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Mindful Positivity.

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Mindful Positivity.

picture of woman with her arms wide

I do lots of thinking, reading, listening and talking about wellbeing and mental health. It is a core part of my role, a focus in my volunteering activity, and something that personally I am fascinated by, so it’s not a surprise.

Over the last year it’s also become a topic of broader interest across society and within organisations, and as a consequence the prevalence of conversations about it through blogs, books, podcasts, online events, groups and so on has increased, and I have been soaking it all up. There have been plenty of different angles too: climate and sustainability; compassion and kindness; physical activity; neuroscience; spirituality… Essentially, everything we do comes back to our mental health and wellbeing; a conclusion I am delighted has finally permeated the collective conscience.

As it is University Mental Health Day on Thursday 4th March, I figured this was an opportune moment to share my reflections from my year of wellbeing immersion. Whilst each speaker or writer has a perspective and a context within which they offer their view, I have noticed three key practices running through them all, almost without fail. And they show up collectively through what I am calling “Mindful Positivity“. Mindful because it is a conscious and aware practice, and Positivity because it is rooted in an optimistic or strengths-based outlook.

  1. Gratitude

The first of the three practices is a mindful positivity about the past (far and near), a conscious recognition of those moments, things or people in our lives for which we are grateful. Our lizard brains search for threats and challenges and that keeps us safe by highlighting to us the dangers or issues we face. However, the challenge arises when that is all we focus on, and we get tricked into thinking that is the entirety of our existence. Yes, times are tough. Yes, the things we are dealing with are hard, and I do not wish in any way to minimise that. But we can help our mammalian brains to also notice the good, and a regular gratitude practice has been shown to improve our wellbeing. Extending that practice to others – telling them how you are grateful for them – means that, not only do you benefit, but they do as well. Win-Win.

Being grateful for what the day brings, every day, can fit into every context, and, be big and significant, or small and cumulative: be grateful for the emerging Spring, for the mug of tea in your hand, to your team for delivering on that project, for the cuddle from your cat, your favourite woolly hat, the last slice of cake you savoured, for the book you borrowed from your neighbour, for the love you feel from your God (whichever one they may be). Take a moment, every day, to be grateful and say “thank you”. It might sound non-descript or, dare I say it, too easy. But isn’t that the beauty of it…we can all do it if we actively turn our minds to it: a small gesture with a big impact.

  1. Meditate

A meditative practice, whatever that looks like for you, is a way of connecting to yourself, enhancing your self awareness, recognising what you are feeling right now, and finding a sense of acceptance with that. It is the mindful positivity of the present. Whilst meditation can conjure up images of cross-legged monks or incense-soaked hipsters, it is more simply:

A practice where an individual uses a technique – such as mindfulness, or focusing the mind on a particular object, thought, or activity – to train attention and awareness, and achieve a mentally clear and emotionally calm and stable state.

Wikipedia

Training our minds to be present and notice what is going on for us helps us to respond in the moment thoughtfully and with positive intent, instead of reacting with sometimes less positive impact. A meditative practice might simply be a breathing technique if you can feel yourself getting anxious, a regular moment for pause, an activity such as running or listening to music, or it might be a more developed mindfulness habit. It might even be something quite different – my teenage daughter has just excitedly shared her experience of her online chemistry lesson this afternoon (something she usually dreads) but this time she hula hooped whilst listening… which seemed to help her connect without frustration, and afterwards complete the set tasks quickly and correctly. She found a technique that allowed her to be present and aware, quieten those emotions she found distracting, and then respond positively.

  1. Rational Optimism

The final practice is mindful positivity for your future. Note both words in this one; optimism alone won’t always be your guide in best next steps, because a blind faith in a rosy future can be deceiving. However, combining that positivity with rational, purposeful action – built mindfully and consciously on your values and strengths, helps you feel empowered in your life. A key ingredient in motivation and life satisfaction.

Rational optimists believe that mindset matters, but they also recognize that reality is part of the formula. You must change reality, not just wish it away.

Shawn Achor

Whilst not everything in our lives is within our control, and we are influenced by others around us, by our personality, by our genetics and past experiences, the key point here is that all of these practices are within our grasp. Make them a habit: be grateful for what has been; notice and accept what is now; and be active in creating what is to come. These mindfully positive practices seem to me to be the key to wellbeing.

I’d love to know what you think too – get in touch or comment below. Don’t forget we have a wealth of support and resources for staff too.

Juliet Flynn, People, Culture and Inclusion Team

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2 comments on “Mindful Positivity

  1. I have to admit practising gratitude and meditation has been very beneficial for me. The rational optimism is something I am working on improving (and I think it’ll take a while because looking ahead is tough at the moment).

    Recently I went to a workshop about preparing for mental health “off days” and I found it useful. I noticed when I feel particularly low and hopeless, practising gratitude feels challenging and meditation is unsettling so the workshop was aimed to help me me plan for those days. It reminded me of going shopping; when I go shopping when I’m hungry I reach for quick snacks but when I’m feeling OK I plan my meals thoroughly. So now when I am struggling I have a couple of mental health “quick snacks” to get my energy up to a point when I feel able to practice gratitude and meditate.

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience Nina, and I love the concept of preparing for mental health “off days”, what a great way to view it, and to have different practices ready for those moments.

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