How would you feel if I told you that your brain could be your best friend?
Think of the most content person you know. Who pops into your head? Is it a coworker or classmate? What about a friend or a family member? Maybe, several people come to mind. Likely, this person appreciates the little things in life; they’re grateful for what they have, work through obstacles in a rational way, and they’re unlikely to catastrophize. What do you think makes this person the way that they are?
It can be easy to simply think that a positive person is someone who doesn’t face the same issues that you do; that they’re positive because they have it good and don’t see all of the problems in the world. You might think “I’d be happy if I had what they had,” (a better job, a nicer car, a relationship, more money, and so on), but if you look at all of the people in the world with a positive mindset, you’ll see that the kinds of people they are and their backgrounds and walks of life vary greatly, and that many people have actually worked hard to cultivate this way of thinking.
Even with (especially with!) a mental illness or mood disorder, your thoughts can be one of your greatest tools. The difference between a healthy mindset is, “I’m going through a hard time; it’ll never get better,” and “I’m going through a hard time, but I know that I’ll make it to a better place.” Here’s how to cultivate a better mindset and why it’s possible for you.
Why is mindset important for mood?
Mindset is important for our mood because when we have a healthy mindset, we’re able to think critically about the thoughts that pop into our heads and avoid black-and-white thinking or catastrophizing. For example, if someone doesn’t like the city, town, or apartment that they live in, they might think, “I hate it here; this is a dead-end for me. I’m stuck here, I’ll never get out, and life will always be bad. I should give up and stop trying to find something better,” they’re thinking of the worst-case scenario, and a good mood is unlikely to follow.
Mindset is important for our mood because when we have a healthy mindset, we’re able to think critically about the thoughts that pop into our heads and avoid black-and-white thinking or catastrophizing.
With a healthy mindset, you’ll be able to look at this thought objectively and realize that better circumstances are possible. You don’t enjoy where you live right now, but you can take the steps toward changing it, praise yourself along the way, and be gentle with yourself when obstacles arise. Maybe your living situation isn’t the best, but even if it takes some time, it’s logically sound to realize that you can move to a new place and that you aren’t stuck. The present is not indefinite. When you take on that perspective and recognize that your initial thought might not be the truth, your mood will improve, and you’ll be able to see a better future ahead.
What happens in the mind?
Negative thinking impacts the mind by decreasing our ability to remember things and bringing on poor emotional – and even physical – health. Positive thoughts, as we’ve established, do the opposite. If your reflex is to think of the worst-case scenario at all times, you might think, “it’s just who I am” and assume that this mindset is an unmoving part of who you are. We establish these thought patterns for a variety of reasons such as familial relationships or mindsets that have been passed down in our families, trauma, bullying, or mental health conditions such as Depression.
It’s important to remember that you are not your thoughts and to be cognitively aware of the fact that your thoughts can be changed. Neuroplasticity, also known as neural plasticity or brain plasticity, refers to the ability that our brain has to change. This is a well-established idea that has been proven in a large number of studies. When we make a conscious effort to think positively, our mind starts to adapt, and over time, that becomes our natural response.
When we make a conscious effort to think positively, our mind starts to adapt, and over time, that becomes our natural response.
How to Move Toward a Healthy Mindset
There are many reasons to want to develop healthier thought patterns. First, positivity has actually been shown to improve a person’s chances of longevity. To move toward a healthy mindset, put neuroplasticity into action. The bulk of how to cultivate positive thoughts if you don’t experience them already is thinking of things objectively. You have to look outside of yourself and think of the ways that things might actually be better than you think they are. This is part of why CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) is so effective; it’s all about challenging cognitive distortions, reframing negative thoughts, and putting together a toolkit of coping skills.
EFT or Emotionally Focused Therapy is another popular form of treatment that is highly effective in helping people change their mindset. It helps you understand why you’re in a less-than-positive place emotionally, work through your feelings, and focus on getting your needs met. There are some things that you can do to get started outside of therapy if you’re not able to access it right away. With the knowledge of neuroplasticity, here are some things you can do to change your brain, and as a result, your mindset.
Daily Exercises and Routines
Taking the time to meditate impacts the mind, and in turn, the body in many ways. Meditation is shown to help people with anxiety and depression. It can also reduce stress and aid sleep, both of which are important for your mood. If you don’t know where to start, you can incorporate meditation into your daily routine by finding a class near you, looking for guided meditations online, or even downloading a meditation app.
Reframe your thoughts
Earlier, we talked about challenging your automatic thoughts. Here’s how to put that into action.
Say that you notice yourself thinking, “I’m ugly, boring, and no one at my new school will like me.” Challenge this by saying, “Is this 100% true? I don’t know that to be 100% true because I can’t see myself through their eyes. Maybe it is possible for me to make friends, and the right people will come along.” One of the best things that you can do is to get into the habit of reframing maladaptive thoughts when they filter in.
Similar to the reframe that we talked about above, positive self-talk is important. Tell yourself the things that you like about yourself! You can do this by talking to your mirror, by writing a list, or by sitting calmly and either thinking or saying things that you like about yourself out loud. When you prompt yourself to do this, don’t take “no” for an answer; every single person in this world has something good to give it. Even if you don’t fully believe in the power of your qualities, you can still do this exercise. You can say anything from “I am kind,” “I am strong,” or “I have made it through difficult things,” to “I’m creative,” “I’m good at cooking,” “I am able to learn new things,” or “I have ideas that other people don’t.” Simply repeating and focusing on positive qualities within yourself will start to form new neural pathways that will make those thoughts come more easily over time.
Mantras can go along with positive self-talk. It can be helpful to have mantras that you repeat to yourself when an obstacle arises. You can create a mantra of your own, or you can look to quotes from someone else.
Be gentle with yourself
Establishing positive thought patterns takes some time, and one thing that a lot of us struggle with is being patient with ourselves. This is actually another positive thought pattern to develop in and of itself. If you’re down about how something played out or if you slipped up and used an unhealthy coping mechanism, say to yourself, “I did the best I could with what I had.” Ask yourself what you need at that moment and how you can best take care of yourself. Beating yourself up will never be good for your mood. It is a process, but things will get easier over time, and coming out of a mindset that’s harming you is possible.
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Optimism is associated with exceptional longevity in 2 epidemiologic cohorts of men and women
Meditation programs for psychological stress and well-being: a systematic review and meta-analysis.
Emotion-Focused Therapy: A Clinical Synthesis
The Role of Maladaptive Beliefs in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: Evidence from Social Anxiety Disorder
Mindsets in social anxiety: a new look at selective information processing