Health Mindset Matters, so Health Language Matters

How does a health mindset affect health behaviors? This was the question asked at Mindset 2021, where Dr. Alia Crum spoke on Harnessing Mindset in 21st Century Healthcare.

In Dr. Crum’s talk, she explained:

A mindset is a core assumption about a domain or category that orients us to a particular set of expectations, attributions, and goals.

Dr. Alia Crum, Mindset 2021

She goes on to explain why mindsets are so important. We live in an uncertain world. But we can’t sit by waiting for enough information to feel confident in our decisions! So we use mindsets. Mindsets help us simplify and organize our reality, so that we can make assumptions, predictions, and decisions.

Our mindsets include things like “my home is safe” and “I am a good person.” We’re not even aware of many of our mindsets – particularly health mindsets.

Examples of health mindsets

Dr. Crum showed two examples of health mindsets and how they affect the human body. In one study, a group of people were given milkshakes. All the milkshakes were identical, but half the group was told it was a high-calorie milkshake, where the others were told it was a healthy milkshake. Guess what happened? The hunger hormone dropped much more in the people who thought they had a high-calorie milkshake.

In another study, they looked at the language doctors use to explain side effects. Often doctors apologize. They say “unfortunately, you will see some side effects.” To see how the health mindset affects patients, doctors in the study changed their wording. They started to say “You may see symptoms, which are a good sign the treatment is working.” They found that people had lower anxiety about the treatment, they reported fewer side effects (or symptoms), and the overall view of the treatment was far more positive.

Approaching a positive health mindset

If healthy choices are enjoyable, we are more likely to do them. So how can we use our content to make healthy choices feel pleasurable, exciting, enjoyable?

The most important thing to remember is that humans can change. A mindset is not objective reality. So before writing, ask yourself:

  • What mindset am I currently shaping through the words I’m using?
  • What mindset do I want to create?
  • How can I influence positive associations?

Language creates a mindset, and yours can create a positive one.

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