Updated: Feb 22
"The body is important, but the mind is all together important. And the most important thing about your mind is what it is fixed upon."
- Dallas Willard
This post has taken me quite some time to write. As I've reflected on this, I've realized the topic of mindset hits a little too close to home. It is something I struggle with daily.
I hope these reflections and learnings from my journey can help you as strive to live a flourishing life.
Over the past year, I have been challenged to pay attention to my thoughts and what my mind dwells on. I do a pretty good job at hiding it, but I am not naturally an optimistic person. However, those who are closest to me are WELL AWARE of this struggle!
I wrestle with my thoughts.
I have a tendency to get trapped in a negative mindset.
I ruminate on little things to the point where they take over my mind.
I am ashamed to admit it, but I have ruined countless special days such as birthdays and anniversaries, because one thing didn't go as expected and I let that thought run rampant to the point that I could not see all the good that surrounded it. I am a first-hand witness to the fact that what we think about shapes who we become. When I get caught in a ruminating pattern it is so hard to step out of that mindset, and the longer I let those thoughts run wild, the harder it becomes to stop the cycle.
I've heard that discouraged people tend to think discouraging thoughts and worried people, tend towards anxiety. We are a product of what we let our mind dwell on. Our thoughts become so automatic, we often don't recognize we are thinking them or WHAT we are thinking. Having been on this journey for quite some time, I know we tend to fall prey to numerous lies whispered subtly in our minds. Further, we get distracted with the amount of stimulus we submit ourselves to everyday. This keeps our brain in a distracted, frenzied state not allowing us time to pause, acknowledge and reflect on what we spend time thinking about.
How often have you bought into the following lies or similar:
'You're not pretty enough'
'You don't have the skill-set to be successful in that venture'
'You're not a good enough mom'
'Why try, it won't make a difference.'
Despite the years of education I have in health and wellness science, I have come to realize that a flourishing life starts in the mind.
There is truth in the quote from John Milton who states, "The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.”
We could have the perfect diet, fueling ourselves for success, pursue healthy movement daily, and sleep well BUT if we do not control our thoughts, we will still struggle to live the flourishing life we desire. Essentially, a negative mindset can negate any of the hard work you do for the physical body.
A healthy mindset is critical to the health and well-being of our bodies.
If we want to flourish and become the best version of ourselves, it comes down to thinking great thoughts. I know as you read that you're thinking 'easier said than done'! Well, continue on and let's see if we can take one step closer to having a healthy mind.
Science Shows Mindset Matters
Martin Seligman, founder of positive psychology, states "The aim of positive psychology is to catalyze a change in psychology from a preoccupation only with repairing the worst things in life to also building the best qualities in life."
Positive thinking and gratitude has been linked to general health including less feelings of depression, an ability to bounce back from a stressful event, lower levels of cortisol (stress hormone), stronger immune system and cardiovascular health (1). A recent study has also found that those with a positive outlook were at a 35% decreased risk of cardiovascular events compared to those with a pessimistic outlook (2). All this, simply from taking an optimistic approach to life and working to create a healthy brain!
Directly linking to the above research is the fascinating world of neuroplasticity. Coming from a scientific-based background, I appreciate how science is showing that mindset is key. Neuroplasticity is the term that shows our brains have the capacity to adapt, grow and change in response to how we use them. Essentially, the brain is the control center for health. Neuroplasticity has shown us that 'neurons that wire together, fire together'.
Essentially, the more you think a thought or dwell on something the more ingrained in our mind it becomes, both the good and the not so good.
Again, we become what we think! The good news is the brain has the ability to re-wire based off experience. Our thoughts, emotions, behaviors and experiences literally change the structure and function of our brain which directly impacts our health (3).
I don't know about you, but I desire to have a healthy mind. To see the good in things. To dwell on what's going well, and to be filled with joy.
If you think garbage thoughts, chances are you are going to feel like garbage regularly.
Anyone else relate to how getting stuck in negative thought patterns is exhausting?!
So What Can We Do To Renew Our Minds?!
1. It starts with increasing awareness of what we think about.
What thoughts do we think about on a regular basis?
What do we allow to enter our minds both consciously and consciously?
One of the greatest barriers to a flourishing mind is thought to be mindlessness, or a lack of presence: our mind is wandering without us even realizing it (4).
In our busy world full of technology addiction, stress, anxiety and disconnection it is easy to let our mind run rampant and to struggle with the ability to focus or regulate our emotions. There is so much stimulus competing for our attention and we often try to cram our schedules way too full. This impacts our ability to be aware of what is going on in our mind.
When our awareness and attention are weak, we are more easily pulled into unhealthy habitual thoughts and behaviors.
When we train our awareness, we are able to catch negative thought patterns quicker and redirect our attention to more life-giving thoughts to minimize the negative impact on our brain chemistry.
2. Learn to set our mind.
We have a choice!
How we respond to a situation is up to us.
"The ultimate freedom we have as individuals is the power to select what we will allow or require our minds to dwell upon and think about. By think we mean all the ways in which we are aware of things, including our memories, perceptions, and beliefs. The focus of your thoughts significantly affects everything else that happens in your life and evokes the feelings that frame your world and motivate your actions. Interestingly, we cannot evoke thoughts by feeling a certain way. But we can evoke - and to some degree - control our feelings by directing our thoughts." - Dallas Willard
It is empowering to know that even though I may not be able to control external factors in life, I do have control over how my mind responds, ultimately leading to how I feel emotionally. I desire to be that 'silver lining' person who always seems to have a good outlook on life despite what it has thrown at me.
3. Put simple practices and reminders into place daily.
Dr. Richie Davidson from The Center for Healthy Minds makes it clear that while helpful, the '50 minutes once a week' model is inefficient for bringing about the change we desire. It is daily practice and reminders that will ultimately help us re-wire the brain to reflect the changes we want.
So what can we do to start to renew our mind daily?!
Strategies to Begin to Take Control of Your Mind:
Start to notice whether your mind tends to pessimism or optimism. As you pay attention, try to change or choose your words carefully to reflect a more positive inner dialogue. For example, 'I don't have the skills to do this' could be changed to 'This will be a big learning curve, but I am a hard-worker and know I can develop the skills needed.'
Next reflect on past successes and wins. Positive psychology harnesses the good in our past as well as strengths we possess to help us apply that to our current situation. Some questions to consider are:
What led to your success in the past?
What did you learn from that experience?
Who helped you along your journey?
What resources have you used, can you use them again?
What strengths have you been blessed with that you can use in your current situation?
Practice Gratitude. There is so much information on gratitude floating around... But I think the key is practice and consistency. If we don't focus our mind on what is good and what we do have, we will never be satisfied. I truly believe in order to shift our minds we need to constantly call up things we are thankful for, even when it is tough.
Think good thoughts! A few examples to start to fill your mind with the good could be to stop and appreciate the beauty around you on a walk. To pause and truly enjoy the feeling of the sun warming your face. Taking time to listen to a beautiful song or music someone created. Take an art class to learn to see beauty in a new perspective.
Finally, invite a trusted friend into your journey. Negative thoughts, anxiety, stress & pessimism can be isolating, but often once brought into the open can help begin the process of change and healing. Life does not have to be lonely, but sometimes we need to take that first step towards vulnerability and openness. It's amazing how a quick conversation with a friend can change our our mental outlook!
At the end of the day, we have all bought into the lies that are whispered to us far too often.
Enough is enough!
Let's take back control of our thoughts and set our mind on things that are good.
As someone who has a faith, I feel called to be transformed into a new person by changing the way I think, or renewing my mind (5). I have been trying to fill my mind with things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy instead of strengthening the continual cycles of doubt and negativity (6).
Our brains did not wire towards negativity overnight, so be patient with yourself and accept that it is a process. If you continually work on these little changes new thought patterns will form!
Eventually, when things get tough, your default pattern won't be towards dark thoughts, but you will be able to take on a life-giving approach to the current struggle.
To work through things with grace and honesty instead of letting depression, anxiety and overwhelm take over.
Here's to leading a flourishing life, starting with the mind!
Diener E, Pressman SD, Hunter J, Delgadillo-Chase D. If, Why, and When Subjective Well-Being Influences Health, and Future Needed Research. Appl Psychol Health Well Being. 2017 Jul;9(2):133-167. doi: 10.1111/aphw.12090. PMID: 28707767.
Rozanski A, Bavishi C, Kubzansky LD, Cohen R. Association of Optimism With Cardiovascular Events and All-Cause Mortality: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. JAMA Netw Open. 2019 Sep 4; 2(9): e1912200. doi: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2019.12200. PMID: 31560385; PMCID: PMC6777240.
Leaf, C. (2013). Switch on your brain. The key to peak happiness, thinking, and health. Baker Books.
Ortberg, J. (2010) The me I want to be. Zondervan.
English Standard Version Bible (2001). Romans 12:2.
English Standard Version Bible (2001). Philippians 4:4-9.
Willard, D (2020) Life without lack. Nelson Books.