I was a dedicated smoker for a few decades of my life; I’m not proud of the fact but what I am delighted with is that I was able to stop. Smoking is a stubborn habit. It took me about seven attempts before I was able to gradually stop smoking successfully. To help me get through the withdrawal from nicotine, I was encouraged to do more aerobic exercise, eat more protein and leafy greens. I didn’t really understand why these new habits helped but they did. It turns out it was about focusing my thoughts on feeling good through healthier practices and not focusing on the negative feeling of giving something up. It worked! I’ve been free from cigarettes for almost thirty years.

Our brain is a powerful supercomputer; it’s involved in everything we do. The brain has connections that run throughout our body; it determines how we behave and how well we think. I remind myself often that our thoughts are really the only thing we have control over in life. We can’t control events and we can’t control other people. Our thoughts are so powerful that they can be sabotaging, even debilitating when left unchecked; they can also be a powerful positive force when we manage them well.

Negativity is so easy to buy into and that’s mainly what our thinking mind serves up. It takes a focus on something other than our random thoughts to shift us out of negativity, especially when there’s so much fear in the world but it is important to take ownership of our thoughts and direct them toward a good result, just as I did with giving up smoking.

What sounds like a daunting responsibility can be managed by having a healthy foundation; then building on small shifts to produce long-term positive results. It’s important to get good nutrition, good exercise and good sleep; these are the pillars of a healthy mindset. If you want to improve any of these, start investigating how you can develop better sleep habits and ask your doctor to check your blood work to ensure that you’re not deficient in important minerals and vitamins. Exercise is a natural anti-depressant and we need to treat it like medicine. I love yoga and practice it regularly; I find it really helpful when it comes to stress management, feeling calm and having clarity. Start small with any of these healthy practices and be kind to yourself as you learn something new.

Now that we’ve set the foundation, we can start building on.

I wasn’t always a grateful person; in fact I grew up feeling like I never had enough and that I wasn’t enough because that’s what I learned at home. There was more emphasis on what we didn’t have and who we could never be instead of learning to appreciate what we did have. In adulthood, after realizing that this line of thinking was sabotaging my best efforts to be happy, I chose to teach myself to focus my thoughts on what I had to appreciate, starting with small shifts. Try this: look out the nearest window and pause for a few minutes. Notice the colours you observe; notice the sunlight or cloud formation in the sky. What makes you feel good about what you see? Pay attention to that. If you can’t see, listen, even to the quiet and appreciate that you can hear. If you can’t hear, notice your breath and be grateful for that.

It’s all about bringing our attention into the present moment and appreciating life exactly as it is. Even on days when life sucks, there is something to appreciate. In this small practice of focusing our thoughts on the good instead of the random negative thoughts our brain serves up, we create a brighter result. Next step for me was writing down five things I’m grateful for every day until it became a thinking habit; if it was a bad day, I’d write ten things. The truth is, the more grateful we are, the more there is to be grateful for.

Despite what your thoughts tell you, your brain loves a challenge. Learning to talk back to negative thoughts is an important habit to cultivate. Ask yourself if the negative thought is really true and if it’s not true, please correct it. When you do, you take away its power. Instead of allowing your thoughts to run your life, work on learning new things. It’s through learning that we develop new connections in the brain and enhance its capability. There is absolutely no age limit on learning and in fact when we stop learning, our brain slows down. We have to work it like a muscle.

Small, no fail steps are the building blocks of good sustainable habits. It’s important to recognize that we’re all beautiful works in progress; the goal should be to constantly improve and not to win anything or anyone’s approval. Do your best to feel your best you’ll find yourself willing to keep going and growing.

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