21 Habits for a Positive Mindset and Health
We are what we think. What our mind feeds our brain is so much more important than most people will ever understand. As I have shown in this unit, we can change the chemistry in our brain based on our thoughts. This section will focus on the positive. The title of an upcoming book I am writing is Change Your Mind. 21 Steps to a More Healthy Happy Mindset and Life. The book will go into much more detail on how to implement each of these steps. It will also be the guide book for the accompanying six month program by the same title. I am giving an overview here because they are steps you can teach and live yourselves right now to improve your mindset and quality of life.
Be true to yourself.
This is the first step because without knowing where you innate natural gifts are-what your brain personality connection is-you won’t know what your true self is. If you fight against your natural self it will always be like swimming upstream. It will be emotionally and physically exhausting to continually hide who you really are and put on the face you think everyone wants you to be. Dig deep and see if there are areas that you or your clients need to adjust. This may take time. These steps are not designed to be taken all at once or quickly; it is more important that they be used effectively.
Create plenty of positive thoughts.
I have already covered the reasons why this is so very important. At this point you may be thinking-how? One simple tool is to surround yourself with positive quotes, affirmations, happy things, and items or pictures that make you smile. I have sitting on my desk several books that are full of positive thoughts. I have a desk calendar that has a positive thought for every day of the year. One of my office walls is covered with pictures that contain positive quotes by famous people. Buy some fun sticky notes, write positive quotes or thoughts on them and place them ALL over the place. In your bathroom, in the kitchen, in your office, in your car, everywhere. Then switch them up every week to keep it fresh. This way you will be training your brain to think in the positive instead of the negative. When you are consistently feeding in the positive it starts to take over and push the negative out.
Surround yourself with positive people.
This goes hand-in-hand with step two. You will mirror the feelings of those you are around–literally. Neuroscience has identified neurons in the brain that specifically mirror what they see, hear, and feel. This is one of the reasons why if someone smiles at you, you smile back. Here is a fun experiment: next time you are speaking in front of a group tell everyone to put their thumb and forefinger together. Then ask them to place them on their nose. While you are saying this you show them how you want them to do it only instead of putting your finger on your nose place it on your cheek. Watch what happens. Most of the audience will follow what they see, not what they hear. Why? Mirror neurons. This is a simplistic way of explaining what happens emotionally when the mirror neurons kick into gear and copy the emotions of the people you surround yourself with. Negative will result in negative and if you or a client of yours is fighting a negative mindset being around negative people will be so very counterproductive.
Monitor your self-talk.
When you are feeling overly negative or down stop and ask yourself what you are thinking. What are the words and phrases you hear right now going through your head? Are they real or are they negative voices from the past or even the present? I will say it again… the most damaging thing to a person’s self-esteem are the insignificant things said to them by the significant people in their lives. Is what you are thinking at this moment traced back to a thought or feeling placed there by someone else? Write down your thoughts and flip the negative ones. Flip them to positive. For example: I can’t seem to get anything accomplished. What is wrong with me? Change to: I have such a full life! It is so awesome that I will never have to worry about getting bored. See how it works. Learning the art of flipping can do wonders for your mindset!
Walk through it in your mind; figure it out.
Again, this requires some thinking, sometimes even deep mindful meditation. At times we may not be sure where the negativity is coming from; we just simply feel down. Sit in a quiet place and walk through it. You can even visualize walking down the stairs of your mind, into the basement so-to-speak, where your emotion center is. Make a mental or even a physical list of the actual feelings you are experiencing: what is on your mind, what has been going on in the past few hours, days, maybe even weeks, or however long the negative cloud has been there. You can’t really adjust your feelings if you are not aware of where they are stemming from in the first place. Figure it out, then dissect them. Find out where they are really coming from and what they really are. Is it connected to the now, or a past negative feeling creeping back in, having been triggered from something you may not even have been aware of? Logically try to see it for what it really is. If you can make adjustments then do so, but if it is out of your control or creeping in from the past then kick it out!
Think in reality, not in fantasy.
Sometimes the lines between the two can become blurred. We can make ourselves believe that things are worse than they actually are. Here is where deep thought and meditation come in again. List the things that you think are so bad in your life and then realistically measure them. Is it really as bad as you think? Sure, it could be better but, I bet it could certainly be worse. For example: for years my husband and I struggled financially. Pulling things together month-to-month to get the bills paid has been tough. We live in an old, falling apart mobile home and at any given time at least one car is having problems. It could have been easy at times to sink into sadness over our financial situation. However, it was really never that bad. I chose to homeschool my children and therefore sacrificed a second income… and every moment of it was WORTH IT! We may have had a hard time paying bills but we always had power and food. We may live in an old home in constant need of repair but we are blessed to live in one of the earth’s most beautiful and peaceful places. We may always have cars that are giving us trouble but at least we have cars. Measure your situation with reality. Resist making it worse than it is.
List the positive-the silver lining.
Again, I encourage you or your clients to literally sit down and write it out; this helps the brain sort things and de-clutter. For most negatives in our lives there is almost always a silver lining (with the exception, of course, for major unnatural tragedies: death, abuse and so on) It may take time and thought, but think: what you can take away? What is the one positive thing that you will learn, gain, or grow out of from the current situation? When you give it some meditative thought you might be surprised what you find.
It’s not all about you.
When we are down we tend to remain inner focused. Thinking and brewing on our feeling or our situation. When we redirect our thoughts to other people and what they are experiencing it helps us to stop obsessing about our problems. This might mean that you get involved with a volunteer group, serve on the board for a non-profit, or find someone who could use mentoring in an area in which you are gifted. This will help you feel better about yourself and your situation.
Happiness is a choice.
Sometimes it is just a matter of saying to yourself, “I want to be happy. I chose to focus on the positive and ignore the negative. I choose to be happy”. Repeat this as almost a daily affirmation, if you will. Physically saying it out loud, not just in your head. Your brain activates in more areas when it hears something being said and is focusing on what is being said. So it is important that positive self-talk is not just what you say inside your head but also repeated audibly for your brain to hear.
Recall the good times.
Here is yet another piece of very fascinating brain information. When the brain is scanned while you are recalling a good time the chemical reaction in the brain is the same as it was when you first experienced that good time. So, when you are down you can actually alter your brain chemistry by simply thinking about events in your life that made you happy.
Go to bed! Get enough sleep.
It is estimated that at least 60% of people in the USA do not get enough sleep each night; this can lead to a whole host of health problems. Inadequate sleep raises your risk of being overweight by up to 73%. Not enough sleep puts women at a 62% higher risk of getting cancer and a 42% higher risk of heart disease. Your cognitive alertness can be reduced by as much as 32%. If all of that isn’t enough to make you want to go to sleep, understand that lack of sleep can lead to depression. According to research done at the Sleep Disorders Health Center, the same brain chemicals involved in the sleep-wake cycle are also involved in mood and energy concentration. If you are not getting enough sleep, negativity can creep in no matter how hard you are trying to keep it out.
Spend time on a satisfying hobby.
Do something that makes you happy. Take up a hobby; learn something new. This will make you feel good to see what you are accomplishing, plus it will stretch out your neurons and help to create new neural pathways in your brain. If you are an introvert then beware of starting a hobby that will put you in positions of high stimulus. If you are an extrovert be careful to not jump into something that really doesn’t resonate with you just so you can be around people. Find the high stimulus hobby that you like. No need to conform.
Get some sun!
The sun has gotten a bad rap over the last few years. True, there are risks that come with over exposure, but it needs to be noted that sunlight has a positive effect on brain chemistry. Sunlight boosts serotonin. Researchers from the Baker Heart Research Institute in Melbourne found that levels of serotonin (a neurotransmitter that regulates appetite, sleep, memory, and mood) are lower during the winter than the summer. The research team noted that the only factor that affected participants’ moods was the amount of sunlight they were exposed to on any given day. More sunlight meant better moods; less sunlight lead to symptoms of depression. The study suggests that low levels of serotonin directly correlate with seasonal affective disorder, which most often occurs during winter months. So we need some sun, real sun not that fake stuff you get in tanning salons. Just good old fashion sun!
Take a class.
Learning can be great fun when you don’t HAVE to do it. Is there a topic that you have always wanted to know more about? Foreign cultures, cooking, the brain? Whatever interests you, dive in. Find something of interest at the local college or even a community based class. It will be something fun, and fun things always bring up the emotional tone.
Change your perspective.
Sometimes we cannot see the forest for the trees. In other words, we are so tied up in our situation that we fail to see the beauty that is surrounding us. If we simply step out of our own way and change our perspective we may see things we never knew were there. I recently heard actress Angelina Jolie say that her travels have helped her to see things differently and appreciate so much the gifts that she has.
She said that she has learned that someone in another part of the world could have her same talents, skills, and looks yet, because that person is living in a refugee camp, they will most likely never achieve the amount of success that she herself has. They will be focused more importantly on just getting back to their home and to their family. Change your perspective. In doing so you may find that the “forest” you live in is pretty cool and fine just the way it is.
Pay attention to your diet.
There are certain foods that may lead to depression. Foods and food additives such as: refined sugars, artificial sweeteners, processed foods, hydrogenated oils, and many more. Then there is the consideration that you may be suffering from sensitivity to foods that may not effect most people but can induce depression in you. Take stock of your diet. Keep a journal to see if there is any connection to your food intake and emotional states. Increased happiness for you may be as simple as changing your diet. In addition to this, add in foods that are proactive for brain health. For example, the brain is just as susceptible to free radical damage as the rest of your body, maybe even more. So, having a diet that includes foods rich in antioxidants is a good thing. Foods that are rich in protein (including beans, peas, yogurts, turkey, tuna, or chicken) are rich in an amino acid called tyrosine. Tyrosine may help boost levels of the brain chemicals dopamine and norepinephrine. Omega 3 oils are also great for brain health and activity. Recently, scientists have revealed that a deficit of omega-3 fatty acids is associated with depression. In one study, researchers determined that societies that eat a small amount of omega-3 fatty acids have a higher prevalence of major depressive disorder than societies that get ample omega-3 fatty acids. Therefore, eating healthy and watching for foods that might trigger negative feelings in yourself can help you on a journey to a more positive life, happier mindset, and better health.
Get out of the house.
I truly believe that we were never meant to spend long periods of time indoors. My feelings are supported by recent research that show how even dirt can improve your mental state. Yes dirt! Science has discovered a strain of bacterium in soil, mycobacterium vaccae. It has been found to trigger the release of serotonin, which in turn elevates mood and decreases anxiety. And on top of that, this little bacterium has been found to improve cognitive function and possibly even treat cancer and other diseases. Which means that contact with soil, through gardening or other means is beneficial. Fresh air is also very good for brain health and mood. According to a recent article in Prevention magazine, “Children who get more ‘vitamin G’-what experts call time spent in green spaces-have lower stress levels, more success in school, and fewer ADHD symptoms.” Whether we are adults or children, being in “green spaces” (in other words: outside) is a great way to help create a happy mindset.
Tickle your funny bone.
Okay I don’t think I need to quote a lot of studies on this because I already listed some earlier in this unit. Laughter is just simply one of the very best ways to lift our mood. I try to spend a little time every day in laughter. Have a book of funny quotes at your work station during the day. Schedule in time to watch or listen to your favorite comedian throughout the week. If you are going to spend time in front of the ‘telly’ make sure part of that time is spent laughing. Whatever your preference is, make this a regular part of your life. If you are feeling unusually down, be sure to increase your laughter schedule. Doing this with some consistency will absolutely help you to achieve a more positive mindset and better health.
Move it, move it, move it. I like to move it, move it, move it.
The next step…EXERCISE. To start with, exercise brings more oxygen to your brain. More oxygen makes the brain happy but it also causes some amazing structural changes. It can encourage the growth of new cells, improve cognitive performance, and literally increase the size of portions of your brain, such as the hippocampus. In addition to those worthwhile benefits, to quote a wise character in a film and probably my most favorite quote of all time, “Exercise creates endorphins. Endorphins make you happy, and happy people just don’t kill their husbands.”- Elle Woods, Legally Blonde. Yes, exercise has the ability to change the neurochemistry in your brain for the positive. Need I say more?
Phone a friend.
When studying survival rates of cancer patients and bounce back rates of people suffering grief, researchers are able to say-beyond a shadow of a doubt-that being social, part of a support group, or just being surrounded by a good support system of friends and family, will undeniably improve your rate of survival and reduce depression. When you feel yourself, or your clients feel themselves, sinking into a negative mindset or depressive state sometimes it is as simple as reaching out to a friend. Being able to simply talk things out is incredibly therapeutic and can adjust the negative to a positive. Never be too embarrassed or too proud to reach out for help. We are social beings and isolating oneself is counterproductive to creating a positive mindset and life.
Take a break.
In an effort to run from negativity or stresses sometimes people tend to do so by throwing themselves into activities; sometimes to a fault. Meaning that they take on too much or commit to doing too much. The busier you are, the less time you have to worry about your problems right? At times this can lead to exhaustion and burn out. Leaving you, in the end, more stressed and overwhelmed than in the beginning. This may be the time when you just need to take a break and do some necessary self-care. This can range from an evening out with friends to a full week vacation. For myself, I schedule regular pedicures for my monthly down time. When I really need to get away I will grab my sister(s) for a day trip to the bay or maybe even a road trip for a few days. The point is that we all need down time. Time when we are not focused on work, family, or the other daily stresses, but rather focus on relaxation and time to unwind. Most likely you will return from this event, however long it turns out to be, refreshed and with a few extra positive emotions and happy memories. These will help to create a better neurochemistry in your brain and a more positive mindset.
This is by no means a comprehensive list. In your experience you may have found additional things that help you to create and maintain a positive mindset. The important point here is that a positive mindset and view on life is CRUCIAL for our very health and longevity.
No doubt the information contained in this unit has helped you see why this is a topic that I am so very passionate about. When I speak, you will often find me making the statement, “If the importance of this topic is all that my listeners take away, then I am a very happy person.” If this is the main message that you take to your clients imagine the lives that will be changed for the better. Let’s get out there and change some lives!
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