Powerful self-healing woman

If your mind is set, so are your life’s outcomes.

Get what I’m saying?

If your mind is set, your life’s outcomes are too. And they may not be what you want.

Our mindsets and beliefs are the most tenacious (“set”) and insidious (they can be so hard to see) aspects of the terrain we build to heal ourselves. They’re also the most powerful. They can keep us stuck in suffering or heal us in a heartbeat.

From my new book, Unbroken: Reclaim Your Wholeness (coming in 2024!):

Mindsets and beliefs.

Mindsets and beliefs are stories we tell ourselves, even if we don’t realize they’re stories. They’re what we know for sure—our minds are “set.” They’re how things have always been. They’re the truth we may not be looking at with curiosity.

Mindsets and beliefs have powerful biology that can heal us in a heartbeat or shut us down.

We’ll spend a lot of time looking carefully at the mindsets and beliefs that limit us, like we already have with the mind-body divide, the disease paradigm, and asking to be “fixed.”

I’m reminded of an experiment I once heard about that involved fruit flies. When they’re placed in a jar without a lid, they all immediately fly out to freedom. When they’re placed in a jar with a lid, first they try to escape, but later simply fly around within the confines of the jar (with contented looks on their faces, I’m sure). After a few days, when the lid is removed from the jar, most of the fruit flies don’t even try to get out, though a few adventurous outliers fly away.

You could argue that fruit flies don’t have minds or mindsets. But somehow, they learned and adapted to the limitations of the closed jar. They became limited. Most of them couldn’t unlearn their limitations, though a few did. This story was told as an analogy to how people, like fruit flies, can get stuck in their limiting stories and mindsets. Who do the outliers in the fruit fly story represent? Yes! You and me.

We’ve also all heard the anecdotes of people who were told by their doctors how long they had to live. Sure enough, those who believed the doctor’s prophecy died in precisely that timeframe. Then there are the ornery ones, who reject their doctor’s dictates, who go on to live long and vibrant lives despite a grave diagnosis. 

Studies show our beliefs about how we’ll fair in the face of challenging circumstances—catastrophes, high stress, trauma—determine our outcomes, rather than the circumstances themselves.[1] In other words, if we believe we’ll fall apart when our lover leaves us, we’ll fall apart. If we believe we’ll die when our doctor tells us we’re going to die, we’ll likely die. But if we believe that what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, guess what? That’s exactly what happens. The bad thing that happened that we trust will make us stronger leads to all kinds of good things in our biology that help make us more resilient. We’re strong and adaptable. And it makes sense, doesn’t it? We live like we’re living rather than dying.

This is what we talked about before. We’re built for change and challenge. The clincher is, we must believe it.




Lifestyle: the choices that aren’t always choices.

When life experiences make us sick.

Healing: nature or nurture?

[1] Alia J Crum et al. Improving Stress without Reducing Stress: The Benefits of Stress is Enhancing Mindset in Both Challenging and Threatening Contexts. 2014.

Karyn Shanks MD


Karyn Shanks, MD, is a physician who lives and practices in Iowa City. Her work is inspired by the revolutionary science of Functional Medicine, body-mind wisdom, and the transformational journeys of thousands of clients over her twenty-eight year career. She believes that the bones of healing are in what we do for ourselves.

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