There have been many times in my life that I’ve been faced with a challenge, and struggled to overcome negative thinking. Know what I’m talking about? Anxiety and negative thinking are incredibly common, yet they don’t have to hinder us. If you’re looking to manifest positive change in your life, all it takes are a few simple steps.
1) Practice gratitude daily
When our minds are negative, anxious, or cluttered, we are constantly finding what went or could go wrong, what needs to be fixed, and overwhelmed. In this mental state, it can seem as though a positive path forward is impossible. So starting small is essential to opening up our minds to a more positive state.
One of the best ways to do this is by cultivating a daily gratitude practice. If you find yourself waking up anxious about the day, try this instead of letting those anxious thoughts build on each other: take a deep breath, in and out, and picture three things you’re grateful for in your life.
Those three things could be as simple as, the clean, running water we have access to that so many in the world don’t, or as big as your parents still being in your life. Keep a journal next to your bedside so you can write these three things down as you picture them each morning, and revisit them when you’re struggling with negativity, especially if you’re waking up at night with anxiety.
Slowly over time, you’ll start to retrain your brain to consider all the positive things you already have going for you, even when you’re struggling with an issue or challenge in life.
2) Spend 30 minutes a day going for a walk outside
Most humans know, even if we’re not good about consistently practicing it, that daily exercise is good for our mental and physical health. A big part of that is simply getting outside: whether you have a regular gym habit or not, we all benefit from moving our bodies out in nature.
- Researchers from UC Berkeley have linked the positive emotions we experience when in awe of natural beauty with lower levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines, which are proteins that force our immune system to work harder
- Just like plants, humans metabolize sunlight. And while it’s important we protect ourselves from the harmful effects of the sun’s rays, there are some vital health benefits to be gained from a moderate amount of sun exposure — even just getting outside and seeing the sun out in the middle of winter can lift our mood positively. Sun exposure lowers blood pressure, improves bone health and brain function, and lifts moderate depression by helping us produce more serotonin, one of our brain’s mood-lifting chemicals.
- A new report from the Institute for European Environmental Policy studied the link between nature and our well-being. They found, in their London study, that doctors prescribed fewer antidepressants to people who lived in urban areas with more trees. And in their Denmark study, people living within 330 yards of green space were less likely to be obese and more likely to exercise.
You’ll find that simply spending 30 minutes a day walking around your neighborhood, the local park, or over your lunch break, will help lift your mood and even comes with the added benefit of improving your physical well-being. A win-win.
3) Practice forgiveness and self-compassion
Similar to practicing gratitude daily, when looking to manifest positive change in ourselves and our lives, it’s important to be kind to ourselves. We may do the little things of self-care, brushing our teeth, showering, eating balanced meals, and even working out, but what about the internal work? If you find yourself in a negative spiral, mad again at yourself for not enacting change or for making even a small little mistake, again, stop and take a deep breath.
Breathe in and breathe out and tell yourself, it’s okay. I’m okay. I can fix this and I am not a bad person because of this.
We may be kind to everyone around us but if we aren’t kind to ourselves, it’s hard to experience happiness. But we’re all just human! Remind yourself of this next time you find yourself beating yourself up.
4) Create a vision board
If you’re looking for a tool to help you go from saying “I want a better life” to envisioning what that looks like and turning it into an actionable goal, vision boards are terrific. More than just pretty collages, vision boards force us to think both critically and sequentially and are a powerful method of attaching emotion to our goals, giving us something to direct and focus our energy on.
Creating a vision board helps you think through what it is you want out of life, and then create a plan towards attaining that, which is beneficial when you’re struggling with negative and anxious thinking, or even simply inaction.
5) Foster positivity by training your brain
It is indeed possible to retrain your brain to think positively, and steps like building gratitude and self-forgiveness are a big part of that. So start small and think of manifesting positive change as a daily exercise. Kaia Roman, author of The Joy Plan, says, “Transformation doesn’t come from the light. It comes from moving through the darkness.”
If you’re feeling hopeless, powerless, rudderless, or lethargic, know that flexing and building our positive emotional muscles takes time, but even tiny steps build up to greater change. Consider this — our brain produces the chemical dopamine as a reward, and low levels of dopamine have been linked to lower levels of motivation.
But by setting up incremental goals for ourselves, we can actually train our brains to create dopamine and positively reinforce us each time we meet one of those tiny goals.
So it is possible to retrain our brains, and foster positivity that will build and build on itself in place of negativity. All it takes is that tiny first step.