How to Elevate Your Mindset and Think More Positively
This has nothing to do with The Secret. This is science-backed research. So before jumping to the conclusion that this is yet another woo-woo positive thinking post, allow me to change your perception.
I’m not a New Age disciple and, though entertaining, I don’t follow the teachings of The Secret or other law of attraction theories. It’s not that these theories aren’t inspiring, it’s that the principles can’t be validated.
Yet, I do believe in the power of thought and my own ability to consistently succeed. I do so because profound outcomes in my life (as a result of elevated thinking and good habits) incited me to seek out science-backed research on the power of the mind.
That researched revealed fascinating studies, particularly around Neuroplasticity — a relatively new branch within neurological medicine that studies the mind’s ability to rewire itself.
These studies are encouraging because the findings are based on clinical trials that, when set up correctly, reveal repeatedly observable results on a statistically significant population.
The purpose of this guide is to briefly introduce you to this exciting field of science and expose you to key principles that will enable you to think more positively, boost your mood, and uplift your lifestyle as a result.
Research shows that negative thinking releases stress-producing hormones that can be destructive to our brain's normal functioning, having a significant and lasting effect on our physical and emotional well-being.
On the contrary, positive mental states — such as through mindfulness as Harvard Business Review reports — seem to change our brains for the better and can be responsible for less stress and anxiety, increased memory, and a stronger sense of self:
Mindfulness should no longer be considered a “nice-to-have” for executives. It’s a “must-have”: a way to keep our brains healthy, to support self-regulation and effective decision-making capabilities, and to protect ourselves from toxic stress. It can be integrated into one’s religious or spiritual life, or practiced as a form of secular mental training. When we take a seat, take a breath, and commit to being mindful, particularly when we gather with others who are doing the same, we have the potential to be changed.
In short, there are thoughts that interfere with your ability to be efficient and effective just like there are thoughts that amplify your ability to be proficient and productive.
You can maximize the former and minimize the latter by rewiring your mind. Let’s discuss how.
In order to manage your mindset for the better, you need to be aware of what you are thinking and how these thoughts influence your attitude and habits. Here’s a simple 5-step process we’ll explore in this guide:
- Monitor your thoughts
- Measure your mood
- Map mood to habits
- Make changes accordingly
- Take inspired action
Monitor your thoughts
The first step in shifting your way of thinking is to assess how you think under certain circumstances. Taking inventory of your thoughts will help you understand how you tend to frame situations.
As mentioned in Psychology Today:
Framing is one way the brain finds patterns in chaos (its primary survival function) and creates meaning out of meaninglessness … There's always a point of view, and it biases the view by emphasizing or including certain aspects of the situation or experience while omitting or devaluing others.
The question is: do you have a propensity for pessimistic or optimistic framing? Put simply, are you a glass half full or half empty type of person?
To answer this, schedule a few minutes throughout each day (for the next 7 days) to stop and unpack what you are thinking right then and there. Then jot it down in a daily journal.
At the end of a week you’ll have a comprehensive log of feedback that will help you determine whether your thoughts skew negative or positive, and under what context.
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Measure your mood
Consider how specific thoughts are linked to certain emotions.
According to the book "Thinking Fast and Slow" written by Nobel prize winning author Daniel Kahneman, there are two systems of thought:
- intuitive thinking — fast and automatic biases governed subconsciously by the emotions (for instance, having a gut reaction to some event).
- rational thinking — slow and deliberate evaluations and logical conclusions managed by our conscious mind.
Most of the time we use intuitive thinking to judge, decide, and act because depending on the subconscious is swifter and less taxing on the brain, as I discuss in How to Overcome Procrastination by Embracing it.
Intuitive thought is faster and often useful, but not without biases that may cloud how we perceive certain situations. That’s because our subconscious relies on memories of past experiences to provoke emotions, and those memories aren’t always relevant to the situation at hand.
You can measure your intuition, and subsequently exert more mastery over your mood, by doing the following:
- having a list of emotions readily available so you are able to articulate your feelings.
- reading through your thought journal and considering how certain thoughts, and the way you frame them, make you feel.
- being more in tune with your subconscious mind so you can detect and manage thoughts and emotions that bubble up automatically.
Map mood to habits
At this point, it’s time to fixate on the emotions that tend to be more prominent than others — and determine how they influence your actions, habits, and behaviors, for the better or worse.
This is an important next step of the elevated thinking process because your emotional state directly impacts your health.
Harvard Health researchers found a direct correlation between positive outlook and good health (both psychological and physical):
In a 2007 study that followed more than 6,000 men and women aged 25 to 74 for 20 years, for example, [researchers] found that emotional vitality — a sense of enthusiasm, of hopefulness, of engagement in life, and the ability to face life’s stresses with emotional balance — appears to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. The protective effect was distinct and measurable, even when taking into account such wholesome behaviors as not smoking and regular exercise.
As you work through your thought journal and tag thoughts to emotions, tally up any that seem perpetually negative. Then try to recall whether these unfavorable emotions provoke bad habits.
Some emotions — despite being negative — are harmless because you are able to contain them. It’s those that cause an adverse impact on different areas of your life that you’ll want to target and adjust.
That’s because some bad habits not only stop you from thriving (e.g. developing and succeeding in life) but maybe even surviving (e.g. causing stress and strain on the mind and body).
Make changes accordingly
Once you’re able to isolate the thoughts and emotions that make you feel the worst and that lead to poor decisions and behaviors, you’ll be more motivated to make the necessary changes.
There are many different methods you could use to experiment with better thinking, but one that seems particularly promising is called third-person self-talk. According to the research published in Scientific Reports:
We all have an internal monologue that we engage in from time to time; an inner voice that guides our moment-to-moment reflections. Although people frequently engage in such “self-talk”, recent findings indicate that the language they use to refer to the self when they engage in this process influences self-control. Specifically, using one’s own name to refer to the self during introspection, rather than the first-person pronoun “I”, increases peoples’ ability to control their thoughts, feelings, and behavior under stress.
To break it down, once you’ve determined specific thoughts and emotions that are damaging, when they arise you can start to manage them by speaking to yourself as if you were talking to another person (for example, using your name or “you”).
For instance, when I go running the first 5-10 minutes are always the most painful. My body typically resists in the form of stomach cramps, labored breathing, and thoughts urging me to stop.
The only way I persist through this starting phase is to talk to myself: Aja just slow down, control your breath, and go at your own pace ... you know the first few minutes are always the most difficult, but it’ll get easier ... this discomfort is nothing new, you’ll hit your stride shortly.
And a few minutes into the run the thoughts subside and I do hit my stride — and typically have a great workout.
However, my personal experience is that self-talk without action is only half the battle. If I’m lying in bed in the morning I need self-talk plus discipline to actually get up, put on my running gear, and make it out the door.
Self-talk without action is nothing but a set of lies you tell yourself — and your mind knows the difference. Some research has even shown that merely repeating positive self-statements can backfire and make you feel worse, especially if you already struggle with low self-esteem.
If what you tell yourself is incongruent with your current mindset, be sure that your self-talk is reasonable (none of this “I’m going to manifest a million dollars in a day” nonsense) and use action to make it more believable.
In combination, self-talk and action trains your brain to accept these new ideas as truth. This is one of the most profound findings gaining more and more support in the field of Neuroplasticity.
Take inspired action
The key insight from these findings is this: if your mind is in the gutter, your life will follow. This is why it is of utmost importance that you train your brain with uplifting thoughts.
In order to minimize a gutter mentality and maximize elevated thinking, it’s not enough to just chant affirmations occasionally.
You can’t just wink an eye and think a good thought and expect miraculous outcomes, you have to build a repertoire of tactics that cultivate discipline and enable you to build good habits.
Here are three ways to start:
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