How to Get Your Mind Right

Yes, I’m still here.

I’m on a particularly difficult leg of my journey that’s kept me behind closed doors and really, a closed heart. I’m working on it though, and being mindful of the universe and it’s messages, I was led to this incredible post by Entheos.

Positive thinking and optimism are two goals that elude and challenge me on a daily basis. It’s incredible how something so simple at its core can be difficult to embody. The obstacles are everywhere. Negative work environments. Financial woes. Toxic relationships. Unhealthy and inactive lifestyles. And those pale in comparison to the walls we put up internally that keep us trapped in a cycle of fear and immobility.

The unpredictability of my personal journey this past year has left me feeling somewhat bewildered. I strive to keep my eyes open to the signs that will hopefully lead me to a new cycle of love, gratitude, and a celebration of self.

This post by Brian Johnson from the Entheos Academy is one of those signs. I’ll take it where I can get it.

Are you actively working towards optimal living? If so, how are you reaching your goals? What words of wisdom can you share?

As always, stay healthy and keep paying it forward! 🙂

How to Get Your Mind Right

“Your mind will be like its habitual thoughts; for the soul becomes dyed with the color of its thoughts. Soak it then in such trains of thoughts as, for example: Where life is possible at all, a right life is possible.” – Marcus Aurelius

Optimism. It’s huge. In fact, everyone from old-school philosophers to modern-day scientists tell us that being able to put our attention where we want when we want is one of THE keys to optimal living.

Before we jump into my Top 10 Big Ideas on how to get your mind right, let’s get a handle on what optimism isn’t!

== What Optimism Isn’t  ==

1. ANTs, Teflon & Velcro. Researchers like to say that we have “automatic negative thoughts.” They call them ANTs for short. (Apparently we have 60,000 thoughts/day. 95% of them are the same as yesterday. 80% of them are negative. That’s 45,000 ANTs/day!! Yikes.)

Unfortunately, our brains evolved to be “Velcro” for the negative stuff and “Teflon” for the good stuff. It was helpful for our survival but now? Not so much. We need to use some organic “ANT spray” on the automatic negative thoughts and create some automatic positive thoughts instead.

“Our life is shaped by our mind; we become what we think.”  
– Buddha

2. Monkeys & Cars

–> Monkeys. Eastern philosophers like to say that when we’re stressed, it’s as if we have little out of control monkeys in our minds swinging from thought to thought to thought to thought to thought to endless looping thought. When we’re really stressed, it’s as if the monkeys are drunk! And they’re a little crazy! And they act like they just got stung by a scorpion! Yowsers. Know this: a) it’s normal + b) you can do something about it.

–> Cars. In Sanskrit, the word dukkha means suffering. It comes from two little words that describe a wheel that isn’t spinning properly. Imagine driving a sweet car with a wheel that won’t spin. You’re going to have problems. That’s EXACTLY what happens when our MINDS get stuck on a certain problem. We screech to a halt and suffer. Another way to look at it: Imagine having that sweet car with 4 good wheels but, unfortunately, you’re stuck in 1st gear. Or 5th gear. Or reverse. D’oh. Same thing. We suffer when we’re stuck!!

3. Learned Helplessness vs. Learned Optimism. Martin Seligman, the godfather of the Positive Psychology movement and resident genius of the University of Pennsylvania, studied helplessness. Fascinating research. He could expose dogs (and people!) to shocks and create “helplessness.” But he noticed that some people NEVER dropped into helplessness. They were optimistic. We need to learn what they do.

Helpful Distinctions:

Victim vs. Creator. There are basically two ways we can orient to the world: as a victim or as a creator. Scientists call this an “external locus of control” vs. an “internal locus of control.” It’s *really* important that we know that we always have the ability to choose an empowered response—that we have an internal locus of control and that our happiness is not determined by things that happen to us (external) but by how we choose to respond to those events (internal).

Growth vs. Fixed Mindset. Quit trying to “prove” yourself and have fun “improving” yourself! Celebrate the effort you put in and let go of the results!

Time to Hit the Optimism Gym. First thing we need to know: Scientists tell us that even if we’re currently a little more cranky and pessimistic than we’d like, we CAN become more optimistic.

How? We build our optimism the same way we build our muscles: Via consistent training! So, let’s hit the optimism gym.

The Top 10 Big Ideas

1. Choose the Most Empowered Response.

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing; the last of the human freedoms— to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” – Viktor FranklWe’re always interpreting the world. We can choose more or less empowered ways to see life. As we just discussed, the key to happiness is gaining more control over your responses. Stepping in between stimulus and response. Here’s a fun game: Something stressful happens. Now, notice that you’re feeling a little edgy and see if you can STOP. Not respond in a habitual negative way but CHOOSE a more empowered response.See the Silver Lining. Scientists agree with the old adage that every cloud has a silver lining. The fact is, the sun is always shining behind every cloud. There’s *always* a silver lining to any challenge we might be facing. We just need to look for it!10 out of 10 philosophers + psychologists agree: Making this a regular practice is a very (!) wise idea.

2. Put Your Bouncers & Attorneys to Work.

“The Master said, If out of the three hundred songs I had to take one phrase to cover all my teachings, I would say ‘Let there be no evil in your thoughts.’”  – ConfuciusAttorneys. Imagine two attorneys in your mind: one arguing for all your limitations, the other arguing on behalf of all your awesomeness. Which attorney will win? Whichever one you pay the most! (You pay them by the amount of attention you give them.)Bouncers. Give that attorney some extra support by hiring a bouncer for your mind. Only thoughts on the invite list get in. Bad thoughts? They’re kept out. Bam!One practical way to do that: cognitive therapists say: Write down your negative thoughts and challenge them!

3. Be Grateful.

Gratitude is scientifically proven to be one of the easiest and most effective ways to significantly and sustainably boost our happiness.Stanford-trained Ph.D. Sonja Lyubomirsky can bring peeps into her lab and split them into two groups: One group keeps track of things they’re grateful for once a week for six weeks. The other group just writes down random stuff. 6 weeks later, guess who’s happier?The grateful group. By 25%!!!What what? Yes. It’s true. Something as simple as jotting down 5 things you’re grateful for once a week can boost your happiness levels by 25%. Kinda makes you want to keep track of awesome things, eh?We can practice this throughout the day by engaging in what the guys who wrote The Tools (phenomenal book!) call “grateful flow.”

Anytime you’re feeling your inner Crankysaurus Rex rearing its head, step back and imagine all the amazing things you’re grateful for. That’s grateful flow. It’s awesome.

4. Think About What Went Well Today.

Savoring. It’s one of the most powerful ways to stop taking things for granted and really appreciate life. Take the time to appreciate the little things in your life that are wonderful—from a beautiful sunset to a kind word from a friend.Here’s a practical tool: Use the What Went Well exercise. It’s one of Martin Seligman’s top recommendations. Every day this week before you go to bed, write down three things that went well that day and why they went well. From the mundane to the sublime. Huge.

5. Play the Equanimity Game.

“When force of circumstance upsets your equanimity, lose no time in recovering your self- control, and do not remain out of tune longer than you can help. Habitual recurrence to the harmony will increase your mastery of it.” – Marcus AureliusRemember that old Emperor guy in the movie Gladiator? That was Marcus Aurelius. (Gotta love Emperor-Philosophers, eh?)Aurelius faced a lot of challenges. His peeps would often die from pestilence, get attacked by barbarians, that sort of thing.He liked to play a game with himself. Any time he found himself off balance, he’d see how fast he could get back on balance and maintain his equaniminity (favorite word: it comes from the Latin “balanced” + “mind”).

Next time you get off balance, see how fast you can get back on balance. Make it a game!

6. Look at You vs. The Size of Your Problems.

Do you have a really big problem in your life?Well, hate to break it to you but that likely means that you’re being a really small person! :0We want to have fun noticing when we’re being ant-sized people and letting little molehills look like mountains.The key to dealing with bigger and bigger challenges with grace and ease is to become a BIGGER person. (How? Live your ideals!!)

7. Find What’s Funny.

Things not going great? Can you find something funny about it?Because there’s almost *always* something kinda funny about the little annoyances in our life.When I was getting ready to teach a class on Optimism last year, our dog decided to take a poop on us in the car (ew!) on our way to the pediatrician with our new little baby.Now, that was unfortunate! (Laughing.)My wife Alexandra and I knew that we could choose to either get upset about it or not. We chose to see that it was kinda funny and laughed as we cleaned it all up.

Going to laugh about this in 10 years?

Why wait? 🙂

8. Use Some Mind Tools (aka Mantras).

Just like Western scientists, Eastern gurus tell us that we can shape our minds. They have a lot of ways to do it. One of the ways they really like is thru the use of what they call mantras.The word mantra is Sanskrit. It comes from two little words man + tra. It basically means “mind tool.” How cool is that?Little mantras/mind tools like “Thank you thank you thank you!” or “I fearlessly approach any and all challenges. I fearlessly approach any and all challenges” can literally reshape our minds.It’s kinda like taking a little screwdriver to our brain and tightening it all up in there.

Good: “I believe that we will win. I believe that we will win.”Not so good: “I’m an idiot. I’m an idiot. I’m an idiot.”

9. Meditate.

The most powerful way to train your attention?Meditation. Period.It’s like going to the gym for your mind. Even if it’s just for a minute a day, PRACTICE! It’s fun. 12-15 and you just might start altering your DNA! :)(Check out my class on How to Meditate without Moving to the Himalayas for more goodness here.)

10. Practice, Practice, Practice.

“All that is required to become an optimist is to have the goal and to practice it. The more you rehearse optimistic thoughts, the more ‘natural’ and ‘ingrained’ they will become. With time they will be part of you, and you will have made yourself into an altogether different person.” – Sonja Lyubomirsky

Now, all of these ideas are nice, but if we don’t PRACTICE them they’re useless.We can’t expect to try them out once in a while and get results. That’s kinda like Ben Stiller’s character in Zoolander who goes into the coal mine, works for 5 minutes and then comes out thinking he has black lung.Uh, yah.We need to work diligently, patiently and persistently at *anything* we want to master and there’s nothing more important to master than our minds.Buddha tells us that little by little a person becomes good just as a water pot is filled with water. We need to add little drops day in and day out and as we do that, our water pots will be brimming with joy and happiness and mojo and all things good.


  1. Gratitude journal. Write down 5 things you’re grateful for. Really feel into it. Do that once a week and watch your happiness soar.
  2. Practice choosing a more empowered response! Can you think of an incident over the last 72 hours when you might have gotten a little more stressed than useful? How could you have responded differently? Think about that and practice this week!
  3. Play the equanimity game! Find yourself off balance? See how fast you can get back on balance. Take a deep breath, notice your thoughts and get your mind balanced!
  4. Are you facing any challenges in your life right now? What’s the silver lining? What lesson or benefit might be hidden in the challenge?
  5. What was your favorite Big Idea? How can you start practicing it in your life starting TODAY?

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