I was standing on the sideline at football practice when one of our starters put his arm around my shoulders and said, “Doc, I’ve never thought so much about what I’ve been thinking about! I think I can really take my game to another level if I can choose the right thoughts at the right time and build mindsets that help me succeed.”
What this young man was awakening to is the true power that lies within us as human beings: our minds. While the brain is the two- to three-pound mass in our heads, the mind is the discernment and choice aspect that makes us different than any other species. Although the brain is not a muscle in the scientific sense, it functions like a muscle in the sense that the parts of it that we use grow and get stronger, and the parts of it that we don’t use get smaller and weaker.
Our thoughts literally change the form and function of our brains. As we repeat thoughts over and over, they begin to wire into the brain what we call mindsets, or patterned ways of thinking. These mindsets are literal protein patterns that get wired into the brain and begin impacting how we “show up” to every area of our lives.
We have mindsets about everything: who we are as leaders, what our family heritage says about us, how people with different backgrounds function, etc. Brain science reveals that 75 to 98 percent of all mental and physical health issues are caused due to our thought life and the mindsets we wire into our brains. It is critical that we start thinking about what we are thinking about so we can build mindsets that lead to health, peace, and consistent performance excellence, even when it’s difficult.
The beautiful thing about thoughts is that we can control them! With so many variables in our lives that are out of our control, it should be encouraging to know that the biggest driver of our personal and professional success lies within our direct influence.
While we cannot always choose what thoughts pop into our heads, our minds can make the choice to hold on to those thoughts and allow them to build a mindset in our brains, or to release them and replace them with more helpful and productive thoughts. This is the power of the mind!
I started playing soccer when I was seven years old, and I had this one T-shirt that I loved. It read, “I am strong. Powerful. Equal. A threat. I am an athlete.” Every time I put on that shirt—which was a lot, just ask my mom—I would repeat that phrase in my mind. Then I found myself starting to say it in my head on the field. It started to shape my game as I played up levels, against the boys, or even opponents who were technically better than I was. I truly started to believe that I was strong and powerful and equal and a threat, regardless of the situation or task at hand.
Let’s fast-forward to my first year after graduating from Notre Dame with an undergraduate business degree. I found myself sitting around a boardroom table and shrinking in my skin after being demeaned in front of the room by a colleague who found my contributions to the conversation irrelevant. My heart rate increased, and I remember thinking, “No. Sit up straight. Hold your head up. And remember, you are strong, powerful, equal, and a threat.”
I had not worn my little shirt or thought of that statement in years, but suddenly, when my back was against the ropes and I was at a moment of choice to either lean into a hard moment or shrink into someone else’s perception of who I was capable of being, it flashed through my brain. Unbeknownst to me at the time, that phrase had become a mindset. It was wired into my brain. And it impacted how I was able to “show up” in that moment: I sat up. I kept my eyes up. I forced myself to add another comment. And ten minutes later, when that man took my very comments and repackaged them into his own words to share with the group, I was reminded that I was strong, powerful, equal, and yes, perhaps even a threat.
This is the power of mindsets in our lives. We need to understand the mindsets that help us show up as the best version of ourselves and deliver consistent performance excellence. We also need to understand those mindsets that are actually hurting us by limiting our courage in the moment to show up and deliver.
Here are five R’s to help you build mindsets that help position you to show up and deliver the best of who you are on a more consistent basis:
Recognize. Start thinking about what you are thinking about! It is only after you start to recognize your thoughts and the mindsets you have built over time that you will be able to build more productive ones.
Replace. If you recognize negative or unproductive ways of thinking, replace them with positive and more productive thought patterns.
Repeat. Write down at least three “power statements”—positive, powerful, productive ways of thinking about yourself, your mission, or your team. And then repeat them every day until you wire them into your brain.
Renovate. Renovate your space! If your office, meeting room, or home doesn’t help energize and reinforce the ways of thinking and being that you aspire to, change it! It will help expedite the development of healthier and more powerful mindsets.
Rally. Many of us need to stop listening to ourselves and start talking to ourselves. Use your words to rally your head, heart, and hands to deliver the very best you have in the moment. Pep talks aren’t just for athletes; they’re for all of us!
Mindsets make us. Choose today who you want to be and what you want to accomplish, and then build mindsets that transform you into that person!
Here’s a quote that captures the meaning and importance of motivation without even using the word:
“If you can’t fly, then run. If you can’t run, then walk. If you can’t walk, then crawl, but by all means, keep moving.”
—Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Motivation is written by Joe Calamusa IV