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How to train your mind.

What if you could shift the voice inside your head to always be on your side? What if you could shift your view of stress as something positive?

Do you remember the scene in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, where Harry gives Ron “felix felicis” (liquid luck) in order for him to succeed in the upcoming Quidditch match? And in the next scene, we see Ron soaring and dominating the quidditch field, becoming the M.V.P. and guaranteeing Gryffindor a great win. However, later we learn that Harry never actually gave Ron the authentic potion. Instead, it was all a placebo. What Ron experienced was not unfeigned magical luck; it was all psychological.

It was all psychological. Ron did not experience the true powers of the “felix felicis” potion. According to scientists, Ron experienced a “phenomenon in which some people experience a benefit after the administration of an inactive ‘look-alike’ substance or treatment,” or rather the coined term, the placebo effect. Yet what Ron so desperately lacked was his ability to cultivate a growth mindset.

But, what is the/a mindset? What does this term we are so frequently bombarded with mean? A mindset is quite accurately a setting of our minds; it is the lens or frame of our mind which orients us in how we view the world. Yet, we often fail to identify that our mindsets are not inconsequential; on the contrary, they play vital roles in shaping our lives, and they matter in effectively every angle of our lives.

Professor of physiology and neuroscience, Dr Fabrizio Benedetti conducted a study on the effect of morphine sulfate on patients undergoing thoracic surgery. Concerning the context, thoracic surgery are operations performed on chest organs and are therefore highly invasive. As a result of the significant incisions crafted into the muscles, patients are put under anaesthesia. Following the surgery, patients receive substantial doses of the painkiller, morphine sulfate. However, the study being conducted led to minor changes in the distribution of morphine doses. While fifty per cent of their patients would be given an amount of morphine sulfate by a doctor at their bedside; the other fifty per cent would be given the same exact dose of morphine sulfate, yet instead of a doctor performing the injection, patients would be receiving the painkiller into their IV, by a pre-programmed pump. Therefore the patients are not aware of the morphine entering their bodies. Now, the logical conclusion to the study would be that both groups of patients experienced the same relief. Yet, what the study uncovered is remarkable. Hence, the patients who received the morphine from a doctor were aware of their treatment and the expected benefit; they reported significant reductions in their pain levels. While the patients that received the exact same amount of morphine through an IV; yet were unaware of the treatment they were receiving; reported slightly effective reduction in pain, while others claimed it was not effective at all.

This study reveals that the placebo effect is not just merely a magical, subconscious response to an inert pill or procedure. It is a powerful demonstration of the ability of our mindsets.

However, how might our mindsets matter outside medical walls? How do our mindsets play a role in shaping our outlooks? Stanford assistant professor, Dr Alia Crum, has posed critical questions and conducted numerous studies which demonstrate, clearly, our mindsets potential.

Did you know that exercise is just a placebo?

When we exercise, are we getting stronger and leaner because of the time and energy we are dedicating? Or are we getting stronger and leaner because we believe that we will? “What if people were getting an extraordinary amount of exercise but weren’t aware of it? Would they not receive the same benefit?”

Dr Alia Crum decided to test this question with a group of 84 hotel housekeepers working in seven different hotels across the U.S.

This group is particularly unique, since the women are on their feet all day, using an array of muscles and burning a remarkable amount of calories just by doing their job. Yet what is interesting about this group of women is that they do not view their work as a good source of exercise. The study focused on ‘what would happen if we could change their mindset.’

Before initiating the experiment, measurements, such as weight, body fat, blood pressure, and satisfaction with their job were all recorded. The women were then split into two groups; half were presented with a 15-minute presentation and a poster which said, ‘You know, your work is good exercise. You should expect to receive those benefits.’

Four weeks later, the researchers returned and measured the housekeepers again. While the group that did receive the information, and was aware of the benefits, saw significant changes. Seeing a significant reduction in systolic blood pressure, dropped weight, dropped body fat, and reported liking their job more. The second group, which did not receive any information, did not change, they remained exactly the same.

The findings are captivating and remarkable. Demonstrating that just a simple presentation and poster significantly altered the health and well-being of the individual.

Once again, we are consistently reminded of the robust power of our mindsets; and how the result of a simple information session led to a cascade of effects on the women’s well-being. Therefore, we begin to ask ourselves, to what extent are mindsets connected to our bodies?

Our ghrelin levels are signals that allow our brains to understand that we must seek food; therefore, once we consume large portions, our ghrelin levels will drop, signalling that we no longer need to seek food (ghrelin is proportional to the number of calories consumed). A study conducted by Kelly Brownell, Will Corbin and Peter Salovey used big batches of milkshakes to measure Ghrelin levels in participants hooked up to IV, providing blood samples. The participants were then hooked up to an IV and were given this milkshake:

Sensi Shake: “zero percent fat, 140 calories, zero added sugar, this is guilt-free satisfaction.”

The participants drank the milkshake, yet their ghrelin levels dropped slightly, signalling to the brain that only some food had been consumed.

A week later, the same participants returned and were again hooked up to an IV and given a milkshake.

Indulgence: “620 calories, 30 grams of fat, 56 grams of sugar.”

In response to this milkshake, the participants’ ghrelin levels dropped again, but this time at a significantly steeper rate, about three times more than the shake they had before.

However, participants taking part in this study were not indulging in two different shakes; they were not consuming the Sensi-Shake and the Indulgent shake, instead, they were given the same exact shake both times.

Once more, we are confronted with the remarkable conclusion that our mindsets matter. In this case, showing us that what we expect and what we believe will determine our mind-body response.

Now, how can we use our mindsets to transform our daily lives? The first step is realizing that we can change, that we have the power to change. We must shift our mindsets from something that is fixed to something changeable over time.

By daily training your mind to think in a growth direction, you will find yourself completely altering your academic and professional successes.

For instance, stress. How do you view stress? It is not unlikely that your mindset views stress as “BAD” since labels and people remind us every day. What if we began to train our minds to understand that stress can have positive effects, enhancing our physical and mental well-being and our overall performance. How would we view stress then? Would we sleep better? How would we perform in our everyday lives?

As members of an international educational program, we are faced with numerous challenges and difficulties, which often frighten and discourage us. However, what if you began believing that you could overcome any problem by simply changing your mindset? What if I told you you have the power to get the highest grades by only changing the way you think?

Fixed and growth mindsets play a crucial role in defining and determining our success, not only in school but in our everyday lives. Failure, doubts, new knowledge… How we respond to these setbacks is essential to the outcomes we can expect. Let us look at ways in which we can shift our mindsets from something that is fixed to something changeable over time.

  1. Viewing failure

    1. With a fixed mindset, you will view failure as your lack of ability. You will view it as a discouragement.

    2. With a growth mindset, you will see this setback as an opportunity to learn from your mistakes and work harder and smarter for the subsequent trial(s).

  2. Difficulties grasping new concepts and applying them

    1. With a fixed mindset, you will respond by creating excuses. "Maybe mathematics is not one of my strengths."

    2. By fostering a growth mindset, you will react by being proactive. "This is a great opportunity to develop my mathematical abilities, a new challenge!"

  3. Working through problems, e.g. getting a bad grade.

    1. Fixed mindset: "Great effort. You tried as hard as you could/ you did the best you could."

    2. Growth mindset: "The goal is not to get it right immediately. The goal is to improve my understanding and see what I can try differently next time."

Student life is not easy. But if you practice and attempt to shift your mindset to something changeable over time, you will begin to view changes to your academic and personal life. Yet, to do so, you must allow yourself to:

  1. Normalize struggles.

  2. Add the word "yet" into your vocabulary, and embrace it.

  3. Celebrate your mistakes.

  4. Set goals for yourself.

  5. Challenge yourself, go outside your comfort zone.

  6. Embrace your vulnerability, your failures.

  7. Believe in yourself and the expansive power of your mindset.

(For those of you who enjoy visualizing your thoughts, here is an activity that can aid with your mindset transformation journey)

I leave you all to consider the power of your mindset in your own life. How may you use your mindset to transform your academic, personal and professional successes? The real task ahead is to begin to acknowledge and never underestimate the power of our mindset. Because by reclaiming this power, we are capable of changing every angle of our lives.


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