Understanding the interplay between mindsets, feelings and behaviors

June 21, 2021 Simona Trakiyska


Key takeaways:

  • Feelings and thoughts form our motivations, trigger our attitude, impact our behavior and place us into a particular state of mind.
  • Mindsets differ and can serve as predictors of our behavior, motivational strength, achievements and outcomes.
  • Providence behavioral health expert Joshua Cutler shares his thoughts on how we can better manage our emotions.

We have all gone from feeling calm to unhinged in milliseconds, like from feeling annoyed to downright furious, irritated or angry. The reality is that we experience multiple emotions at any given moment and as humans, we can oftentimes end up giving into one predominant emotion that either increases or decreases the intensity of how we feel and behave.

While conceptually we all understand that different interactions, words or even facial expressions can influence the way we show up, it’s a complicated task to track exactly how our thoughts impact our feelings and emotions; how our motivations direct our attention and influence our behaviors. As Johnmarshall Reeve, an educational and motivational psychologist, says: “explaining motivation—why people do what they do—is not easy” and in order to be able to gain some insights we need to look at what gives “behavior its energy, direction and endurance.”

While difficult to do, we can become self-assessors of our thoughts and feelings – an observer, if you will. In fact, with practice and patience, humans can create neural pathways that enable us to become better observers of our state of “being” and way of thinking.

In this podcast about mindsets and feelings, Joshua Cutler (LICSW), an experienced behavioral health specialist at Providence, shares his advice and insights on how we can become better self-assessors of our thoughts and feelings and how our particular state of mind can impact our focus and overall well-being.

You can watch the full [29-minute] conversation directly below or scroll down to read the highlights.

From our conversation with Joshua, we learned that humans can generate a good understanding of how interconnected things are and how different mindsets guide our ability to process information, make decisions and think. Below we highlight the different types of mindsets, a great mental check-in resource called the feelings wheel and how we can become better observers of our own consciousness.

Types of mindsets

Reeves defines mindsets as the “cognitive motivation system that produces important downstream consequences.” Understanding the different mindsets, just as our feelings and emotions, are important because they can tell us much about our motivations, direction and actions.  

Each mindset includes a duo of contrasting motivations and each pair is defined by specific classifications associated with our overall motivational system. For this first series on Mindsets, we focus on Fixed and Growth mindsets and provide a brief overview of the other two pairs which we will talk about in our next episode.

Growth and Fixed mindsets  

Growth: People with this mindset believe that they can evolve and are not afraid to expand their aperture on life. They tend to appreciate – and proactively pursue – all that life has to offer.

Fixed: People with this mindset believe that their qualities, skills and personal traits are fixed, “I am who I am,” and are generally not open to change. This is a more rigid approach to life that can oftentimes lead to a victim mentality.

When we look at the fixed mindset, we can see that being fixated on our points of views, having black or white thinking and focusing on embracing only our good qualities, which feels good enough, can rob us of the opportunity to evolve.

The growth mindset allows us to evolve, but change cannot happen in the presence of constant comfort – we must learn how to acknowledge and challenge our own limitations. Self-awareness is critical, and our personal development can help us raise different conversations from a place of curiosity and discovery to allow us to expand our own understanding of life as a whole.

Overall, each of these mindsets can exist independently or coexist simultaneously, but based on genetics, experiences and environmental components, people tend to have a primary mindset. Understanding your mindset and how it flexes and changes over time can help you identify how thoughts and feelings can influence your state of being, and how you show up in a wide variety of circumstances.

The feelings wheel

The feelings wheel, developed by psychotherapist Dr. Gloria Wilcox, is a practical tool that can help you drill down into the exact feeling(s) that influence your behavior. This tool helps you narrow down the core reasons why you feel the way you do. This insight, coupled with the ability to be an observer of your mind (think literally an eye of the mind), drives introspection and the ability to identify behavioral changes that better map to your perception of self.

Being able to articulate our feelings can also help us to understand our state of mind. This understanding is important for anyone, but particularly for individuals who are going through psychological distress. For example, piling up negative emotions can often lead to depression or anxiety, and as a result, these feelings can cause other health problems.

Observing your feelings and mindsets

Honing our skills as observers of our feelings and mindsets can help us raise our self-awareness, gain insights about who we are and how we show up and avoid frustrations that do not serve our life plan. By taking time to practice looking inward (call it mindfulness) you will start feeling more grounded and empowered.

So, the next time an emotion starts flickering like a fire, take the time to investigate the underlying cause of the emotion and why it is bothersome either in a positive or negative way. Like Joshua says: “We can’t experience excitement without disappointment. We don’t have a magic mute button to mute our emotions.”

Sometimes is just about taking a deep breath, pausing and remembering that within each of us there is a phoenix-like vitality that enables us to rise up from any situation.

Find a doctor

Our behavioral health experts offer virtual and in-person consultations to bring you convenient, confidential mental healthcare options. With Providence Express Care Virtual, you can access a full range of healthcare services. If you need to find a doctor, you can use our provider directory to find one near you.

Learn more about mental health services at Providence:

Providence mental health services

Swedish behavioral health services

Related resources

Caring for your mental health during COVID-19

Christina Milian work2bewell mental health anti-stigma

National Alliance on Mental Illness

Pain in the Nation Report from Trust for America’s Health

Providence Radio: Future of Health station

Share your #mentalhealth struggles and strategies with readers @providence.

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional’s instructions.

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