Developing habits of thoughts and action that nurture your mental health takes a life time of learning and practice. It’s a great and fun endeavor!! You can always grow!!
Research shows that some people are lucky enough to be born with an innate positivity. And some people are lucky enough to be born into family situations where healthy emotional and mental attitudes are taught by both modeling positive behavior and having honest communication about identifying and expressing feelings. So positive habits can be innate and also naturally absorbed in childhood.
Not everyone is innately positive or born into situations surrounded by positive emotional support. And sometimes an early environment isn’t outright abusive, but it’s not actually supportive and positive, either.
However, research shows that you can take positive steps towards helping yourself develop positive emotional and mental habits by learning good emotional skills and forming positive habits all of your life!
Dr. Marcia Linehan has created a large resource of positive ways to manage emotions that she calls Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT). The skills below are patterned after some of her positive ways to manage emotions and build a positive emotional outlook.
1. Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is a large skill that’s all about learning to remain in the present moment. Staying and appreciating the present moment brings you out of future-oriented and anxious “what-if” thinking and also the past-oriented and stuck-ness of “if-only” thinking.
The larger skill of mindfulness is built on the smaller bite-size skills of observing and describing what is happening inside of you and outside of you in the environment with strong emotion or judgment. So, stop and take a look-see and feel what’s around you and appreciate the moment. It’ll help disconnect you from those cycling thoughts and feelings.
2. Consciously create and experience pleasant experiences for yourself. Emotional changes actually effect our bodies and minds. Creating a list of positive expertness that feel good to you and doing something positive every day is a wonderful way to build up positive emotional pathways for you draw upon when you are feeling sad or anxious.
Practice this skill by creating a list of positive experiences and then choosing one to experience every day. Your list might consist of reading, walking, jogging, exercising, telling yourself “I’ve completed this task and I’ve done it well (however small, even making your bed), knitting, needlework, gardening, talking on the phone to a friend, cooking a meal, try new things, go on different routes when you walk, etc. Everyday, take a positive small action and do one of the items on your list. Day after day, positive experiences build up in your body and mind. They actually change your body physiology and come imbedded in your bed and mind!
3. Check to see if you live by your inner values. This is also a big skill that can created from smaller actions. Perhaps you’ve never really created consciously thought about you values how or you’ve only vaguely thought about you values, but never wrote them down.
So, you can identify say, five things you value. Perhaps they are, say, family, spirituality, kindness, respect, and self-worth. You may have other values you wish to list. Then look at your actual behavior and time commitments and see if you behaviors and actual commitments reflect what it is you want to be doing with your precious time on earth. If you value family and self-worth, you can see if care for your family and also build time into your life for yourself. If you value kindness, you can practice treating others with kindness and behaving as it you except to be treated in the same way. It feels good to have an internal compass and to be congruent in your behavior and actions, so that you aren’t in conflict with your values and your actions in life.
Slowing down your everyday observations to enjoy the life around you, building positive experiences and living by positive inner values are all ways to live emotionally skillfully and build mental health.
You can always keep growing throughout your lifetime!!