What is all this talk about having a positive mindset? Is it really worth all the hype? What exactly do people mean when they say, adopt a positive mindset? It’s easy for an ambiguous concept like this seem hokey-pokey. So let’s clarify some things.
Put simply, a mindset is our set of beliefs and attitudes about ourselves and the world around us. Much of what we experience comes to us in the form of stimuli: sights, sounds, smells, textures, etc. All of this stimulus is raw data, and without any context is pretty useless. It’s one of the many jobs of our brain to interpret and make sense of what’s going on around us. If we burn ourselves on a hot stove, the pain on our skin is the raw data and our brain interprets that the stove is too hot to touch safely. The result is that we quickly pull away to prevent any further harm. Our brain receives the stimuli and generates a story about what’s happening. Based on this story, we feel some sort of emotion and are inclined to take an action.
Your mindset fits into this process as a special kind of lens through which you interpret all the data. All of your experiences pass through this lens before you can generate a story about what’s happening.
Here’s why mindset is so sneakily important: the stories you create about your world inform the emotions you will feel. If your brain generates negative stories, then you’ll feel negative emotions. (Sadness, worry, fear, anxiety, etc.) Vice versa, if your brain generates positive stories, you’ll feel positive emotions. (Happiness, anticipation, excitement, etc.)
Mindset is important because it alters these stories in your brain. It literally changes the way you experience the world. If you have a negative mindset, all the stimulus you experience—whether it’s facing a deadline at work or receiving a compliment from a stranger—will be interpreted as negative. Our reaction to those previous scenarios might look like this:
[work deadline] “There’s so much work to do I’ll never finish.”
[compliment from stranger] “I hate how I look in this outfit, that person must have just been saying that to be polite.”)
On the other hand, if you have a positive mindset then all of the stimulus will be interpreted more positively.[work deadline] “This is a chance to prove myself for that promotion.” [compliment from stranger] “I’m so happy my hard work in the gym is paying off and people are noticing.”
To be clear, the mindset lens only influences the stories about your world, but it doesn’t completely change them. Life is still tough and there will be moments of extreme hardship. Adopting a positive mindset will not make the world all sunshine and rainbows, but it will put more sunshine and rainbows in your life.
As powerful as the right mindset can be, how can you begin to adopt a more positive lens? Below you’ll find three not-so-common strategies to begin changing the way you see yourself and the world around you. (This advice was pulled from author Robert Greene in his book, “The Laws of Human Nature.”)
Adopt An Explorer Mindset
Explorers leave certainty behind. They approach things with an open mind, a playful curiosity. Explorers are more concerned with connection than in being right. Explorers want to be challenged so they can learn.
What does it mean? Create a sense of curiosity and openness toward new experiences. Doing so will allow you to focus on learning and not on protecting your ego. A bullheaded ego keeps you trapped in a negative mindset.
Embrace Adversity as Mental Strength Training
Negative experiences lead most people to restrict what they see and experience, avoiding further adversity at all costs. Instead, embrace these obstacles as learning experiences, as a means for getting stronger.
What does it mean? Most people shut down when things get tough. Instead, change the narrative to explore what these tough times can teach you about yourself, your perseverance, and how they make you stronger for the next time. Mental stress is a matter of perspective.
Be a Little Less Humble
Placing limits on yourself and your capabilities often lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy. This self-humility is seldom of any use. By believing you are destined for more, that you are destined for something great, you will develop a sense of resiliency against those who oppose you.
What does it mean? Develop a strong sense of self-efficacy. If you believe you have the power to change your circumstances and meet your highest aspirations, then you will be more likely to bet on yourself. When betting on a risk, where better to place all your chips than on yourself?
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