The Power of a Positive Mindset

Dr. Erin Nitschke

Image: Pexels - Samson Katt Dog looking smart in glasses

Mindset. It’s a powerful predictor and determinant of how your day will be. This doesn’t mean that you need to be toxically positive and firmly believe that everything is a gift or that every moment in every day is stress-free. That simply isn’t how life happens sometimes. Many things are outside of our control — other peoples’ thoughts and behaviors, the flow of traffic, acute illness, or unexpected events. What is in our control? Our own thoughts, actions, and reactions.

Positive thinking is a personal practice of focusing more on the good than the negative. Again, this doesn’t mean you have to ignore the context of your own reality or the reality of the world — it just means it is not your entire focus. Expect things to go well instead of expecting to find yourself in a debacle. Doing so can benefit your physical and mental health.

Suggested Benefits of a Positive Mindset

Much like engaging in regular physical activity, focusing on the brighter side can contribute to:

According to Johns Hopkins, “people with a family history of heart disease who also had a positive outlook were one-third less likely to have a heart attack or other cardiovascular event within five or 25 years than those with a more negative outlook.” That said, scientists are not entirely positive (pun intended) on what the specific connection is between health and positivity. More research is needed to better understand this link. For now, we do know that engaging in positive thinking is not at all harmful to health but is in fact beneficial.

Boosting Your Mental Muscle

Some are naturally predisposed to having an optimistic type of personality. Others, well, need to nurture it more consciously. How you choose to do this will vary from person to person based on individual preferences, sense of humor, and what someone finds enjoyable. Here are a few steps to consider as you think about your own personal positivity plan.

1. Smile

Practice smiling more. Greet individuals with a warm “hello” or gentle smile.

2. Reframe

we are programmed, by the nature of our “survival brain” to view things as potential threats or negative impacts. For example, say you head to work at your normal time — plenty of time to arrive early. But you run into an accident scene on the freeway that holds up traffic for an additional half hour. Acknowledge that while this is an inconvenience, you are grateful you were not in an accident yourself and you hope those who were are safe and being cared for. You call ahead and let your employer know you will be late due to this event. This is an event outside of your control and you cannot change the reality.

3. Laugh

Find things that make you chuckle. A funny set of Instagram reels related to dogs doing silly things or watching a show you enjoy. The act of engaging in laughter will reduce stress.

Dog smiling

4. Meditate

Often, we feel the negative more than the positive because we are entangled in the stress of the day-to-day business of life. Taking even 2 minutes to breathe deeply, participate in mindful observation or mindful listening, will reduce stress, and help you regain some balance in the day.

5. Gratitude

Practicing gratitude is an unbelievably powerful exercise. Be mindful about what brings you gratitude — maybe it’s the sunshine during a dark winter; a “how are you” text from a good friend; a delicious cup of coffee; or restful sleep. Whatever you are thankful for, say it.

6. Accomplishments

Again, in the day to day, we get lost in the melee (hey, that unintentionally rhymed!). At the end of the week, reflect on your week and record what you accomplished. It can be anything — an article you penned, a class you taught that went well, successful meal planning, or exercising. This practice results in an accomplishment journal you can review when you feel the challenges start to mount.

A Personal Challenge

As you move forward this month, select two tactics from the above list (or identify your own) and implement them daily or weekly. Create your own gratitude journal or schedule time in your calendar for “mindful meditation” or “leisure reading” for 10 to 15 minutes a few times a week. Start by answer these questions before engaging in the tactics you select.

  1. On a scale of 1–10, my stress level is at a: __ (explain why)
  2. On a scale of 1–10, how positive do I feel throughout the week? And why?

At the end of the month, reflect on your responses and answer these questions again to determine how your personal positivity practice impacted you. Just as you need to work your physical muscles, we need to give attention to the mental muscle as well. The mind and body are inseparable and rely on each other to provide us with overall health and well-being.

Dr. Erin Nitschke is a professor of exercise science at Laramie County Community College. She holds certifications including NFPT-CPT, NSCA-CPT, ACE Health Coach, Fitness Nutrition Specialist, Therapeutic Exercise Specialist, and Pn1. Erin is an editorial author for IDEA, NFPT, where she writes regularly on topics related to personal training and health coach skill building, behavior change, and career success.

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