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Last Updated on January 13, 2020

How to Cultivate a Positive Mindset (A Step-By-Step Guide)

How to Cultivate a Positive Mindset (A Step-By-Step Guide)

There is so much material and content around us, spouting essential ingredients of how to be positive in order to gain the success in life you’re chasing. It’s actually overwhelming (not to mention a billion dollar industry!)

You might also have become tunnel-visioned to believe only the secret tips and advice prescribed to us by mindset gurus at sensationalized forums, seminars and conferences can help us. Such stage educators seemed so polished and poised that it’s hard to resist that we can change our thinking without their help.

The truth is that you don’t need to sacrifice your life savings with a coach to turn your mindset around. With this step by step guide, you’ll realize you already have all the ingredients within you and the opportunities around you to start cultivating a positive mindset today. (I’m not denying working with a coach can definitely help. However, you can take a faster route not to mention a less expensive one!)

1. Allow Yourself Feel Negative Emotions

Stop trying to be positive with everything. It’s exhausting, let alone an unrealistic expectation.

Stop listening to everyone’s advice on what you should think. Take back the reins on deciding how you want to feel about something.

Furthermore, you’ll start to be that person everyone wants to be around. To be positive all the time is trying to prevent yourself from being human. We are born with capacity to feel a full spectrum of positive and negative emotions because they all have value, meaning and guidance for us.

When you allow yourself time and space to feel the initial sting of unpleasant emotions, you will find their intensity lessens and their duration shortens. Then, you’ve got more space to start directing your thoughts and focus in a direction that better serves you.

2. Increase Awareness of Your Current Mindset by Seeking Feedback

From those who feedback you trust will be truthful and fairly objective, ask them about what positive and uplifting energy they might experience simply from you being you. Also ask if they can provide examples of how they feel your mindset hinders you rather than helps you.

Asking others for feedback can be a challenging step. By doing so you’re showing you’re considering change. Beware that friends and family can often be bulls in a china shop eagerly dishing you advice and criticism from every angle. If you’re not ready for this, your soft, tender emotional belly will become an unwilling punching bag.

Remember that regardless of who you’re asking, you’re not looking to solicit judgment or opinions. You’re asking them to share with you their observations and experiences. The exercise is purely to help you gain heightened insight and choose where you might start practicing making changes.

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If you do feel your feedback sources have misread the exercise as opportunity to stroke their ego, criticize you and lash you with an emotional cat-o-nine tails, don’t retaliate or respond. Thank them for their feedback, park it mentally into a box that you will go back to and review later.

Your after-thought might well be to simply empty the box! However, there also might be some truth the messages they’re giving too.

3. Recognize Unhelpful Thoughts and Language and Practice Reframing Them

Don’t hesitate to catch yourself mid-sentence and work on reframing your words and language.[1] Being able to catch yourself is a skill but you can become nimble with practice.

Go back to the unhelpful thoughts you came up with and see if you can make slight modifications to the hindering dialogue simmering in your head. “I can’t do this” might gently become “I feel like I can’t do this.” “That will never happen for me” might become “it hasn’t happened for me yet”.

Pay attention to the difference that different words make you feel. Notice how different sentences make you feel and look for the difference it makes to how others respond to you. Asking yourself if you would speak to a friend or child in the way you speak to yourself can draw incredible self-awareness of how your language works against you.

It can take a few training-wheel sessions with a coach or therapist to help you develop reframing techniques. Applying them long enough for you to start feeling and noticing a difference. The investment is well worth it. The benefit of this skill not only charges your positive mindset; it has a vicarious flow-on effect to those around you.

This guide on stopping negative thoughts maybe useful for you:

How to Stop Automatic Negative Thoughts When You’re Overwhelmed

4. Carefully Choose Situations to Plant the Seeds of Your Positive Mindset

Keep it simple to start with. Only choose one or two contexts in your life where you feel you could practice more positive behavior and/or language changes.

Choose wisely, though. Be careful to avoid starting with situations where you feel – or have been told – you should.

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‘Should’ is a word weighted with expectation. It also implies you need redemption because you made a lower-handed choice in the first place. You knew what you could do, be or say and you chose not to. That’s heavy stuff! It’s actually not the best starting point to try cultivating a positive mindset from. Trying to develop from situations tarnished with the stamp of reprimand always feels harder.

Avoid trying to make a massive mindset turnaround in a short space of time. It’s likely you’ll be met with raised eye-brows and a label of being inauthentic. Not being annoyed when your mother-in-law comes around unannounced and stays for hours yet again, might be too big a mindset challenge to start with.

Like a tree seedling needs a foundation of good soil for it to have a fighting chance, a neutral situation will give you a good foundation to practice and grow your positive mindset.

Consider a simple situation that is likely to repeat itself in your everyday life:

  • Greeting people at work when you arrive.
  • Picking up your coffee at the same café each morning on your way to work.
  • You and your partner’s morning routine before you both head separate ways to earn your living.

Choose contexts where you are emotionally and mentally indifferent where you could – not should – test simple behavior or language adjustments. You’re looking for calm steady waters you can set sail on to test new positive mindset strategies, and then observe how people respond to your changes, without pressure and without expectation.

5. Examine Positive Mindsets of People You Admire but Set Your Own Goals

Now you’ve chosen your context to start practicing changes, you now need to decide what changes you’re going to make.

Brainstorming possibilities can be challenging from your current mindset. Make it simpler. Look outside yourself for clues and suggestions.

Whose books inject energy into your soul through their written words? Whose TED talks, interviews and podcasts make you nod in agreement? Who has inspired you to at least make plans to take action toward doing or being what you have always wanted to do? Who are those people? What is it about them that resonates with you strongly?

Study them. Observe their behavior, their language and how they respond to setbacks and adversity. Watch them closely. Now compare what they do to how you normally react in similar situations.

The comparison is to help you gauge what changes you want to aim for in your behavior, your communication and your thinking. Remember, you are not looking to copy these people. The world needs the best of you not a carbon copy of Oprah, Tony Robbins or Jack Canfield!

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Besides, there would be nothing more irritating than seeing a highly respected industry expert’s protégé start dressing the same way, trying to call everyone ‘pal’ because the expert addresses his or her trusted staff this way.

People see through copy cats. They are inauthentic and boring at best!

Taking the example of your greeting people in the morning when you arrive at your workplace, your current start to the day may unfurl follows:

  • You don’t acknowledge or talk to anyone in the lift.
  • You say ‘hi’ to the receptionist, Anna, en route to your desk.
  • You robotically say ‘Hi Mary, how are you?’ to your colleague without looking at her, put your bags down, place your suit jacket on the back of your chair and turn on your computer.
  • You sigh as you sit and think to yourself: ‘Same thing, different day; here we go again.’

Now, if you were to put an Oprah-like spin on this same situation, what changes might you aim for? What might feel most natural to you? What changes in your behavior, communication and thinking could you plant here? Let’s play the game again with two potential levels of change:

    Do the above mild and marked examples of changes sound and feel like you? If not, rework the possibilities.

    Turning up with a coffee unexpectedly for someone could be deemed creepy and very uncharacteristic of you. Changes you make need to feel like you can own them. They might feel strange at first but as people start to respond differently to you, you’ll want to keep exercising these features of your new positive mindset!

    6. Exude More Positive Energy Through Your Combined Thoughts and Actions

    Spending too much focus on trying to change yourself can derail you. It’s exhausting especially if you’re trying to exercise introspective reflection 24/7!

    Ditch that idea and once again, turn your focus outward.

    Look at those around you who you feel could do with an emotional or mental hand-up. You’ll not only be helping others, you’ll be greatly benefiting yourself.

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    In fact, researchers Naomi Eisenberger and Tristan Inagaki found giving can actually be more emotionally and psychologically satisfying than receiving. Their study examining neural activity via functional magnetic resonance imaging found that those who were in receipt of help experienced less stress-related activity, and higher reward-related activity in certain brain parts than those who gave the help.[2]

    Being generous with your thoughts and actions not only provides a time-out from your own cognitive swamp. It can kick start your momentum to feeling good about something to start with. When you’re on a roll, you’ll be in a better place to starting doing inward repair work.

    7. Be Wary of Unhealthy Co-Dependent Relationships

    Whilst it feels good to be needed, it can become dangerous to be needed and depended upon too much.

    Looking to sustain relationships where we fall short of experiencing the support, care and understanding fractures our self-esteem. We are prone to developing dysfunctional attitudes and patterns of thinking in such relationships, creating more opportunities to develop depression and other mental health ailments.

    Think of the girlfriend who rings up to whinge and complain yet again about how she constantly dates losers or the best mate who’s always asking to borrow $100. She knows you will always listen and will be the shoulder she can cry on, and he is eternally grateful but never pays you back.

    It’s one thing to be empathetic and supportive. It’s another to make yourself an emotional and mental dumping ground and enable yourself to be taken for granted. In fact, research has shown that sustaining negative relationships long-term can give rise to serious physical ailments.[3]

    If you find yourself more often than not to be drawing the short straw, that’s a hint the foundations of your self-worth and esteem might need a review.

    Starting to cull such dynamics in your relationships will feel difficult at first. However, a liberating feeling of freedom automatically clears for positive thoughts, ideas and possibilities to organically float into your mindset.

    Final Thoughts

    A positive mindset is not like a switch that you can just turn on and you suddenly become positive. Building a positive mindset is about taking baby steps in your everyday life.

    With this guide, you will be able to cultivate an unwavering mindset and tackle any challenge, obstacle or goal no matter how hard times may become.

    More on Staying Positive

    Featured photo credit: Parker Johnson via unsplash.com

    Reference

    More by this author

    Helen D'Silva

    Performance Psychologist for Business and Entrepreneurship, Sport and Personal Development

    How to Improve Focus: 7 Ways to Train Your Brain How to Calm Down When You’re Stressed and Anxious How to Cope with Anxiety at Work: 5 Psychology Techniques How to Cultivate a Positive Mindset (A Step-By-Step Guide) How to Manage Anxiety: Sound Advice from a Mental Health Expert

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    Last Updated on September 30, 2020

    How to Live in the Moment and Stop Worrying About the Future

    How to Live in the Moment and Stop Worrying About the Future

    We often hear people talk about the importance of living in the present and the different ways it will benefit us. It all sounds wonderful, especially the lower levels of stress and anxiety, but how exactly can we live in the moment when our mind is constantly worrying about the past or plans for the future?

    In this article, we’ll discuss some of the benefits of living in the moment you may not be aware of. Then, we’ll look at some of the obstacles and why we worry. Finally, and most importantly, I’ll show you how to live in the moment and stop worrying using some simple practices that you can easily incorporate into your busy schedule.

    The result: a happier and more fulfilling life.

    The Importance of Living in the Moment

    “The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, worry about the future, or anticipate troubles, but to live in the present moment wisely and earnestly.” -Buddha

    While it can be difficult to live in the moment, it has innumerable benefits.

    Here are just a few that will enhance your life tremendously:

    Better Health

    By reducing stress and anxiety, you avoid many of the associated health consequences, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and obesity. Studies have shown that being present can also improve psychological well-being[1].

    Improve Your Relationships

    Have you ever been with someone who is physically present, but mentally s/he’s a million miles away?

    Being with unavailable people is a struggle, and building relationships with them extremely difficult.

    How about being with someone who is fully present? We enjoy being with her/him because we can make a much deeper connection.

    By living in the moment, you can be that person other people enjoy being with, and you make relationships much easier.

    Greater Self-Control

    You have greater control over your mind, body, and emotions. Imagine how much better your life would be if it weren’t at the mercy of a racing mind and unpredictable emotions. You would certainly be more at peace, and much happier[2].

    Why Do We Worry?

    Before we answer this question, it’s important to distinguish between worry and concern.

    When we are concerned about something, we are more likely dealing with a real problem with realistic solutions. Then, once we do whatever we can to address the problem, we’re willing to live with the outcome.

    Worrying, on the other hand, involves unrealistic thinking. We may worry about a problem that doesn’t really exist, or dwell on all the bad things that can happen as a result. Then, we feel unable to deal with the outcome. Either way, we have difficulty dealing with uncertainty, which is a normal part of life.

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    Certainly, some of our problems may not have desirable outcomes, such as a serious health issue. Some problems may be beyond our control, such as civil unrest or economic downturn. In such cases, it can be hard to avoid worrying, but not impossible.

    3 Steps to Start to Live in the Moment

    Step 1: Overcome Worrying

    In order to overcome worrying, we need to do two things:

    Calm Your Mind

    When you calm your mind, you are able to see more clearly.

    The reason some problems seem so daunting is that our mind is racing so fast that we cannot see things as they truly are. Then, we make up a bunch of possible scenarios in our mind, most of which are unlikely to come true.

    In addition to seeing more clearly, a calm mind will help us think more realistically. Unrealistic thinking is fueled by confusion and uncontrolled emotions. Calming your mind will reduce confusion and calm your emotions, allowing you to live in the present.

    Focus on Solutions Instead of Problems

    Some people tend to be more solution-oriented, and others more problem-oriented. Some of the factors that may determine this are gender, upbringing, and education.

    People with more education tend to be problem-solvers. That is what their years of education train them to do. In addition, their jobs probably reinforce this way of thinking.

    If you’re not problem-solving oriented, don’t worry. You can train yourself to worry less. We’ll discuss that soon.

    Step 2: Identify Obstacles to Living in the Moment

    In today’s busy world, it can be a challenge to live in the moment. The reasons revolve around how our mind works, as well as outside influences.

    Racing Mind

    Many busy people have a racing mind that never seems to slow down. Their mind gets so agitated from too much sensory stimulation.

    You see, anything that stimulates any of our five senses will trigger a thought, and that thought leads to another, and then another, and so on.

    If you have a busy life, all your activities will overstimulate your mind and make it seemingly impossible to slow it down.

    Unpleasant Situations and a Troublesome Past

    None of us want to be in unpleasant situations, or remember those of the past. They can bring up painful emotions, which we don’t want to feel.

    So how do most people cope with painful emotions?

    By doing whatever we can to avoid them, we can take our mind to another place and time where things are more pleasant.

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    In other words, we avoid living in the present moment.

    Some people resort to things that stimulate sensory pleasure, such as food, alcohol, or sex. Others will consume substances that dull their mind and keep them from thinking about unpleasant or stressful situations.

    A Wandering Mind

    From the moment we are born (likely sooner) until the time we die, our body and mind are active performing some function. Therefore, it’s natural for our mind to have some level of activity, whether conscious or unconscious.

    Generally, a wandering mind is unproductive. One thought starts an endless chain of thoughts, and this process can go on until we need our mind to perform a specific function or get distracted with something else.

    Now, there are times when a wandering mind can be productive, such as when creating works of art, or trying to find creative solutions to problems. In such cases, we need our mind to explore different possibilities[3].

    Outside Influences

    Most of us are not fully aware of how our environment and social norms influence our thinking and behavior. People and institutions are constantly competing for our attention. The media draws our attention to the past, and advertising usually to the future[4].

    Many people around us who dwell on the past or future try to draw us to their way of thinking. Even the whole concept of the American dream is geared toward the future. It tells us that if we acquire things like a good career, family, and house, then we’ll be happy.

    Step 3: Practice Mindfulness

    So how can we live in the moment in a world that is constantly trying to draw our attention to the past and future?

    Before we get into concrete actions you can take, it’s important to understand what mindfulness is. You’ve probably heard the term before, but may not fully understand what it means.

    Understand Mindfulness

    The concept of mindfulness is actually quite simple. To be mindful is to live in the moment.

    When you are mindful, your attention is focused on what is happening in the present moment, and you are fully in touch with reality[5].

    You are aware of what is happening in your body, mind, emotions, and the world around you. This is different than thinking about these things. To develop greater understanding, you don’t have to think about them so much, but rather just observe them.

    This may be counterintuitive to many people, especially intellectuals, because they’re so used to using logic to develop greater understanding. With mindfulness, we calm our mind and emotions so we can see clearer. Then, much of our understanding will come from simple observation. When we develop mindfulness, we literally expand our awareness.

    To develop mindfulness, we need to train ourselves to observe things more objectively, that is, without our emotions or preconceived ideas influencing our views.

    If you’re ready to live a better life, read on for some simple mindfulness practices that you can incorporate into your daily routine to help you live in the moment.

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    You don’t have to do all of them, but rather choose the ones that appeal to you and suit your lifestyle.

    Mindfulness Meditation

    Mindfulness meditation is the mainstay of developing mindfulness and living in the moment. To practice mindfulness meditation, all you really have to do is sit quietly and follow your breathing. When your mind wanders off, just bring it back to your breath.

    Notice how your lungs expand with each in-breath and contract with each out-breath. Let your breathing become relaxed and natural.

    You don’t have to do it perfectly. The idea is to start spending time away from the constant sensory stimulation of all your activities, and just allow it to settle down naturally. Start with about 5 to 10 minutes per day and work your way up to about 20 minutes or longer.

    This practice is highly effective, and can have both short-term and long-term benefits.

    If you want to learn more about mindfulness meditation, take a look at this article: What Is Mindfulness Meditation? 7 Ways to Start Meditating

    Mindful Breathing

    While this may sound the same as mindfulness meditation, all you’re really doing is taking short breaks occasionally (10 to 15 seconds) to observe your breathing. Stop whatever you’re doing, and take a few mindful breaths, then resume your activity. That’s it.

    You can do mindful breathing at any time of the day during your busy schedule. What it does is interrupt the acceleration of your mind. It is like taking your foot off the accelerator while driving. It’s a nice refreshing break you can take without anyone noticing.

    Here’re some breathing exercises you can try to learn: 5 Breathing Exercises for Anxiety (Simple and Calm Anxiety Quickly)

    Mindful Walking

    Walking is an activity that you perform several times throughout the day. We often think we’re being productive by texting or calling someone while walking. But are we really?

    Instead of getting on your cell phone or letting your mind wander off, why not use your walking to train yourself to live in the moment and focus on the task at hand?

    Mindful walking is similar to mindful breathing, but instead of focusing on your breath, focus on your walking. Pay attention to each footstep. Also, notice the different motions of your arms, legs, and torso. When your mind wanders off, just bring your attention back to your walking.

    You can even make a meditation out of walking. That is, go walking for a few minutes outside. Start by slowing down your pace. If you slow down your body, your mind will follow.

    In addition to paying attention to your walking, notice the trees, sunshine, and critters. A mindful walk is enjoyable and can really help your mind settle down.

    You can discover more benefits of walking in nature here.

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    Mindful Eating

    Eating is an activity that most of us perform mindlessly. The reason is that it doesn’t require your attention to perform. Therefore, many of us try to multitask while we eat. We may talk on the phone, text, watch TV, or even hold a meeting.

    The problem with not eating mindfully is that we don’t eat what our body and mind need to perform at an optimal level[6]. We may eat unhealthy foods, or too much. This can lead to various health problems, especially as we get older.

    Live in the present with mindful eating.

      Mindful eating has many health benefits, such as reduced food cravings, better digestion, and even weight loss[7].

      So how do you eat mindfully? Start by slowing down, and avoid the temptation to distract yourself with another activity. Here are 3 different aspects of eating where you can practice mindfulness:

      • Eating itself: Focus your attention on choosing a portion of food to insert into your mouth. Notice the smell, flavor, and texture as you chew it; then finally swallow it. As with following your breath during meditation, pay close attention to every aspect of eating.
      • Choice of foods: Although you’ve already chosen your food before you have begun eating, you can still take the opportunity to contemplate your choices. Think about the nutrients your body needs to sustain itself.
      • Contemplating the sources: Most of us don’t think about all the work it takes to provide us with the food we eat. While you’re eating, consider all the work by the farmer, shipping company, and the grocery store. These are real people who worked hard to provide you with the food necessary for your survival.

      You can find more tips about mindful eating here: 7 Simple Steps to Mindful Eating

      Mindful Activities

      Choose an activity that you perform regularly, such as washing dishes. Focus all your attention on this activity, and resist the temptation to let your mind wander,. When it does, just bring your attention back to washing dishes.

      Notice some of the specific movements or sensations of washing dishes, such as how the soapy water feels on your hands, the circular motion of scrubbing the dish, or the rinsing. You’d be surprised at how such a mundane activity can truly expand your awareness.

      You can choose any activity you like, such as ironing, folding clothes, mowing the lawn, or showering. Over time, you will begin doing all these activities with greater mindfulness.

      Final Thoughts

      Practicing mindfulness is like regularly putting small amounts of change in a jar. They will all add up over time, and this will add up to greater peace and happiness, as well as get you closer to achieving your goals.

      Remember, you don’t have to do the mindfulness practices perfectly to get the benefits. All you have to do is keep bringing your mind back to the present moment when it wanders off.

      Practicing mindfulness may be a bit challenging in the beginning, but I can assure you it will get easier.

      The benefits of living in the moment are well within your reach, no matter how much your mind is racing. If you stick with these mindfulness practices, you too will learn how to live in the moment and stop worrying. When you do, a whole new world will open up for you. This is what Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh calls the ultimate reality.

      More About Living in the Present

      Featured photo credit: Smile Su via unsplash.com

      Reference

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