What is a mindset? How does it impact performance?

A mindset is a set of underlying beliefs, attitudes, and assumptions that serve as the foundation for how you view, engage with, and interact with the world. Mindsets are powerful: They create your realities, and shape your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in important ways. They can also create blind spots, fuel biased thinking, and when left unchecked, can be hard to change. For many, aspects of your mindset remain outside of your consciousness. It takes effort and intention to learn about and become more aware of how those mindsets show up in both productive and counterproductive ways in our personal and professional lives.

Awareness and acceptance begin with knowing what your mindsets are. Change is brought on by opportunities to practice subtle mindset shifts to benefit performance and well-being, both in and out of the workplace. Knowledge is developed through a deep and nuanced understanding of the complexity of mindsets and their role in shaping your everyday experiences.

How do mindsets work? It’s the confirmation bias.

Your mindset acts as a lens through which you see the world. It impacts what you notice and how you interpret different situations. This takes place through the confirmation bias.

  • It causes you to notice the information that supports your beliefs—and fail to notice anything that contradicts those beliefs.
  • The confirmation bias makes you only remember the evidence that supports your beliefs—and if you notice any information that contradicts your strong beliefs, you don’t remember it.
  • Finally, if somehow you do notice and remember information that contradicts your beliefs, you discount it by saying it’s the “exception to the rule,” so you can hold onto your beliefs.

What makes the confirmation bias so difficult is that you’re not doing it on purpose and you don’t even know that it’s happening. So it seems like only the evidence that supports your beliefs is out there, and it’s as if the evidence that contradicts your beliefs doesn’t even exist. The effects of the confirmation bias happen to everyone all the time. People have a belief, and something happens that you interpret as an example that what you think is right, true, and accurate. Really, it’s just the confirmation bias at play.

The confirmation bias itself isn’t a bad thing. Your brain evolved to have the confirmation bias because there’s an endless amount of things you could be attending to at any moment in time. So our brains had to create a filtering system to let in the information that’s most important to our survival. Otherwise, they’d be overloaded with information.

Most of the time, this serves you well. Let’s say you deeply believe your spouse is the greatest person in the world. You’ll notice, remember, and give more weight to all those things that confirm that they’re the best. And that's great because you’re already married. However, when accuracy matters, the confirmation bias can cause problems. For example, if you think your wife has an amazing voice, and you’re going to sell your things to move to Nashville to start her singing career—and she really sounds like a drowning ostrich—you’re in trouble.

The confirmation bias isn’t bad, but you need to be aware of your mindset (that is, your beliefs, values, and goals) and understand that it’s human nature that you’ll be more likely to notice, remember, and give greater weight to the evidence that supports your mindset. That’s why it’s important to be aware of your mindset and make sure it’s helping you to be accurate and productive when it matters.

Performance-enhancing mindsets

Science shows there are certain mindsets that can improve performance, increase your well-being, and enhance your resilience. Here are 3 popular examples.

Growth mindset

A growth mindset is probably the most commonly known mindset. It’s the belief that your basic qualities can improve through hard work and dedication. Intelligence and talent are just the starting point. On the flip side, those with fixed mindsets believe that talent or intelligence are permanent. You can’t improve it, and you either have it or you don’t. People with growth mindsets are more likely to perform better as well as learn and grow from failure, and they’re less likely to give up. Read HPRC’s article on effective praise to learn more about how you can help others develop a growth mindset.

Stress mindset

Stress mindset is the belief you have about the role of stress in your life. This greatly influences how stress impacts you mentally and physically, and how willing you are to face challenges and reach out for help to navigate through adversity. It turns out simply believing stress is helpful (and that it brings out the best in you) can help you grow from tough experiences and improve your performance, health, and relationships. On the other hand, if you believe stress is bad for your well-being, performance, and ability to grow, then the experience of stress can become a stressor itself—and will likely harm your health, performance, and ability to grow. Use HPRC’s self-reflection survey to learn what your stress mindset is and how you can develop a “stress is helpful” mindset.

Optimistic mindset

An optimistic mindset is the belief that things can get better and you have some control to make them better. In contrast, people with a pessimistic mindset aren’t able to see where they have control to improve things. If optimistic thinkers don’t have any control, they then refocus their energy on something where they can take productive action. Those with optimistic mindsets tend to handle stress and perform better than pessimistic thinkers. They have stronger relationships, greater resilience, and improved well-being too. Use HPRC’s optimism self-check to determine if you have an optimistic or pessimistic mindset and learn ways to develop a more optimistic one.

Bottom line

Your mindsets matter. They shape the way you see the world. Explore more about faith-based mindsets such as the “everything happens for a reason” mindset in HPRC’s Spiritual Fitness section. Learn how mindsets can become a self-fulfilling prophecy as well.


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References

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Yeager, D. S., Romero, C., Paunesku, D., Hulleman, C. S., Schneider, B., Hinojosa, C., . . . Dweck, C. S. (2016). Using design thinking to improve psychological interventions: The case of the growth mindset during the transition to high school. Journal of Educational Psychology, 108(3), 374–391. doi:10.1037/edu0000098