Is mindset really everything?

THOUGHTS — What really is a Sunday without stressing out about the week ahead? After not doing absolutely any work the whole weekend, I spent a good part of Sunday night frantically doing some reading for class and trying not to be overwhelmed by the upcoming busy week. Since I’m leaving for LA on Thursday night and won’t be able to go to work on Friday, I somehow have to find time to not only make up those hours at some other point this week but also to pack and start working on my first important assignment that is due October 5th. And yes, I am aware that I am complaining about “first-world” problems. But that awareness doesn’t make anything much less stressful, unfortunately.

I spent some time at work today listening to a podcast while typing numbers into an Excel spreadsheet (riveting, right?). I haven’t ever been particularly interested in podcasts, but more and more I’ve started enjoying listening to Swedish podcasts; in a way, it’s just nice and comforting for me to listen to people speaking in my native language when all I hear is English all the time. Also, I think listening to the language could help me keep up my conversational Swedish, which my mom always tells me is “so terrible!” whenever I visit home. The podcast I listened to today happened to be about “being grateful”, “mindfulness” and all that other stuff that I would normally dismiss as silly fantasy ideas for people who actually don’t have anything to be stressed about. However, in an attempt to embody a more mature and open-minded version of myself, I actually took the time to listen to what these two Swedish women had to say.

The main point they were making was basically that stress is manageable and that happiness is achievable as long as you just have a positive mindset. An important aspect of a positive mindset, according to these two happy and stress-free women, is about spending more energy on being grateful rather than seeing the negative in the situation and complaining about it. But is mindset really everything? What about the material reality of everything that is causing you to be stressed in the first place? Can thoughts really make all of that go away?

I like to think that I’m a pretty negative person. Just kidding, obviously no one likes to think that about themselves. But I do think that I’m usually rather cynical, prone to complaining, and generally avoid having a positive outlook on things. Rather than seeing these aspects of my thinking as inherent personality traits, however, it might be more productive for me to think of them as a mindset, which I can change and control at my will. Why should I be complaining about my situation and allowing the stress to overwhelm me when I can instead focus on the good things? The fact that I’m going to LA (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!), that I’m in a PhD program and I worked so hard to get here (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!); these are all fantastic things that I should be happy about.

I am rather ashamed to admit that I clearly took this podcast episode to heart. But when I sat down to make a to-do list for myself for the week, with specific things to do on specific days, I ended up feeling positive about my situation rather than overwhelmed precisely because I thought to myself: I can do this, and I can get everything done.

The women also spoke about how your happiness can be dramatically increased if you sit down every day and write down three things that you are grateful for in that moment, as a way of teaching your brain to focus on the positives and practicing gratefulness. I think I might actually try this out and see how it works; after all, what’s the worst thing that can happen? That I don’t have anything to be grateful for? And there I go again being cynical, whoops. But all joking aside, I’m going to try to do this every night and see if it works.

Three things I am grateful for today:

  1. Fall weather.
  2. The people I love.
  3. Post-it notes.
flat lay photography of calendar
Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

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