3 Ways to Cultivate a Positive Mindset


September 1, 2020

Last Updated:

November 6, 2020

Image via Shutterstock.

Lisa Drennan, IIN Content Writer

Are you having trouble staying positive during these challenging times? If so, you are not alone. Adversity doesn’t discriminate, so unfortunately as humans we are going to have to deal with tough times. The good news? A positive mindset is not a fixed trait that some people have the ability to conjure up and others don’t. It is actually a muscle anyone can strengthen, and we’ll share how you can do so with three easy tips.

The benefits of a positive mindset

A positive mindset can be defined as “a mental and emotional attitude that focuses on the bright side of life and expects positive results.” While it’s not realistic (or even helpful) to always be cheerful, studies have shown that taking time to cultivate a positive mindset has countless health benefits. Positive thinking can not only improve self-esteem and feelings of worthiness and success, but can even help reduce mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, stress, and hypertension. 

It can be empowering to recognize that while you do not have control over life’s circumstances, you do have the ability to control how you react to those circumstances by focusing your mind. Cultivating a positive mindset can support you in responding to unexpected change as opportunities for learning and growth.

How can you develop a positive mindset?

Just like building any muscle, cultivating positive thinking takes intention, time, and commitment, and when approached from a personal growth mindset, can be a fun and fulfilling process!

As humans we tend to be hardwired to focus on what is wrong with us and our circumstances. From an evolutionary perspective, this helped us immensely! Imagine yourself as a cave person who sees a sabertooth tiger. Instead of trying to stay positive and focus on the beautiful sunset, you would have reacted immediately to the threat of the tiger. While this fight or flight response saved our lives then, in modern times, we are likely not encountering too many saber tooth tigers. Unfortunately, our body can overreact to little stressors throughout the day (an argument with a spouse, being stuck in traffic, tight deadlines at work) in the same way we would if we were encountering tigers. This automatic physiological response can have serious negative effects on our health, such as high blood pressure, anxiety, depression, and even addiction.

Even though our brain is still hardwired this way, we do have the power to focus our attention. Science has shown that we are able to train our brains to shift our attention from “what’s wrong?” to “what’s the opportunity?” In psychology, this is known as benefit finding. This doesn’t mean avoiding or denying any hardship, but shifting perspective to also see the opportunities. 

Of course, we want to respect and acknowledge the parts of ourselves that are scared of change, while choosing to greet each adversity as a catalyst for personal transformation.  

How can you put this into practice?

No matter how much we have practiced love and compassion for ourselves, self judgment and criticism is a natural part of being human. Just like we are hardwired to focus on what’s wrong in our environment, we tend to find things in ourselves that we disapprove of and want to “fix.” Often this is a result of wanting to be accepted and liked by others, and so anything that stands in the way of our “perfect” self image can show up as negative self-talk. Usually we don’t even notice when this is happening, because it’s so habitual. 

Here are 3 easy strategies for focussing your mind to cultivate a positive mindset: 

1. Don’t “should” on yourself.

One of the easiest ways to recognize negative self talk is when you start any thought with “I should have…” For instance, I should have gone to the gym, I should be more loving, I should have done a better job, etc. Next time you catch yourself “shoulding” on yourself, stop in the moment and immediately replace the critical thought with a positive one that feels authentic and true. For instance, “I should have been more compassionate with my friend at lunch today” could be replaced with “I’m proud of myself for getting out of the house to meet up with my friend today.

2. Journal your successes.

Regardless of the challenges you face each day, taking just a few moments to focus on what you are proud of will help develop positive self-talk. At the end of the day, try writing down three things that you are proud of yourself for. These don’t have to be outstanding, but can be as simple as “I remembered to brush my teeth this morning” or “I drank 8 glasses of water today.”  Keep your journal next to your bed so you remember, and challenge yourself to come up with three different things each evening.

3. Focus on gratitude.

Negative self-talk is often a by-product of comparing ourselves to others. It’s natural to feel jealous, irritable, or even resentful when we see someone else who seems to be living a more fulfilling life than we are. While not rooted in truth, this can still cause us to feel self critical and like we are not doing enough, or that we are less than or even inadequate. Next time you notice yourself playing the comparison game, stop in the moment and think of one or two things that you are grateful for. You can do this in your mind, keep track on your phone, say them out loud, or write them down in a journal or planner.

While you may not be able to avoid adversity, you can empower yourself through the focus of your mind. With consistent practice in cultivating a positive mindset, you can move forward while learning from the challenges you’ve experienced. 

And remember, it’s not important or even beneficial to be excessively positive all the time. It’s important to be sincere about your experience, so that you’re not avoiding, denying, or bypassing any challenges. You can practice realistic optimism by meeting yourself where you are, while knowing that each challenging experience is helping you step into your greatest potential. 

While unexpected change can be uncomfortable or even scary, you have control over how you choose to see each experience through the power of focusing your mind.

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