Cultivate a Positive Mindset – zen habits zen habits

Steve Told Us

By Leo Babauta

One of the best long-term things you can do for a happier life and better relationships is to cultivate a positive mindset.

People with positive mindsets live longer, happier lives. They have lower rates of heart disease, cancer. They live about 7.5 years longer, on average. That’s huge.

So developing a positive mindset can be one of the most impactful things you can do for yourself.

And there are a ton of downstream effects: you are kinder to others when you’re happier, so your relationships are better. You are more playful, more joyful, more likely to take positive actions and focus on meaningful goals.

So how do we develop this positive mindset?

I’m going to share a handful of things I’ve found to be important …

  • Notice your tendency toward negativity. We often don’t realize that we have a bias towards a negative mindset. This is a blind spot for most of us. To uncover this blind spot, try to find places during the day when you have a negative mindset: complaining, criticizing, judging, catastrophizing, feeling helpless, feeling resentful, feeling victimized, feeling put upon or burdened, feeling bored or lonely. NONE of these feelings are wrong! They’re just things to notice, and as we notice it, we will have the ability to create big shifts.
  • Notice the impact of negativity. Without judgment, get curious about how these moments of negativity impact your life. How does it affect your motivation? Your relationships? How much fun other people have around you? 
  • Accept your negative feelings. Start to take the stance that it’s OK to feel whatever you feel. Tend to the negative feelings — how can you soothe them? How can you fully express them? For example, if you’re angry, can you rage like a werewolf? If you’re feeling put upon, can you yell in frustration into a pillow? Exaggerate your feelings, allowing them to course through your blood, and you’ll let them through you instead of repressing them.
  • Find a new, positive stance to come from. Once you’ve exhausted the energy of the negative emotion, you might notice that your heart and mind are more open. In this place, you can choose something new. What stance would you like to come from in these moments? Pick one and practice it: maybe you will look for something to love in the other person. Maybe you’ll come from a stance of being of service to others, or compassionate, or giving unconditional love. This new stance takes practice.
  • See the gift. Whatever stance you choose, it can be a beautiful practice to see the gift in any moment, even ones that feel negative. When someone is upset with you and you feel defensive … what is the gift in this person’s upsetness? When you are feeling tired and overwhelmed, what is the gift in such a moment of tenderness? When you have had a sad and lonely day, what gift can you find in your melancholy? There’s always a gift to be found in every moment in this brief and precious life, if we have the courage to look.
  • Wonder practice. In the same way, we can practice awe and wonder in each moment. If we take on this practice, what we want to look for is seeing the wonder and beauty in each moment of life. Start with the easy stuff: going outside and seeing beautiful nature, or rejoicing in the light falling on our faces. Seeing laughter in a little kid, or love between two partners. Look for it everywhere! Even in the places we find more challenging: can we find wonder when people behave in ways we don’t normally like, or when the world is chaotic, or when we’re hurt? It’s powerful to take on this practice.
  • Change your physicality. If you normally act like Eyore (from Winnie the Pooh) — slumped over and mopey — then your mindset will stay negative. That’s OK! There’s nothing wrong with feeling this way. But you might practice taking on a Tigger physicality — more positive, excited, joyful, playful. If you dance around, your mindset will follow. How can you bring a joyful, grateful, awe-filled physical attitude toward life?
  • This isn’t meant to be a comprehensive guide to a positive mindset … but rather a place to start. Pick one of the ideas above that feels easy and helpful, and practice it!

    See what starts to shift. One small shift at a time, this could change your entire life.