“This will make a good caterpillar.” The rock I was holding in my hand looked like a petrified piece of poop, but I wasn’t seeing what it looked like right then — I was seeing what it could become. Wouldn’t it be great if we could do the same thing with ourselves? If we’ve tried to make changes in the past and weren’t successful, we can start to feel we don’t have any hope of being anything (or anyone) other than who we are right now. Maybe it’s time to start seeing our own potential; time to change our mindset.
Mindset is probably the most important — and least addressed — part of making wellness changes. Our mindset about ourselves and our abilities is usually deeply ingrained in us, and a negative mindset can be difficult to overcome.
Unfortunately, if we can’t learn to look at ourselves differently, lasting wellness improvements can prove extremely difficult. As we talked about in Do You Need a New Wellness Identity, “It’s hard to change your habits if you never change the underlying beliefs that led to your past behavior.” (1)
Changing our beliefs about ourselves and our capabilities isn’t always easy, and it may be a long process, but I thought I’d share a few tips have helped me (and my clients) over the years.
How to Start Changing Your Mindset
Start with the positives.
I want you to do something for me right now — grab a piece of paper and pen and write down at least 3 things you’re good at. Go ahead — I’ll wait.
Why did I ask you to do that? Because sometimes when we’re feeling beat down by life and previous failed attempts, we can be tempted to think we’re not good at anything. It’s important for us to realize that just because we haven’t succeeded at some things, that doesn’t mean we’re not good at anything.
We all have strengths, sometimes things we don’t even think of as anything special. Looking at ourselves objectively and taking stock of our strengths can help us start to see our untapped potential. This foundation we already have gives us something to build on.
If you had a hard time coming up with things you like about yourself, or things you’re good at, ask a good friend — they’ll probably give you a list of things you hadn’t even thought about.
When we’re thinking of our potential, although we need to dream big, we also need to be realistic.
Why? Because we all have limitations, and sticking with that “You can do anything you want if you just put your mind to it” has the potential to hurt instead of help. Many of us are limited by chronic pain or health issues. There are some things that we can’t expect our bodies to do, and it’s important to make peace with that. Acceptance can help us move forward, even if our forward doesn’t look like someone else’s.
Build on the things you’re already doing well.
I know you’ve heard me say this about a million times. You’ll probably hear me say it about a million more…. When you’re making wellness changes — whether it’s physical, emotional, financial, or any of the other dimensions of wellness — it’s important to start small and build on.
I always think of this as a staircase. When you go up that first step, you’re not up very high, but as you take each subsequent step, you go higher and higher. As you climb higher, your perception can also change. What you couldn’t imagine yourself doing before is suddenly completely doable.
You start to realize you’re capable of more than you thought, and you can start to see your potential more clearly.
Dream a little (or a lot)!
Do you remember when you were a kid? Remember how you used to dream of what you’d be when you grew up? Or all the places you’d visit one day? Our dreams now may be laced with a little dose of “real life” experience, but we can still dream.
Your dream might start out small, but that’s okay. Our dreams can change. For instance, back in 2012, when I was practically bed bound, my dream was just to be able to get back to spending my day like everyone else did. Fast forward to today, and my new dream is to be able to hike the same mountain my hubby and I hiked back in 2010 when we first visited the city where we now live.
Keep those ANTs in check.
An important part of changing our mindset and learning to see our potential is keeping Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTs) in check. As we talked about in Lessons From the Carrot Patch, this term was coined by Dr. Daniel Amen, founder of the Amen Clinic and author of Change Your Brain, Change Your Life. These ANTs are the thoughts that pop up and make their way into our brains (and into our bodies via chemical changes) before we even realize we’re having them. As we’ve discussed before, our automatic thoughts can’t always be trusted. They don’t always tell the truth.
This means that we have to 1) be careful which of our thoughts we believe and 2) work to train our brains to process thoughts in more positive and hopeful ways.
Changing our mindset can be hard. It takes time and work, but it really does pay huge dividends when it comes to improving our health and overall wellness.
As we find what we’re already good at, view things realistically, start to build on those things we’re able to do and are good at, dream, and keep our ANTs under in check, we can start to see that we have greater potential than we previously gave ourselves credit for.
Do you agree that changing your mindset can be an important part of making wellness changes? Why or why not? What have you found to be hardest when trying to change how you see yourself? Please share! And of course, if you’d like to share your list of what you’re good at, I’d love to see it!
If you found this helpful in any way, please share it with your friends!
(1) Atomic Habits, 2018; James Clear; Penguin Random House UK; London