Last year, my husband announced that he wanted to buy a new sports car. My first reaction was annoyance. Although I didn’t overtly protest, my pouty body language and foot-dragging tactics made it clear I wasn’t on board.
Then I had an epiphany.
“He loves driving fun cars,” I told myself. “And he’s been incredibly responsible with our money through our marriage. Why would I want to deprive him of an activity that so obviously brings him joy?”
My outlook immediately brightened. I embraced his hobby and became a pleasant partner. The car, of course, remained the same. What drastically changed was my mindset.
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Our mindset is the constellation of beliefs we bring to an activity or event. In essence, it’s a filter that colors everything we see and do. For example, we may decide we’re not going to have fun at our 5-year-old nephew’s birthday party because we think he is spoiled by his parents.
Mindset is similar to its cousin prejudice. Each involves a predetermined cluster of ideals. But prejudice is focused toward a specific group of people or belief system, while mindset is centered on smaller, more randomly occurring events.
Most of the time, we’re unaware of the thought patterns residing in our brains. Instead, we think we’re responding to the stimuli cast our way. We tell ourselves, “I can’t control my feelings. Look what’s happening in my life.”
Once the thoughts are in place, we behave as if they were permanent. We tell ourselves that we can never lose weight, so it’s not worth trying to improve our level of fitness. Or we refuse to vote in any elections because we don’t think we have political clout.
It’s easy to see how mindsets gain a foothold. Some are based on repetitive events. We learn that a particular outcome is likely to happen, so we plan to respond accordingly before it ever takes place.
Others are based on perceptions. We interpret a set of data as we see fit, then behave as if it were an undeniable fact.
Still others arise from innate personality traits. If we tend to be inherently grumpy, our mindset will follow suit.
Certain mindsets are even valuable. They comprise a body of knowledge that enables us to assess a collection of facts in a timely manner without having to start from Square One.
Even so, mindsets should be treated with caution. At best, they provide a shortcut to a desired outcome. At their worst, they create stress, foster helplessness and lock us into destructive patterns. Ask yourself, “Is my life better because this thought is on my mental playlist?” If so, hang on. It seems to be working. If not, hit the delete key ASAP.
Change your negative mindset with these tips
Sort through your mental files. Decide which chronically bring you pain or interfere with your lifestyle. They shouldn’t be difficult to uncover. You’re probably on a first-name basis.
Enlist others’ input. Family members and loved ones are most impacted by your destructive thought patterns. Soliciting their suggestions helps you understand their point of view and focus your efforts where they’re needed most.
Understand why you cling to old beliefs. You hold on to archaic thoughts because they afford you some kind of advantage. Perhaps they allow you to play the role of victim. Or they keep you from seeing that you, too, are wrong. Thoughtfully sift through each disagreeable mindset. Yes, the process can be long and painful. But it’s imperative if you want to move on.
Replace outdated opinions. Take one specific thought pattern and ask, “Is this relevant any longer? Or can I exchange it for a contemporary image that brings me more satisfaction and peace?”
Be patient. Unproductive thought patterns didn’t develop overnight. New ones won’t be ingrained instantaneously, either. Hang in there. It’s a process you’ll be perfecting for the rest of your days.
Find pleasure in your daily life. While you’re busy discarding unhealthy thoughts, reset your emotional baseline. Make joy and gratitude your new default mode. Then enjoy the view through those rose-colored glasses.
Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her, visit lindalewisgriffith.com