continued to do my own personal healing work and serve others as a therapist, I noticed a theme of healthy vs unhealthy mindsets emerging.  On one hand, there seemed to be certain mindsets that consistently lead to healing, growth, and peace. While there also appeared to be unhealthy mindsets that oppose the healthy ones as if these mindsets are in a tug-of-war competition with each other.

Knowing the difference between healthy and unhealthy mindsets has been vital for me because behavior follows beliefs.  In her classic book, Mindset, Carol Dweck, Ph.D., writes “For thirty years my research has shown that the view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life.  It can determine whether you become the person you want to be and whether you accomplish the things you value.”

This dynamic is easily displayed in the question: “Are you a glass-half-full or half-empty kind of person”?  The raw data is that 50% of volume inside a glass is taken by water.  Whether we interpret that data in a negative, positive, or neutral way depends on mindset. Our interpretations then produce certain emotions and behaviors, but if we can alter our mindsets, the emotions and behaviors that follow can also be different.  Thus, we create the conditions for positive change.  Unfortunately, many of us don’t take the time to slow down and review our beliefs until there is a crisis.

Taking the time to adventure through our inner world can feel like hiking through a dense, unfamiliar forest with a compass that is spinning out of control, never pointing north – you’re just lost.  That can feel confusing, disheartening and scary.  But there are ways to get unstuck and navigate through the chaos. This is where healthy mindset practices come in. Healthy mindsets act like guide rails that keep us headed toward growth and healing. They are evidence of our personal “true north.” And as we better understand them, we can discern our unique paths with a functional inner compass and make progress into living the life we want.

Over the next several weeks, we will explore different pairs of competing mindsets, and I will propose some practices that can help establish the healthier mindsets.  The pairings that I suggest are not perfect or exhaustive, and I do not claim to have “discovered” them.  You might be familiar with some, while others may be new to you. You might even come up with your own!

Look at the following mindsets pairings. Do you notice any of these tensions in your own life?

Healthy    vs    Unhealthy

Abundance    vs    Scarcity

Growth    vs    Fixed

Awareness    vs    Avoidance

Willingness    vs    Resistance

Connection    vs    Isolation

Progress    vs    Perfection

Worth        vs    Importance

Creativity    vs    Consumption

Proactive    vs    Reactive

Gratitude    vs    Bitterness

Contemplate the above list of Healthy vs Unhealthy mindsets.  Look at each pairing.  Can you imagine how your life might go in very different directions depending on which is your default way of making sense of things?

Here is the catch.  Learning to change the way we make sense of things is a choice.  If you are satisfied with your life as it is and find no need for improvement, then more power to you.  But if you’re like me and have places in your life where you are tired of feeling stuck and powerless, then stay tuned as we take some time to pause and reflect on our mindsets.  It’s a joy to be on the journey with you!

Written by Tom Page, LPC