Milk Shakes & Mindsets:Pathways To Academic Success- Regulating Behavior

William Steele PsyD, LCSW, MA

A mindset is a “lens or frame of mind, which orients an individual to a particular set of associations and expectations.” Science has demonstrated repeatedly that our mindset influences outcomes in all areas of life. For example, participants in one study were given two milkshakes. Each shake was described differently. Each produced different outcomes (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ev65KnPHVUk). The first milkshake was called the Sensi Shake. Participants were told that it contained only 140 calories, zero fat and only 20 grams of sugar. When they returned two weeks later they were given the Indulgent Shake. They were told it had 620 calories, 30 grams of fat and 56 grams of sugar. On both occasions they were hooked up to an IV to measure Ghrelin levels. Ghrelin is referred to as the hunger hormone. When Ghrelin levels increase significantly they signal the body that is time to stop eating- our hunger has been satisfied. After drinking the Sensi Shake Ghrelin levels increased only slightly. After drinking the Indulgent Shake Ghrelin levels increased three times more to a level satisfying hunger. However, each shake had the same Sensi Shake ingredients demonstrating that our mindset influences our biological responses. 

Just as mindset can alter biological outcomes, it can alter academic success and teacher interactions in ways that positively change student academic outcomes and behaviors. Researcher, Stanford University Professor and author of “The Secret of Raising Smart Kids” has documented that there are “growth mindsets” that are associated with optimal learning. Praising effort rather than outcomes maximizes the motivation to learn  (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hiiEeMN7vbQ).

Once trauma informed, we learn that the behaviors of anxious and traumatized students are fear driven and pain based. In the face of anxiety/trauma their behavior is often misunderstood as oppositional, willful and deliberate as opposed to communicating what they do not have the words to communicate in the midst of their fear. Once we understand this mid-brain limbic response our mindset will trigger reactions that are far more proactive than reactive. For example, our response to a disruptive behavior will be, Not, “He’s pushing my buttons” but “I’m lucky he’s letting me know he needs something.” This mindset allows us to calmly direct our attention to helping children regulate their fear responses using a variety of regulation activities or resources.

In my three-day Brain-Based Trauma-Informed Classroom Practices training we present sixteen trauma-informed mindsets and a variety of activities to calm the dysregulated nervous systems of anxious and traumatized students not only to assist with their reactions/behaviors but to also assist with focus and attention. Next time you are indulging in a thick creamy milkshake remember that mind-sets matter.


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