4 Exercises that Generate a Healthy Mindset

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If you are in the throes of a mental health crisis, focussing on the positives in life can be difficult, if not impossible. After all, when mental illness creeps in, it’s often accompanied by unhappiness with your life or unhappiness with life in general. Mental illness is fairly adept at blocking us from seeing the positives. It’s kind of a jerk like that.

That being said, simple exercises designed to increase your feelings of satisfaction with your life and the world you live in, have potential to do wonders for your mental health, even if you come at them with a degree of skepticism.

Studies have shown that those who look at the world more positively are happier, show better cognitive skills, and are physically healthier. Doesn’t that sound like a good way to be? These exercises are designed to get you there.

Gratitude Exercises

Think of these exercises as lifting weights for your mind. You are attempting to build up your positivity muscle, in the same way a bodybuilder lifts weights to strengthen their biceps. You might start off finding out you are pretty bad at this, but through time and practice your positivity muscle will become stronger and focussing on the good things in life will become easier.

Journaling for Gratitude

1. Journaling

After you have been doing it for long enough, writing down what you are grateful for every day will make it easier for you to see those things consistently (and automatically) as you go about your life.

This first exercise is the most essential one, luckily it is also the easiest.

Journaling Steps:

  • Write down what you are grateful for every day.
  • Many choose to do this first thing in the morning, the last thing they do before bed, or both!
  • If you are feeling pretty good at the moment,  then aim for 3 or more entries.
  • If you are in the middle of a mental health crisis, just start with one.
  • If you are feeling really low and can’t even think of one good thing about life and the universe, I have one you can start with:
  • “I am grateful that I am alive, because while I know I’m suffering now, every day is a new opportunity to feel better and to find positivity and happiness in life.”

I can tell you I’ve had days where all hope seems gone. I’ve had days where I thought there was nothing left for me but suffering.  There is always hope that with each new day comes an opportunity to conquer the world, to be the person you want to be, and achieve what you want to achieve.

More Journaling Tips:

Are you grateful for any people in your life? If so, write their names down and what you appreciate about them.

Even if there is a TV show, brand of coffee, or food you are really enjoying at the moment, write that down too. Anything you do with your time that is the least bit enjoyable should make it onto your list.

Remember, you are building your positivity muscle, so the more you choose to focus appreciation on, the more often you will focus on life’s positives without having to put forth much effort.

There exists only one crucial rule to what you are able to be grateful for:

  • Nothing you are grateful for should be compared to what others have.

This isn’t about other people, it is about you and how you experience the world.

Try and increase the things you are grateful for every day. If you started at 3, move to 4 tomorrow and so on.

Gratitude Walks

2. Mindful Gratitude Walks

To some, taking a gratitude walk means simply to go for a walk and think about things you are grateful for. Doing so gives you not only the same benefit as journaling but also a little physical exercise as well. There is another way to approach gratitude walks, however, and this method can strengthen both your ability to feel gratitude, and your ability to stay present in the moment.

Do you know why dogs enjoy walks so much? They are concentrating on what is happening to them at the present moment. Dogs aren’t thinking about what others think of them when they are smelling all the new smells and breathing in the outdoor air. They aren’t thinking about things that happened to them in the past or worrying about what might happen to them in the future. They are fully taking in everything that is around them at that very moment. Doesn’t that sound like an awesome way to go through life?

Your goal on a Mindful Gratitude Walk is to focus gratitude only on what you can see, smell and hear at the present moment, just like dogs do!

These walks also double as a mindfulness exercise, so you get a 2-for-1 mental health combo whenever you do this one.

Gratitude Walk Steps:

  • Find a park, pathway, trail, or a place near you with a high vegetation-to-concrete ratio.
  • Focus your mind on only what you can see, smell and touch. Anytime your mind wanders to thoughts which are not focussed on the present, just acknowledge them and gently reset your focus.
  • You can keep a mental note of these or write them down as you do when journaling.
  • Some examples could include:
  • I’m grateful for the fresh air I smell, and how refreshing it feels.
  • I’m grateful the sun is behind a small cloud, giving me some refreshing shade for a moment.
  • I’m grateful for being able to watch squirrels bounce around on trees (provided you enjoy watching squirrels, which I do)
  • I’m grateful to see kids playing on a playground because it reminds me that the world can be a really joyful place, even if it isn’t for me right now.
  • Keep increasing things you are grateful for every time you take a gratitude walk. Your overall goal should be to treat going for a walk with the same excitement as dogs do, albeit with slightly more composure and less public urination.

This exercise might sound a little silly, but it strengthens your mind’s ability to stay in the moment. Negative thought patterns tend to grow more frequently when we focus on what happened to us in the past, or things we are worried about happening in the future.

Mark Twain once explained the importance of staying in the moment with the following quote:

“I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.”

Don’t let your thoughts rob you of experiencing the world around you at any given moment.

Gratitude for Nature

Another positive aspect to these walks is they can help you see yourself as a part of nature. Some people take a great deal of comfort in seeing themselves as having had grown out of the planet much in the same way plants, squirrels and grass have. You aren’t alone, you are part of this big ball of life we call Earth!

Gratitude for Others

3. Gratitude for People in Your Life

In the above two exercises you worked on building two key mental muscles:

  • Journaling helps to build your personal gratitude muscle.
  • Gratitude walks build your gratitude-for-the-moment muscle.

This 3rd exercise works your gratitude-for-others muscle.

Write a letter to someone in your life who you are truly grateful for

  • You don’t have to send the letter but you can if you wish.
  • Just the act of writing down what you appreciate about the person will make it easier to see those qualities in them on a regular basis.


Have a conversation with the person, and tell them what you appreciate

  • This will have the same impact as the above step but will be more personal between you and the person.

Remember, nobody is perfect, and the people in your life will make mistakes as they try to support you, as you will towards them. We shouldn’t fail to appreciate people based on a few mistakes they might make from time to time.

Many of us suffer from not being able to see the positives in people. Sometimes this is due to our own perspectives rather than the faults of others. The above two exercises should help you strengthen your ability to see the good in other people.

What If I Can’t Feel Grateful Right Now?

Mental illness can put a block on all our feelings of gratitude. Sometimes no matter how hard we try we just can’t be grateful for things in our own life.

In this exercise, you’re going to switch your motivation from improving your own life to improving the lives of others.

Gratitude by Helping Others

4. Help Others

Volunteer at a shelter, retirement home, or anywhere else people (or animals) could use your help.

  • Sometimes when we are feeling low, breaking out of thought patterns which focus solely on our own well-being can help.
  • Helping others, some of whom might also be suffering, helps us see the bigger picture. We realize that it’s not just our own personal well-being which matters, but the well-being of others that we develop empathy with.

When we are depressed we suffer from feelings of low self-worth. This means it is harder to get up and do stuff for ourselves, as we don’t feel we are worth it. So do it for someone else then! Turn the time you are spending suffering into time that has value for others! You might be surprised at how well you can help others, even when you are feeling like you need help yourself.

If you don’t have enough motivation to improve your life, get up and improve someone else’s.

These exercises will help you be the best version of yourself, even while you are suffering. Try them and you might just find they make you feel better too.

Ian Carey
Ian Carey

University of Toronto alumni, Ian Carey, is a freelance writer battling OCD along with the other mental health challenges associated with his illness. Through Sad Runner, Ian looks to share his stories and struggles so that others will find hope and encouragement to work through theirs.