If you spend any time on social media browsing your newsfeed, you’ll come across your fair share of posts about having a positive mindset.

These tend to fall into one of two categories:

  • Telling you to adopt a positive mindset
  • Showing you how positive the mindset of the poster is

Please don’t get me wrong – I’m not being critical of these. Very often I’ll come across a quote or someone’s ‘take’ on this, and it adds a little something to my day, which is great in its own right.

But as an ‘over-thinker’, I found myself realising they were very much focussed on the ‘Why’ and the ‘What’ – and not so much on the ‘How’.

If we only consume posts that are focussed on the ‘Why’ – the danger is that ‘having a positive mindset’ becomes like those New Years fitness resolutions.

You know the ones: “I’m going to get fit and I’ll never be unfit again. I’ll never suffer from a lack of motivation, I’ll never get injured or be sick, I’ll never go on holiday and struggle to get back into my routine.” Then life happens (while you’re making other plans) and you go from Hero to Zero.

For many people, you can replace ‘getting fit’ with ‘having a positive mindset’ and write almost exactly the same paragraph.


Searching for Mindset Perfection

If you are struggling with having and keeping a positive mindset, it might help to look at it from a different perspective.

The most important thing is to understand that a positive mindset is not the starting point of anything – it’s the end result of the way you live your life.

It’s not about searching for perfection and it’s not as simple as being happy. It’s about being the best version of you at any particular point in time. For me, that’s being proactive, constructive, and kind. What would it be for you?

The real question is: what can I do that might reduce the frequency of bouts of negative thinking, how long they last and also make them less impactful?


Try using the phrase ‘mental fitness’ rather than ‘positive mindset’

The lightbulb moment for me came when I did some work with Shirzad Chamine of the Positive Intelligence organisation.

Shirzad’s book makes the point that a positive mindset (or Positive Intelligence as he frames it) is something we can develop with practice and exercise.

So, it isn’t a question of having it or not having it. It’s not a fixed state or quantity. It’s something that can be strengthened just as it is something that can wither.


When it comes to mental fitness, the focus should be on prevention rather than cure.

If having a positive mindset is something that can be strengthened and can also weaken, it stands to reason that prevention is a better long-term strategy than trying to find the ‘cure’ when you’re struggling.

Think about it for a moment.

If you’ve ever found yourself in a ‘mood trough’ you’ll know how hard it is to ‘think positive’. Very often that will produce the exact opposite of the desired result.

In effect, as well-intentioned as it undoubtedly is, it is easier said than done.

The real question is: if I wanted to maximise my chances of having a great mental attitude in 3 months’ time, what should I be doing between now and then?


How do you exercise your ‘mental fitness’ muscle?

There is no quick fix to this and of course it’s all relative. Some people are naturally more optimistic in nature, some more pre-disposed to being constructive and taking action.

But wherever you are on the scale, you can improve.

The following is a list of 10 things that if you do them, will inevitably lead to fewer ‘down days’ and more days spent as ‘you on a great day’.

As always, the more you put in the more you get out.


1 Drink water, eat well and have a routine that helps you sleep.

I know, it’s too blindingly obvious for words, right?

But think of it this way. If you wanted to torture someone (and for legal purposes I’d strongly advise you don’t) you’d want to start by depriving the subject of exactly these things. This would have the impact of reducing their equilibrium and resilience – and therefore more prone to ‘giving in’.

It makes sense that the less you deprive yourself of them, the better.


2 Exercise and get some fresh air.


Similar to the one above, this is obvious. It’s also known about by way more people than actually follow it.

You don’t have to be a gym rat, MAMIL or Forrest Gump.

Get a dog, buy a rowing machine, walk to work or between meetings.

The French have a saying “1 day of walking equals 8 days of health.” Aside from the gallic quirk of using ‘8 days’ to mean 1 week (no, me neither) the point is obvious. And as it happens, true.

This may seem outrageously inefficient to your business-owning brain, but having this as part of your routine will lead to fewer down days, more energy and more ‘space’ for those innovative brain-waves to pop into your head.


3 Practice the art of controlling your thoughts.

Yikes – he’s gone full Yoda!

Bear with me.

If you’d told me 20 years ago that I’d be a fan of mediation I probably would’ve laughed. The image in my head would’ve been of some West Coast pseudo-hippie, sat on a rock, probably in a loin-cloth … you get the drift. The type of person who didn’t have trivial things to worry about, like running a business.

Then I read a book called The Headspace Guide to Meditation and Mindfulness by Andy Puddicombe and a penny dropped. Meditation is simply (as I understand it) a means to becoming more mindful. In other words, to becoming more aware of what’s in your head.

I suppose that’s why I said ‘yes’ to the offer of an introductory 3-month course run by my colleague Roger Pemberton. It wasn’t hugely onerous – probably 30 mins work a day on average.

And the results were surprising to say the least.

I became aware of negative thoughts almost as soon as they arose and was able to nip them in the bud, leaving me feeling more ‘on an even keel’ than normal (I believe this is what they refer to as ‘centred’).

I also noticed a distinct increase in innovative ideas for work and life that randomly popped into my head.

It’s a no-brainer. (sorry)


4. Make time (weekly) to think and plan.

Yep, I’ve put a time management / planning tip in an article on developing a positive mindset – what’s up with that?

Think of it in the reverse. If you never do this, you’ll be more prone to feeling like a hamster on a wheel – and they run out of steam.

Doing this will help you feel more in control and more proactive. And by planning ahead and making time to do things that make a difference to your business you will also get better results.

And these two things will inevitably lead to …?


5. Sharpen the saw

In his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen R Covey talks about this.

This could be learning new skills, reading books, listening to podcasts.

And yet it’s more than just work.  This could be anything that leaves you feeling more energised as well as more competent. Booking that sailing weekend; going on that city break or walking trip; learning how to cook the perfect pizza.

If you won’t make time to do the things that rejuvenate you, you’ll have to make time for those dips into negative moods and thinking.


6. Circles of Influence

Sir Clive Woodward used to speak about people being either Radiators or Drains when it comes to energy. More recently I’ve heard him refer to Sponges and Rocks which brings to mind Carol Dweck’s Growth Mindset.

Either way, you’ll know people who fall into both categories.

I wouldn’t go so far as to advise ditching people from your lives if they’re Drains or Rocks. They might be old mates, or your spouse. But you can prioritise those people who nourish you.


7. Develop your golden mantras

If you have the habit of reacting emotionally to situations and later wishing you’d reacted in a different way, try asking yourself a question to give you chance to stop and adjust.

  1. What’s my ideal outcome? This is from ‘7 Habits’ and it will help you ignore trivial urges to ‘stand your ground’ or ‘get your point across’ and instead to be constructive.
  2. How would I act if I genuinely cared about this person? This is a prompt to be kind to everyone and not just the people you know and care about. You’ll also find you can actually challenge people harder if you come from this starting point.
  3. Who do I know who could help with this? This is great if you have that tendency to go into your bunker – it’ll also get you thinking constructively because those people are more likely to be able to help if you’ve already made a start yourself.

You’ll have your own ideal questions to help you stop and choose your response. It’s well worth making a note of them until they become ingrained.


8. Wherever you are, be there

I picked this up at a workshop with Marcus Sheridan and it’s a cleaner way of expressing on old thought of mine.

It’s an important part of business to look forward, anticipate and plan. But those who spend too much time ‘in the future’ will be susceptible to feelings of anxiety.

It’s also important to review what’s happened to learn lessons and incorporate those into current actions. But those who spend too much time dwelling on the past will be susceptible to depression.

The present is called that because it’s a gift.

That’ll be schmalzy for some but it’s true.

When you devote yourself entirely to whatever you are doing in that moment, you’ll be in your best gear. And that’s a habit you can get into.


9. Be congruent

To be congruent is ‘to be in harmony with’.

I interpret this as the extent to which your outside matches your inside.

This could mean the values you claim to follow or urge your team to adopt.

And it could be as simple as doing the things you said you would – or know you should.

When we make a promise to ourselves (or others) but don’t follow it through, it chips a little bit of our personal-integrity (and therefore positive mindset) away.

When you make a promise and then do what you say you will do, it adds a little bit to both.


10. Be kind to yourself.

Having a strong and positive mindset isn’t starting point, it’s the result of everything else you do and think.

If you lapse into thinking that it’s a starting point – or even worse something you either have or don’t – what happens on the days you don’t have it?

You’ll have forced yourself into a sequence of thinking that doesn’t end up anywhere pretty.

You’re allowed off-days. Denying that will only make them worse and more frequent.

Building a positive mindset won’t stop bad things happening in your life.

What it does mean is that fewer things knock you ‘off balance’, and when they do, it doesn’t last as long or hit you as hard.


If you’d like to discuss how to apply any of these ideas, feel free to book in for free a zoom call.

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