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How our Mindsets Prime our Brains–for Better or Worse–Part 1

Updated: Jul 14, 2018

Everywhere I look whether it is in psychology, education, human potential, neuroscience, the social sciences, and even economics, researchers are talking about how changing our thinking changes our brains. Knowing we can change our thinking is far from new; however, the research that shows precisely how thinking affects our brains is.


If we think about it, the ramifications are HUGE.

Carol Dweck, Ph.D., a psychologist out of Stanford University, addresses this in her powerful book, Mindset—the New Psychology of Success. She presents two key mindsets, Fixed and Growth, explaining how each that affects our learning as well as our parenting, businesses, academics, and relationships.

Thankfully, she also gives hints as to how to develop a Growth Mindset.

The Fixed Mindset tells us failure is bad, making mistakes is bad, and hard work is to be avoided. “What you see is what you have.”

The Growth Mindset tells us we can develop abilities and thrive.


This looks awful for our Fixed Mindsetters. IT ISN’T.

The Growth Mindset embraces the concept of “yet”. If it could talk, it might say, “I don’t know something YET but with effort, strategies, and process I will.”

“Equality happens when steeped in YET.”

Carol Dweck

For years, a phrase describing this has been bantered around the scientific community: “What fires together wires together.”

This means if we are embroiled in the Fixed Mindset, we are over-activating the part of our brains that is the anxiety and fear center and where I believe learned helplessness also resides. This can create a vicious cycle. The more that center is over-activated, the more disconnected and frayed the pathways to the Growth Mindset center get.

It can get so extreme that an over-activated Fixed Mindset center can almost entirely shut down access to the Growth Mindset brain center. Until the Fixed Mindset center calms and our brain chemistry returns to homeostasis, the Growth Mindset center, which is in charge of organizing, planning, problem-solving, creating, working hard and doing deep strategic thinking, can be rendered virtually powerless.

Imagine what happens when the Fixed Mindset is chronically over-activated. The Growth Mindset shrinks. LITERALLY.

I recently saw a t-shirt I think Carol Dweck would appreciate:



For me, Michael Jordan says it best:

Imagine how he would feel today if he had stopped playing basketball when his high school coach said he was not good enough to make the team. I won’t. It’s too painful.

 “How we communicate affects our joy of being alive.” – Linda

Two TED Talks expand on Dweck’s ideas about Mindset:

The Power of Believing You Can Improve– Carol Dweck

The Key to Success–Grit–Angela Lee Duckworth

For more information on how the brain physically changes by how we think, you may want to take a look at We Can Make Our Brains Smarter—at Any Age–Sandra Bond Chapman.

The following books help me talk to children about their brains.

Meet Thotso, your Thought Maker by Rachel Robb Avery, Ph.D.

What is a Thought? (A Thought is a Lot) by Jack Pransky and Amy Kahofer

Your Fantastic Elastic Brain–Stretch It,Shape It by JoAnn Deak, Ph.D.

The Owner’s Manual for Driving your Adolescent Brain by JoAnn Deak and Terrence Deak, Ph.D.

Some of the information has led one of my students and me to work on a play to present to his class. It’s title is: To believe or Not to Believe. It addresses the fact that we have a choice about which thought to believe, and our choice can dramatically affect us in all aspects of our lives.

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