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Nurturing Intellectual Wellness in the New Year: Moving from Survival to a Growth Mindset 

As year-end approaches, employees everywhere are working hard to ensure their projects are at a good place before the start of the new year. Many workers find themselves in the extra push to drive toward company KPIs or year-end goals, adding an extra layer of stress to an already stressful time of year.

Regardless of the reason behind the surge in work, employees frequently feel pressure to perform, often making it hard to balance increased workloads with their other professional and personal commitments. Gone unmanaged or unaddressed, these heightened circumstances have the potential to lead to employee burnout.

MetLife’s 19th Annual U.S. Employee Benefit Trends Study 2021 reported that "70% of workers feel burnt out and anxious at work — an increase of 25% since the 2020 report." Aston Carter's director of human resources, Tessa Lawrence, and Aston Carter practice lead Ryan Taber discuss the importance of prioritizing intellectual wellness and how to create balance in your personal and professional life — not only during the busyness of the holidays, but in your personal and professional life in general.

What is Intellectual Wellness

To become more mindful and intentional about nurturing your wellness and wellbeing, it's important to first understand what intellectual wellness is. Lawrence explains that "intellectual wellness is about engaging in creative and stimulating mental activities to expand your knowledge and skills to help you grow into your fullest potential."

The key to driving intellectual wellness involves finding positive activities that help activate and stimulate your brain, and build a positive mental state. Focusing on engaging tasks (e.g., doing a crossword or puzzle, learning a new language, taking a new training course, playing a new instrument) can help fuel intellectual curiosity and recharge your batteries. It's also a great way to help nurture a healthier mindset and reduce feelings typically associated with burnout.

But being mindful about intellectual wellness doesn't always come easily, or naturally. You often need to make a conscious effort to practice wellness. To begin, it's important to evaluate whether you're currently in a survival mindset or growth mindset.

Survival Mindset vs. Growth Mindset

A survival mindset involves being in a heightened state where you're only able to focus on what's immediately in front of you, or "chasing that dollar or that minute that you can't seem to catch." A survival mindset is easy to fall into — especially during busy periods in your career when there are clearly defined goals you're driving toward.

The events of the last two years have pushed many professionals into survival mode, whether they're aware of it or not. Employees across every major industry have been working under highly stressful conditions, fighting fatigue and burnout, working remotely, juggling household responsibilities, and for some, managing employees in new ways during the pandemic. Operating within a survival mindset is harder to sustain as it tends to focus more on the present and less about the future and caring for your "whole self."

"Growth mindset kicks in when survival mindset stops consuming you," the article goes on to explain. Being in a growth mindset allows you to focus your thinking more on your personal development and the growth of those around you. It encourages investing in yourself and establishing a support system you can turn to when dealing with adversity in the workplace, or even in your personal life.

Transitioning from survival mode to a growth mindset for Taber has proven to be a conscious decision involving hard work and decision-making to keep a balanced state. "The first step in moving from a survival mindset to a growth mindset is actually recognizing you are in survival mode. It seems simple but it's hard to be honest with yourself and recognize you are creating your own obstacles. It ultimately comes down to whether you are willing to put in the effort to grow and create a positive mindset for yourself," Taber says.

Moving Toward a Growth Mindset by Facing Adversity Head On

When operating within a growth mindset — or really employing any behaviors or practices that help you cultivate intellectual wellness — it's important to address any adversity that may arise that threatens to derail the balance you're striving to cultivate.

Taber attributes being consistent in his professional life and intentional in finding a healthy balance as key drivers of nurturing his own intellectual wellness — and finding success as a leader. One of the ways he's been able to achieve balance and feel confident in his career is by leveraging a support system to challenge his thinking and support him through adversity; a construct he didn't always have in his career.

"I had a former approach of facing adversity by myself — follow the chip on my shoulder and prove folks wrong. It got me further, but only to a certain point," Taber says. "I had to learn how to move beyond that and that it was okay to enlist a support system — peer group, family and leadership — for help in doing so."

Taber says that the first step involves being not only honest about his struggles with those around him and in his support system, but more importantly, himself. "I had to learn how to open myself up to conversations, be vulnerable and transparent," Taber says. By admitting when I needed help and learning to rely on and trust other people, he was able to move forward and transition out of a survival mindset to more of a growth mindset.

But it's important to recognize that maintaining a growth mindset is a continuous process that involves intent and dedication. There may be days where you feel yourself resorting back into a survival mindset. If you can recognize when to lean into your support system or do an activity that gives your mind a rest, you will build vital skills needed to help face any adversity or hardships you may encounter.

Prioritizing Intellectual Wellness

There are no shortcuts to prioritizing intellectual wellness — it requires commitment and a conscious effort; and enlisting a strong support system can be extremely helpful in helping you achieve goals. It's important to have sincere conversations with your support system and to not to be afraid to ask for advice and help. "Having candid, honest conversations and asking for direct feedback has allowed me to check my ego at the door and find a peace and balance within myself. It's allowed me to get out of that survivor mindset — and make the choice to be real and upfront with myself and the people I work with," Taber says.

Lawrence emphasizes the importance of taking action and making your intellectual wellness a daily priority. She says, "Small steps forward are still big victories to propel you into a positive outlook. Those small victories will help create momentum and help to move you from survival to prospering."

As you approach the end of the year, make sure you take time to pause and reflect on your own wellness journey. Here are a few things to consider when building a healthy mindset for 2022:

  • Establish a support system. Don't be afraid to rely on a support system for help or to simply regroup. Whether they're family members, friends or coworkers, make sure you surround yourself with people who are building you up and not tearing you down.
  • Exercise your mind creatively. Take time to focus on activities that will stimulate your mind and help recharge your batteries. Take a vacation, learn a new language, do a puzzle or try playing a new instrument. These types of activities will help you feel refreshed and have a clearer mind.
  • Reflect on your achievements. Celebrate the wins that have helped you get to where you are — personally and professionally. Focus on the positive decisions you've made in the last year, and the steps you've taken to strengthen your intellectual wellness. You'll likely find a sense of pride that helps carry that momentum into the year ahead.

For more articles that discuss workplace trends, tips and best practices, visit our Insights section of