May 17, 2020

Mindsets Make Reality

Jedi mind tricks aren’t entirely fiction.

This essay is Day 28 of The 100 Day Project, where I’m creating #100daysofartandessays based on the Word of the Day.

Word of the Day (May 4, 2020)

Jedi noun

  1. a person who has an unexplainable power over people or things, or who seems to enjoy unusual luck and positive outcomes, as if able to exert the power of the Force to mystically influence the universe: The defense lawyer was a jedi—two minutes into his closing argument the jury forgot all of the incriminating evidence that had been presented.

“These aren’t the droids you’re looking for…”
“You don’t need to see his identification…”

This iconic scene is what comes to mind when I hear the word “Jedi.” Someone who can speak a few words that change everything. I started thinking how cool it would be if Jedi mind tricks worked in real life. Then I realized they sort of do.

Spoken internally, a few words can change the course of an entire day.

Wait, what?

Your mindset determines your reality.

If you think “everything always goes wrong” everything will go wrong. If you think, “today is going to be a great day” there’s a good chance it’s going to be a great day.

Wait a minute… are you telling me I can make things happen… with my mind?!?!

Not exactly.

It sounds weird, but it’s as simple as this: you’re choosing the lens through which you view the world. Humans have a built-in negativity bias, but you can choose to switch over to the positivity lens.

We notice what we pay attention to.

When we’re looking for things to go wrong, that’s what we’re going to see. It doesn’t matter if things go right, because you won’t be able to see it. It’s like arguing with someone who’s decided that cilantro is the worst thing ever. But it detoxes! Green stuff is healthy! The seeds are coriander–2 spices in one!  They can’t hear you. They already decided those nutritious green leaves taste like soap and nothing you can say will convince them otherwise.

  • Negativity = I have bad luck and everything goes wrong.
  • Positivity = Obstacles are to be expected and I can overcome them.

This makes me think of Carol Dweck’s research on mindset. There’s the fixed mindset (I aced the test because I’m smart) and the growth mindset (I aced the test because I applied myself and improved my skills through hard work). Fixed is negative, because it cripples your belief in improvement. Growth is positive, because it means you can learn, even (especially) from your failures. Choosing positivity feels like applying a growth mindset to life.

a personal example

This is a hard topic to explain with words, so let me tell you about my day.

Today sucked.

I woke up feeling like crap/drugged/exhausted. The alarm clock was a high energy 5 year old demanding I don’t remember what because I wasn’t conscious.

It was a nice day, so I drank my tea on the porch and tried to enjoy the peacefulness of the outdoors. Except it wasn’t.

Every 5 minutes there was an exclamation, a demand, the door opening and closing for the 15th time, another indoor object being brought outside etc. by a child who refused to get dressed (or listen). Meanwhile the dog broke the sound barrier sprinting after a sweet little neighbor cat who always comes through our yard. Fortunately she got away, so she’s still alive, meaning so is the dog.

I’ll spare you the continual downward progression.

My point is that the day got off to a bad start. It put me in a bad mood, understandably. But that became my lens. I couldn’t drink my tea in peace, so I didn’t even try to meditate. Negativity breeds negativity, and that lens meant that I started dwelling on how bad the day was turning out to be, then how maddening it is that both my personal retreat and our family vacation were cancelled by COVID. It quickly spirals downhill when you aren’t mindful about your state of mind.

Your mindset determines your reality.

My mindset today was “the day started off badly, so this day is going to be bad.” And it was. Bad mornings have become our norm lately because the kid seems to have made that his goal. I often tell him it’s time to “start the morning over.

It’s not about the day actually getting better–it might not. But if I can step back for a moment and shift the lens, it often creates a ripple effect that means the day does end up taking a turn for the better. Today I never gave myself a choice, so the negativity became a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I decided on the subject for this essay a week ago, but it’s a hard thing to write about. I couldn’t think of any understandable examples of how this works in the real world. Tonight, after venting journaling, I knew it was time to write, and I had my example.

This sounds great and all, but you must be one of those naturally positive people. This would never work for me.

Uh, no. Not a chance. I am not and never have been one of those super happy all the time people. I’m not talking about changing a core tenet of your personality. I’m talking about the internal language you use. How you contextualize situations and experiences.

I grew up highly inclined to be negative for a lot of different reasons, and I had examples of negativity. I’ve spent years training my brain to see through a more positive lens, and it’s made a difference. One thing that helps is to take up gratitude journaling (write down 3-5 things that you’re grateful for daily in order to train your brain to notice when things go well). I’ve been doing this for nearly as long as I’ve been bullet journaling. Another is meditation, which I will never stop promoting. Nothing else will give you the clarity to see your mind for what it is, your thoughts for what they are. If you need help, find a good therapist that will help you see the patterns you’re missing.

At the end of the day, our memories are nothing more than us telling ourselves stories, and positive stories are better for mental health (although not in an escapist way). The difference between “I bombed that presentation = I’m a failure” and “I bombed that presentation but now I know I need more time to prepare” is huge. All of us can and should be cultivating the latter attitude. Also, Latter Attitude would be an awesome band name.

I’m not always awesome about it, but it’s become fairly natural to look for the silver lining in things. Even if you tend towards negativity, you can learn to shift your lens. It doesn’t matter where you start; just start somewhere.

The first step is understanding you have a choice.

“Neuroplasticity explains how the actual physical architecture of the brain adapts was to new experiences and information, reorganizing itself and creating new neural pathways based on what a person sees, hears, touches, thinks about, practices, and so on. Anything we give attention to, anything we emphasize in our experiences and interactions, creates new links in the brain. Where attention goes, neurons fire. And where neurons fire, they wire, or join together.”  – Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson (Power of Showing Up)

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