Establishing a Positive Mindset in Healthcare

April 4, 2018

Trying to make sustainable improvements in areas such as patient safety and satisfaction can prove to be challenging. Healthcare leaders can become frustrated or discouraged when obstacles to achieving lasting change continue to derail their best laid plans.

The walls that stand between us and what we want are not a sign that it’s impossible to make it to our goal, according to the late Carnegie Mellon professor Randy Pausch. As part of his incredibly moving “Last Lecture,” the 47-year-old Pausch projected a picture of a wall on the screen of the lecture hall. He knew it would be the last time he presented to students before he died from pancreatic cancer.

Pausch wanted to impart the most important lesson he’d learned in life: the walls we face are not there to keep us from getting what we want or a sign that we’re not meant to pursue what lies beyond the wall. Obstacles, he explained, simply determine how much we want what lies beyond.

Facing a wall is almost always a frightening experience because it stirs our deeply rooted fear of whether we’re good enough to overcome the formidable barrier that we see standing in our way.

While fear can protect us from danger, it can also immobilize us. Fear fires off our instinctive fight-flight-freeze reactions. This focuses our brain on trying to control people who are obstacles, avoiding difficult discussions regarding the challenge, or succumbing to learned helplessness.

But fear does not have to prevail. You can shift from the part of your brain that drives negative reactions to the positive part that generates solutions. You can win the inner battle for control of your mind by using 2 strategies:

  1. The first is to steadfastly stick to your vision of the fantastic place that awaits you on the other side of the hurdle.
  2. The second is to summon all of your strengths to empower yourself to successfully scale the wall.

The passion and perseverance that is required to achieve long-term success is known as grit. People with grit hold onto a picture of success that fuels their passion. And they maintain their motivation to work toward their goals by continuing to take small steps – each one teaching them something about how to attain the positive outcome they desire.

It seems so simple, but we all know that it’s hard to sustain the effort to make our dreams come true. How do gritty people do it? First of all, they develop a growth mindset v. a fixed mindset, according to Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck. Her studies show that people with a fixed mindset have less motivation because they don’t think that effort makes much of a difference in determining whether they’ll be successful.

Having a fixed mindset comes from believing that if we’re talented and smart, things should come easily to us. Furthermore, if there’s a great deal of effort required, we think we must not have what it takes to succeed. Or we might conclude that someone is treating us unfairly. In either case, we don’t demonstrate the level of determination that studies show is required to successfully reach a goal.

In stark contrast, people with a growth mindset believe that effort is an essential ingredient in achieving positive outcomes. Moreover, they embrace challenges as opportunities for learning, which they see as a way to improve their talent and enhance their intellect. This grittier perspective gives them the motivation they need to put in the extra time and energy it takes to be successful.

In addition, people with a growth mindset develop their ability to self-regulate. They learn to say no to distractions and temptations that would derail them, which is not easy to do in this day and age of immediate gratification. Many things that we desire are easily accessible, but don’t necessarily give us what we really want. In the age of fast food, text messages, and online shopping, many people come to expect that they can get what they want very quickly. And when they don’t, they tend to give up easily and move on to something else that will instantly gratify them.

To develop the grit for sustaining a long-term effort to accomplish a goal, start by writing out your vision of what it will look like when you’ve achieved it. Then make a list of short-term tasks that might work to get you there.

Make removing bricks a daily ritual so that it becomes an automatic habit that you follow as part of your regularly scheduled activities. Otherwise you’ll have to engage in the struggle of deciding each and every day if you really want to remove bricks when you’re tired or tempted to do something else.

Your confidence will grow if you establish a time every day to test strategies for removing bricks from the wall that’s standing between you and what you want.


To learn more about how to use evidence-based approaches for overcoming challenges that you’re facing, contact to arrange a complimentary consultation.

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