While traveling in the mountains of Arizona in 2014, I met an old wise man with a toothy grin who always seemed happy. One morning over tea I asked him, “What makes you so happy?” He smiled, looking into the big vast blue sky overhead and then turned back to me. “Every day I wake up and make it a game to find joy.” He said he looked under every corner, turned over every rug, and had fun finding joy no matter what every single day. The practice was simple, yet profound.
I immediately took his reflection and made it my daily practice. From that day forward, every day I set one intention, find joy and choose it. The year following this fateful meeting, I experienced the happiest year of my life. It wasn’t full of the trappings that most people attribute to a particularly happy year. I made less money than the five years preceding it. I traveled less, something I live for. I spent more time alone than I normally do as a very social person. How was I so happy with less money, less social time, and less travel? One word…mindset.
Where Science Meets “Woo Woo”
Here’s how it works. Neuroscience teaches that neurons which fire together wire together. This means that whatever we place our focus on, our neurological structures start to network and connect together. Long-term, our mindset influences the direction our neurons fire based on the beliefs and perceptions we hold to be true. When we get stuck in repetitive negative thought patterns, like worrying or overthinking, the impact of these thoughts over time close our psyche to see fewer opportunities, solutions, and potential for change. On the flip side, when we orient our mind to stay open, be curious, and to see the positive, our mind over time wires for more possibility.
Enter in the “woo woo” world of Spirit. A realm that has been teaching the importance of mindset in different terms for thousands of years. Think yoga, Buddhism, contemplative studies. I love Abraham-Hicks’ teachings on the Law of Attraction as another way of understanding the power of our mind. The Law of Attraction says that you attract what your vibrational frequency is set to. It works like this, if you set your internal frequency to joy, you attract more joy. If you set your internal frequency to confusion, you attract more confusion. Where your mind goes, the energy follows. Or from a neuroscience perspective, where your mind goes, your neurons flow. Whatever you point your mind to, you in essence energize. Regardless of what was happening in my life that year, I tuned my neurons to cultivating one feeling…joy. Every day my mind was connecting to joy by searching for it over and over and over again. Like the Honda Civic I was thinking of buying and started to see in the public streets all around me, I was looking for joy, so I couldn’t help find it as my neuroreceptors tuned into it. This created pathways in my mind that were literally built on joy.
How to Choose Your Mindset
Whether you are interested in cultivating a growth mindset or a joyful mindset like I set out to do several years ago, here are some tips to choose your own mindset:
Set an intention. After my fateful meeting in the rustic Arizona mountains, I set my intention to play the game of finding and choosing joy every day no matter what. Some days it was easy, other days it was not, but regardless, this was my intention. To get started, choose an intention connected to a quality you want to cultivate. Looking to connect with an abundance mindset? Make the intention of always acknowledging that there is more when your mind tells you there is less. Want to become more opportunistic? Set an intention to find the opportunity present in every challenge.
Connect with your intention every morning and evening. Start and end your day remembering your intention. You can do this by meditating, writing it in a journal, saying it out loud, or connecting with an image that represents your intention. Create a regular habit of spending just one minute every morning and evening reminding yourself of the intention you set. This will deepen the neural pathways to develop a lasting mindset.
Create questions to bring you back when you’re off track. Inevitably you will get off track and forget your intention. You will fall into old habits that may bring up frustration. The power of questions can bring you back when you’re boat has gone afloat. When I got off track from my joy game the questions I used to bring me back included: “how could I find joy in this situation?” and “what would it mean if I choose joy over fear right now?” This prevents worry and self-judgement to focus your mental energy on your intention.
Use the power of compassionate pause. Lasting mindset change comes when we pair it with a healthy dose of compassion. When self-judgement and criticism come up, choose to forgive yourself in that moment. Recognize that you’ve spent the last several decades wiring your brain in an entirely different direction and give yourself some credit. Recall your choice to cultivate a new mindset. These pauses can disrupt unhelpful negative thought patterns and keep you grounded in possibility.
Celebrate weekly incremental changes. Our brains are wired for a negativity bias. This means that we easily skip over the good stuff. Take time once a week to acknowledge your changes by reflecting on the following prompt: “By honoring my intention, what shifts did I create in my life this week?” Share your success out loud with your partner, write them in a journal, or meditate on them through silent reflection before closing out your week and going to sleep.
Shifting your mindset takes time and practice. Don’t let this discourage you. Every tiny step you take each day to honor your new frame of mind builds momentum. I like to think of it as an avalanche. Avalanches start as small individual snowflakes that combine to create a snowball and eventually become a cascading avalanche of snow. If you’re still feeling stuck, find professional help by hiring a life coach to empower you to keep on track. This can provide you with accountability and increase your momentum.
Originally published at medium.com