Ask the experts: How can I develop a more positive mindset?
After the year we’ve had, it’s understandable that positivity isn’t flowing as freely as it perhaps once was. With Christmas coming up and uncertainty clouding potential plans, some of us are feeling low. While a positive mindset won’t solve all your problems, there are ways we can pick ourselves up and feel better about what’s to come.
Here, hypnotherapist Howard Cooper shares his advice with us on developing a more positive mindset, being present and letting go of the need for everything to be perfect.
I know Christmas won’t be the same this year and it’s really getting me down, how can I let go of my expectations and enjoy the holiday season?
Back in November 2019 how did you feel about 2020? Positive, right? Looking forward to a fresh New Year. What did that positive feeling actually tell you? Did it actually tell you anything about how 2020 was actually going to pan out? No! Perhaps those feelings that ‘Christmas will be a let down’ aren’t also entirely accurate.
Imagining your ideal festive period, focusing on the past and what you loved most about it before, and then ruminating over all the reasons it can’t be like that this year, is a sure-fire way to set yourself up for disappointment. Essentially, what you’re doing is getting caught up in a mental narrative of what isn’t happening.
Instead, try to experience what is going on right now. Live in the moment. What if the best present to give yourself this Christmas is the gift of ‘being present’?
I’m finding it hard to focus on the positives right now, do you have any exercises or suggestions that could help?
Stop and close your eyes and say to yourself, “I have to relax right now”. Notice how that feels. Now repeat this same exercise but this time say to yourself, “I’d like to relax“. Notice the difference. Which of these experiences helped you to relax more? The second one, right?
The “have to” and the “right now”, likely felt like a demand you were placing on yourself, which usually creates much more tension in the body (making it much less likely for relaxation to occur). So what if you stopped demanding that you must focus on positives right now?
Perhaps letting go of the need to be positive right now is the thing that’s getting in your way. Instead explore the idea that even though “you’d like to feel positive” you don’t have to be.
I keep getting sucked into watching the news and falling into negative thought spirals, how can I stop?
If my six-year-old son walked into my bedroom and said, “Daddy, Daddy, there’s a monster under my bed!”, how reassuring would it be if I replied to him, “There’s no monster, but whatever you do, don’t look at it”? Clearly telling him not to look at it would actually give the monster more credibility (I’d be treating it like it really was a threat).
Remember, it’s not the news that causes you anxiety, but your response to it. Specifically, it’s you imagining worst case scenarios unfolding and then getting too absorbed into those thoughts.
So negative thinking doesn’t have to stop us being happy. The problem is thinking negatively and then forgetting you’re ‘just thinking’. Practising meditation and paying attention to “thinking” can help you realise that thoughts ‘in and of themselves’ do not pose any threat to you.
I know I need support with changing my mindset and have heard good things about hypnotherapy, can you tell me more about how it helps?
Have you ever had the experience where someone takes a blackboard and scrapes their fingernails down it so that it makes that sound? In fact, even just reading that sentence probably gave you a real squirmy feeling inside!
But what was that squirmy response in relation to? It can’t have been from a scraping sound as it wasn’t really happening. Instead, all that happened was that, when you read the sentence, at some level you imagined the blackboard and fingernails interacting and became so absorbed in this thought that you responded to it as though it were real.
That is hypnosis – imagination made so vivid you have a real response to it. Now what if you could learn to harness that power, so you could get so good at imagining success, happiness and positivity that your body responds to those instead?
My friend has been feeling very low recently, how can I help them feel more optimistic?
“Be there for them!” You may have heard this advice being bandied around but what does that actually mean?
Let them know you are there to support them. Let them know they can speak to you without judgement. Stay away from platitudes like, “just take some deep breaths”, “just think positive”, or “try to distract yourself”. This advice often backfires and can make them feel like you don’t understand them or their experience.
You can also suggest that they seek professional help if it goes on for a while (or their feelings become intrusive to the ongoing quality of their life). And finally, there’s a lot of pressure in today’s society to be perfect so why not share your own feelings and vulnerabilities with them so that they know no one is perfect? Lead by your non-perfect example.
Top tips for staying positive:
1. Let go of demands. Is there a universal law that says all people have to be positive? No! However, putting a lot of pressure on yourself to always be positive, ironically creates more tension. Instead, accept that feelings and thoughts come and go without trying to control them. Practising this mindset will lead to much more internal peace.
2. The past doesn’t equal the future. Often thoughts of past failures colour one’s perceptions of how we think our future will unfold. But don’t fall for this illusion. Seeing mental images that we label “the past” as ‘fleeting constructs in our mind’ helps liberate you from this trick.
3. Be kind to yourself. You don’t have to climb Mount Everest, solve ‘world peace’ or be productive all the time. Cut yourself some slack and give yourself permission for regular mental downtime.
Howard Cooper is one of Britain’s leading ‘Rapid Change’ experts. A qualified hypnotherapist and Master Practitioner in Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), he specialises in helping people create rapid shifts in their thinking.
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