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How kindness aligns with a growth mindset to foster positive mental health benefits

As we enter Mental Health Awareness Week 2020, we take a look at how practising self-kindness (this year’s theme) links into growth mindset and how the two can help boost mental wellbeing.

In 2017, a study was published by the University of British Columbia which looked at the importance of self-compassion and how changes in this kind of behaviour during the first year of university are associated with improvements in well-being. The study went on to report that students who demonstrated higher levels of self-compassion also demonstrated higher levels of overall motivation and engagement. During the study they looked at what kinds of behaviours self-compassion covered and found that students who practiced self-acceptance, -forgiveness, -kindness and avoided self-criticism as well as understanding that failure is an inherent part of the learning process were the groups that displayed higher motivation and engagement levels.

Linking an understanding of failure with growth mindset (a term coined by Carol Dweck of Stanford University) is a very powerful combination. People who have a growth mindset tend to be more resilient, have positive emotions and have the ability to bounce back quickly from a setback or defeat. On the flipside, those with a fixed mindset who believe that their intelligence and abilities are less fluid tend to beat themselves up and get stuck by dwelling on their failures. This in turn leads to demotivation and low self-esteem. Considering the two approaches it seems is key to increasing positive outcomes for mental health. A further study shows the link between growth mindset and kindness. During a study of Eton students, those that were given a growth mindset course demonstrated an increase in prosocial attitudes. They were more likely to show support to others, and more likely to understand how this kind of support is conducive to their success at school.

According to Chris Germer, a clinical psychologist, there are various techniques that can be utilised when practicing self-kindness as self-compassion (or kindness) is a dynamic process of nurture and action.

He believes that individuals sometimes need comfort, soothing or validation, (such as saying to yourself “I know things are really hard right now”), but at other times more action is needed to be self-compassionate such as protection, providing for or motivation.

You can comfort yourself with caring words and gestures such as putting your hand on your heart like you would embrace a friend; soothe yourself by taking a nap or deep breathing exercises; or you can validate your feelings by acknowledging your struggle.

You may need to protect yourself by saying no to something, or you may need to motivate yourself.

Taking this on board, here are 7 ways to foster a growth mindset and practice kindness and self-compassion:

  1. Understand the importance of struggle in being productive. Learning to work through challenges is what promotes confidence and growth mindset
  2. Allow yourself to make mistakes and see how mistakes help you learn
  3. Pay attention to your inner dialogue, instead of saying “I don’t know how to do that” or “I have never been good at that”, you could instead say “I haven’t learned how to do that yet but when I do, I can see how that will benefit me and those around me”
  4. Reframe a challenge into an opportunity
  5. Stop seeking approval from others as this can hinder growth mindset
  6. Practice acceptance of your feelings and understand negative emotions are ok
  7. Practice gratitude (very positive results have been found from studies of people who practice gratitude). Try writing three things down a day that you are grateful for. Over time it creates new neural pathways and primes the brain for positivity

Read our whitepaper on growth mindset and how businesses and individuals can thrive by fostering an environment conducive to growth mindset.

For information and support regarding mental health go to Mind's website, a charity we are proud to support.

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