Tips for Training in a Positive Mindset
Hi friends, this is for Stefanie – thanks girl! I hope this helps. And if you prefer to listen, here’s the podcast version of this post.
It’s for anyone who perhaps considers themselves to be a positive person but still has a hard time maintaining a positive mindset. OR maybe you are working on becoming more positive and you’re just not quite there yet. This is a great topic because we all need some form of maintenance – whether you were born with a smile or you have to work on it quite a bit. The gist of it is your mindset and focus take deliberate maintenance. Just like washing your hair or giving your muscles exercise, conditioning your mindset takes daily attention. That doesn’t mean it has to be tedious – in fact, quite the opposite. Once you start training in something like positivity, you feel positive about that practice. It’s just like running – when you start feeling full of energy, you look forward to it. So if you’re in that stage of hesitance or laziness, but you know you need a good positivity maintenance routine – this is a post for you!
Stefanie asked for some exercises or tips to improve overall positivity and I immediately recommended my Happiness Journal. Not because I want to make money off of it (although money is awesome) but because it was designed for daily positivity reinforcement. It’s basically a structure you can follow everyday that’s super simple – treat it almost like a calendar, but instead it’s your morning mindset-conditioner. If you want to buy a printed one, (I tried to keep it cheap) it’s available on TeaspoonOfHappy.com – otherwise, I will list the daily practices out here and you can simply transcribe them into whatever journal works best for you.
If you’re the type of person who really doesn’t feel like adding another thing to your plate – trust me, I wasn’t either. I hated the word journal and the word “journaling” even more. That’s also because I had an image of it in my head that was super touchy-feely and depressing. This is not about disclosing your wishes and secrets, starting with “Dear Diary…” Think of this more like a grocery list. You check off these little boxes with short sentences and they’re almost like a reminder to yourself– it’s simple and takes around 15 minutes, and it keeps your focus where it needs to be despite all the insane crap that grabs for your attention each day. It’s sooooo quick and it goes a long way in keeping your thinking on the positive track – so you owe it to yourself to give it a try. At the very least, decide to try it until you start to feel the effects, which should be around two months. Once you feel why it works, then you can decide how you want to integrate it into your life as a part of your routine – you might want to invent your own method that uses the same principles. The core of the practices are pretty universal – so get to know them and see why they work. It makes you feel good, so with time, you will actually look forward to it and feel happy while doing it. I know I’m speaking in hypotheticals right now so let’s get to the practices list so you can better understand.
Before I get into the meat and potatoes, just know that you are not different or broken – your life’s not sadness-worthy, it’s just a bad thought habit and in truth, you’re as capable of happiness and positivity as anyone else. Sometimes it takes a little bit more of a manual override based on existing factors. There are a select few people in the world who are born with a big fat perma-grin – and that’s awesome for them, but for the rest of us – happy is a decision. It’s something you decide you want and then you craft a daily practice that works for you and that you can maintain. If you’re the type of person who likes to do more reading or check references, I’ll post all of mine at the end of the blog post. Wooot! Let’s get happy peeps!
Part 1: Factors that might be affecting your positivity
Because some of us have to fight against our trained in thinking even harder, I wanted to give just a few of the most unexpected factors that can negatively affect your mood. There are some unique causes of depression and anxiety, so sometimes it takes a bit of legwork and research on your part to find out what might be creating it. Don’t give up! It’s worth it – and you will help others who suffer from similar effects once you are enlightened. If you find you struggle with depression, I recommend an aggressive cocktail of EVERYTHING that has ever helped anyone. Hit it with all you’ve got. I know from the stories of others who have defeated severe depression that it takes a unique combination of tools to find precisely what works for you. Everyone’s depression is different so don’t lose hope – there are many, many tools in this world and many others who will help you to find the ones that will work for yours. Keep looking. Don’t stop. xo
1. Lack of focus
Yes, when your mind is constantly shifting from thing to thing – you are not present and experiencing your life. When you are trapped in thoughts, you are not as happy. If this is affecting you, it’s a sign you need some manual shutting down – something like meditation.
2. A food allergy
This is weird I know – but certain allergies can cause depression. I know a common one is celiac disease (or people with a gluten allergy). If you suffer from chronic depression, I recco going to an allergist or at least reading up on the foods you consume and potential affects.
Yes, it’s a bummer but we can inherit a propensity for unhappiness. It’s not a curse! Don’t worry – you can activate and deactivate your genes with your behavior – it just means you might have to work a bit harder than others. So if your family has a history of depression, think of it like a gift of awareness. Your job is to be diligent about maintaining the right influences in your life to change your genes. Yes, you can literally evolve your gene code – isn’t that rad?!?!
This one is kind of a no-duh, but if you drink everyday or take any kind of drug, this has a huge affect on your mood. If you don’t get any kind of exercise, this is likely having a similar affect. For more specifics on your body’s chemical balance, I recco the mind body connection.
This is also a no-duh, but if you don’t know much about nutrition or you diet by not eating enough during the day, it’s likely at the cost of your mood. When you feed yourself properly you feel totally different: grounded, in control, balanced, stable. To learn more about ways to make sure your blood sugar is staying level I recco The Body Do-over – specifically episodes that have the nutritionist, Kelly, as a guest. (The other ones are about lifting weights and stuff.)
6. Too many to-do’s
Basically, being ineffective at lots of things. If you try to take on too many things at once that require motivation, you actually deplete your capacity for willpower. What builds it is accomplishing things – seeing results. If you complete something, you expand your capacity for motivation. So if you’re trying to do too many things, you’re likely running out of willpower and feeling defeated – which leads to not feeling good about yourself at all.
7. Lack of Soul-Food
If you don’t attend to things that fulfill you each day, this can have a huge affect on your happiness. MASSIVE. Your life can feel pointless – like a waste of time- no matter how much you have to be grateful for. Do not take this one lightly. Be diligent about scheduling in time for your soul-feeding activities each day. Literally put them on your schedule. The things that reward you in purpose on this planet – you personal goals and priorities, whether that’s your children, your painting, your writing, your music, your volunteer work – feed that part of yourself every day! It’s just as – if not – more important than the rest of your responsibilities. So if you have been working a lot lately and have been neglecting your memoir – or your needlepoint – this will likely have a huge affect on your overall happiness. If you are highly creative – this is a HUGE one.
8. Old Thought Habits
This is the most universal of all the causes - old trained in neural pathways, aka ways of thinking. Negativity is just a bad habit and it takes some deliberate redirection of your thoughts to change it. It’s not forever – but it takes attention and conscious effort. It’s all in your control though! Which brings me to…
Part 2: My Daily Happiness Practice
This is what I do each day that works well for me and for a lot of other peeps. As far as daily practices, it’s pretty standard. It’s a combination of the tools created by a variety of other experts’ and doctors, but made to be more practical. Aside from the journal I have a couple other practices that I recco to address different facets of your life. If you are overwhelmed as it is, just start with 1 and 2. That should do quite a bit on its own.
1. The Journal: For Thinking/Focus
Grab a pen! If you would rather print it out, here’s a PDF. If you want to know what’s in the printed version, it’s basically two months worth of this (plus some other visualizations and a goal-accomplishing guide). I made it so I wouldn’t have to print it on the printer because it gets pricey.
• 3 grats
Write in 1-2 sentences three things from the last 24 hours that you are grateful for. You can’t write the same ones each day. There’s always something! Even if it’s for your hot shower or the balance of your cream in your coffee.
• 1 positive experience
Yes, this is in addition to the 3 grats. This one you spend time reliving the best experience from the last 24 hours – how it felt, what you loved most – basically describing the play-by-play.
Because having too many choices depletes our willpower, this one a way to pre-decide what you are going to do in an ambivalence-causing situation. For example, let’s say tomorrow you are worried about having a difficult meeting or two – your “If-then” would read something like, “If I get stressed at work, then I will go to the yoga class at 6:30 pm.”
• One thing you did well today (or in the last 24 hours)
Literally just call out one thing you handled well – even if it was just taking care of yourself and staying on track.
• One thing you’re excited for, tomorrow
This is my word for affirmations because it’s more of a reminder to yourself that you decide to live your life as these things. Write them in the form of a sentence beginning with “I am” – so something like, “I am kind, loving, happy, empowered, inspired, inspiring, radiant.” Most people say to keep it to five – but sometimes that’s just not enough.
• Notes/wisdom from the day
This is just a place to record a lesson you want to retain. Things stick better when you write them down or say them aloud.
That’s all for the journal piece of it – but as long as you’re writing this down, I also recommend you follow this up with a “Focus of the day” list. Like a to-do list but topped by two main priorities you have for this day. One of those should be something that feeds your soul. However you decide to structure it, it’s a good idea to create a list that ensures you do something that moves you toward your own personal goals and not just to completing your list of regular to-do’s. Okay! That’s all for the pen and paper. The rest is to address the other facets of you.
2. Physical Happiness Practice: For positivity chemicals.
Basically do something where you get your body sweating. Anything outdoors is a plus because sunshine and nature induce your sense of happy. You really should do this everyday but if that’s just not possible for you, every other day is good. I also recommend a morning meditation (only ten minutes!) or anything you want to do that forces your mind to stay quiet. For some, it’s cooking or playing music – for me, it’s yoga. If you’re new to meditation – check out this app called Headspace! I use it and it makes it super simple.
3. Whole and Plant-based Foods
This is a no-brainer, but the foods you eat can heavily affect your mood – just like there are different drugs that create different highs, different foods create different kinds of energy. Aside from keeping your energy consistent, there are a lot of foods that can make you feel better and more grounded. The best way I can summarize this is whole foods (not processed) and as many veggies as possible. Eat as little sugar as possible and don’t skip breakfast. That’s a building-block meal so if you skip it you’re not going to get full as easily for the remainder of your meals throughout the day. You want to avoid spiking your blood sugar and you want to avoid being hangry. Keep a bag of almonds in your bag! You never know when you’re going to get stuck somewhere without a decent meal nearby. For more specifics about your energy type, this is a good source.
4. Communal Gratitudes
If you can get someone else in the habit of practicing gratitudes with you, it’s a lot easier not to forget – PLUS you will fall in love with the practice. Adam and I like to do gratitudes over dinner together and I look forward to it every night. So much so that we got our parents to do it too. What’s not fun about discussing what you cherish with someone you love? The basic rules are three things each – switching off, anything from the last 24 hours – and you can’t repeat the same ones. (And yes, I sometimes repeat the ones from my journal.)
5. Thought Redirections
It’s good to write this one down because it’s easy to forget. Maybe even write it on a rubber band and wear it around your wrist. In order to stop yourself from falling back into a habit of negative thinking, you’ve got to correct negative thoughts in the moment they occur. Start by just observing yourself when you hear those thoughts coming up – take note of the ones that are the most common for you so that you can be increasingly aware of them. It helps to also write them down so you can make a “black-list” of thoughts you need to redirect.
If you’re having a hard time talking yourself out of the thought in the moment you’ve recognized it, be persistent. All negative thoughts are optional – even the ones that seem totally real and necessary. I’m not suggesting you talk yourself out of mourning sadness or feeling the hurt of a cruel inflicted on you – if you feel an emotion, allow yourself to process it, honor it, and then decide when you want to let them go. You get to decide it’s time for them to pass.
This is not about suppressing emotion – it’s about removing the inclination you have toward negative thought patterns. The thought patterns that are synonymous with your state of being. “I am a happy person.” vs “I am trying to be a happy person, but…” It’s about retraining your resting state to become one of happiness and positivity. As Stephanie said, “The silver-lining type.” It doesn’t mean people who are positive don’t mourn or feel and anger. It means they are naturally looking toward the good and the positive, always. So in the face of the things in your day that cause you to revert back to negative trains of thought, I suggest a mantra like, “This is a gift in disguise.” Or, “Everything is meant to be.” “There’s nothing I can do about it.” Or one of my faves, “Let it go. Let it go.”
The point of the mantra is to remind you that the pain and focus on the thing that is making you upset is OPTIONAL. It’s totally up to you whether or not you stay focused on that thing. A lot of the time, the thing we are so deeply affected by is inanimate – like a ticket, for example. This morning I got a parking ticket as a matter of fact – and then I reminded myself, “There’s nothing I can do about it and getting upset is optional.” Then the pain went away! It’s awesome. It takes a bit of forcing at first, but truly- all the focus is within your control. You want your thoughts going somewhere else, decide to make them go there and don’t stop redirecting until it works. The most important part is to not honor the factor. There is no “should” in feeling pain – if you don’t want to focus on how a stranger said something rude to you, you don’t have to. A lot of things are totally undeserving of our attention and don’t require processing like we might assume they do. If it’s not serving you, don’t give it your precious time and attention.
6. Passing Emotions
A lot of the time when we get a wave of sadness or anxiety, it begs our attention and analysis – like, “Where’s this coming from? What does it mean? Am I worried about something? Oh no – this is probably going to last a few days…” However, that analysis is what’s doing the most harm. Instead of fighting the emotions, accept them as just chemical waves that you need to move through. I like to think of them like a hunger pang that’s telling you to address the chemical state of your body, immediately. You don’t have to focus on what they mean – just do your happiness practice as soon as possible to alleviate them. A lot of the time they move through you like a storm – they are nothing more than the affects of the weather, the stars, sleep, hormones or who knows what!
The reason it’s important to medicate the mood immediately is often negative moods feed on themselves, meaning you will start to validate the feelings and that causes your mindset to shift and then your language goes right along with it. That’s when a bad mood starts to gain strength and can linger for longer in your body and spread to others. In short, don’t dwell. Accept that it exists and know that it will soon end. Do what you can to medicate it with your happiness practices (especially exercise) and don’t give it any more weight in your focus: it’s just a passing mood.
8. Selective Consumption
Be deliberate about what you consume and surround yourself with – including information, conversations, entertainment – basically any and all external influences. Try to avoid things that are not helping you. For example, if you have a complainer friend who only wants to gossip or be negative, start to create a healthy distance. Detach with love. This Australian self help dude said that when you let someone into your life, they stay in your person forever. Like, their affect will last you the rest of your life. I think that’s a powerful way to look at your friendships moving forward. Choose people who inspire you and share your highest goals for your own life. That way you will both inspire each other upwards.
In addition to that, I highly recommend avoiding the news. This isn’t about ignorance as much as conscious consumption of information. You are a vessel and you can also only affect what is in your realm of control. There’s something called learned hopelessness – basically, if you learn repeatedly that you cannot affect the results of something, you increase your feelings of helplessness and powerlessness. Watching the news can also cause something called “Mean World Syndrome” which makes you think the state of humanity is reflected by the stories covered, which for the most part, is skewed toward violence.
Learned hopelessness also pertains to you and your ability to accomplish tasks. If you’re in a negative mindset, don’t tackle everything at once. Take the next best first step and accomplish that step before moving on. Usually that means working on bettering your mental state.
• • •
I know this is a lot to take in at once so just start with the 2 or 3 practices that appeal to you the most. At the end of the day, I think the most important practices are practicing gratitudes and getting some exercise every day. If you can be consistent with those two, you’ll have a great advantage at maintaining positivity.
As an aside, there’s a whole other benefit to journaling about gratitude, outside of the maintenance part of it. You get to savor the great parts of your life in a totally different way and you get more emotional and profound memories with those you love. By writing things down and reliving them aloud, you really start to get in touch with who you are and what you appreciate in your life in an immediate way. You actually start to notice things that matter to you, more, because of it. You will find yourself directing your life toward the things that mean more to you in your life - and all because they’re highlighted in your attention. Sure, a lot of the gratitude entries will be repetitive – but many become like time capsules of a tiny little moment, one that cements its existence and makes it more yours. Because by writing it down, you have honored it – you have made that passing little second of your life, a lasting memory – one that matters to you. What might otherwise be forgotten, stands out and you are able to fully appreciate it before the speed of life carries it away. Once you start looking, you realize there are so, so many wonderful things happening around you everywhere all the time. It will be hard not to see them everywhere you look.
Sending you my love and vibes of positivity – I hope you enjoyed this and don’t forget to Smile! xox
Podcast about general positivity practices
Marci Shimoff in a podcast interview