Perhaps for the first time in our lives, many of us are learning that mental health is not the same thing as the absence of mental illness. We need to actively prioritize our mental health the same way we invest in our physical health – through disciplined practice. In this case, the goal of our exercise is to build the strength and resilience of our mind not our muscles.

People who have cultivated a mental health practice for years may be harvesting the fruits of that labor now. But for those who are starting a new practice, it can feel overwhelming, difficult, frustrating, maybe even pointless. We know that anxiety and overwhelm are the enemies of learning, and there is plenty to feel anxious and overwhelmed about in this moment. The key to creating new habits – whether they are mental or behavioral, is to give yourself permission to build a practice slowly and in tiny steps – not just small ones … tiny ones!

Here are two tiny habits you can practice each day that will strengthen your positive outlook in the short term and promote lasting mental health in the long run.

Tiny Habit #1

Change your internal narrative. Today is going to be Awesome!

It might seem impossible to even consider saying this, especially if you are in the midst of what many health professionals and even grocery store associates are calling “war zones”. But your mental health practice does not have to be an hour-long Zen journey in a darkened room with incense and candles. Even when you are feeling your most overwhelmed, exhausted or anxious, just saying these six words first thing in the morning as you roll out of bed, take your shower or brush your teeth, helps shift your internal narrative and primes your mind for a more positive outlook.

This simple daily practice is described by BJ Fogg, the founder of the Behavior Design Lab at Stanford University, in his book Tiny Habits, but the idea that we can control our internal narrative to achieve the best possible mental health outcomes is much older. Not only is this idea embedded in most spiritual traditions, twentieth-century behavioral scientists like Viktor Frankl, Albert Ellis, Martin Seligman and more recently Brené Brown have demonstrated that the stories we tell ourselves about the things that happen to us have an enormous impact on whether we die, survive or thrive.

Tint Habit #2

Change what you pay attention to. Seek out “Awesome things” to focus on

Amid the misery of the Second World War, Viktor Frankl studied patterns of survival in the concentration camps of Europe. As a prisoner himself, he observed that those who survived this indescribable suffering were not the fittest, the strongest, or even the most ruthless – they were the ones most able to find meaning in their suffering; see beauty in their surroundings and cultivate a sense of humor.

In his words, they discovered “the last of human freedoms… the ability to choose one’s attitude in a given set of circumstances.”

The suffering that we endure during today’s pandemic is (for most of us) nothing like the dehumanizing treatment of the 20th century concentration camps. But we can take inspiration from the observations that Frankl and others have made since then about human thriving – that no matter how difficult our circumstances, we all have the choice to focus on things that promote our own well-being and health.

It may not seem as though there is much to celebrate at the moment, but deciding to focus on a few bright moments in the day instead of lamenting the many challenges is a choice for life and a choice to thrive. Deciding to see the “awesomeness” in whatever experience life throws at you today is not the same as pretending that the “bad stuff” isn’t happening, it is a choice to focus on the moments of beauty and humor which help you find strength, hope and meaning amidst the suffering.

“He who has a why to live can bear with almost any how.” Nietzche

At the end the day, perhaps as you are preparing dinner, take a moment to reflect on one or two things that you can be grateful for. Rather than dismissing them as insignificant, choose to savor those moments either privately or (if you can) share them with friends and family. As you practice this habit, you may find that you can see and savor these moments in real time, as they happen.

Own your Awesome choices

It is tempting to believe that our physical and mental wellness is determined by a set of external factors such as wealth, career, relationships; and there is no doubt that these factors play an important role. But they do not account for the whole picture. When you exercise the “last of human freedoms” you create for yourself the story of a strong and capable survivor or a helpless victim of this crisis. As you take up these simple practices, you will, no doubt, have moments when you feel successful and moments, or even days, when you do not. Each day offers hundreds of moments for you to choose an “Awesome” narrative over an “Adversity” one. And each time you choose to see the Awesomeness in your circumstances, you build a little strength, resilience and hope. In each moment, the choice is yours.

If you would like to share your thoughts on this topic, join us this Thursday, April 16th at 6:15 pm for a virtual conversation about how you are meeting the mental health challenges of this moment and to discuss how these two tiny habits, when practiced daily, can help you achieve a positive outlook in the short term that promotes lasting mental health in the long run. This is a free event, but to help us prevent “zoom-bombing”, please register using the Eventbrite link below. Participants will receive a secure link to the session via email on Thursday afternoon.

Pink coffe and cake

Join Lesley for coffee and conversation | Now virtual at

Your facilitator is Lesley Diaz, an educator, consultant and Change Agent with 30 years’ experience in the fields of learning, leadership, decision-making and change. Lesley teaches courses in Leadership at Medaille College and is known for her highly interactive and engaging workshops that help people connect, reflect and put their insights into action.

Questions?: | (716) 913-1966

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