The Truth About Positivity, positivity, Dina Cataldo, be a better lawyer, best legal podcasts, how to be more positive

#296: The Truth About Positivity

“Think happy thoughts.” “Eliminate the negative and accentuate the positive.” “Have a stiff upper lip.”

Society has told us that to feel bad is to be bad.

That we need to be “more positive.”

What if that wasn't the way at all?

What if we just need better tools to navigate negative emotions?

In this episode you'll learn:

👉 what positivity is (and is NOT)

👉 what neuroplasticity is and what it means about your ability to change

👉 3 steps to navigate work-related anxiety, stress and overwhelm

You don't need to think “happy thoughts” to feel better.

You just need to know what I'm sharing in this episode of Be a Better Lawyer Podcast.

Let's dive in!

Be a better lawyer podcast, dina cataldo, best legal podcasts, best podcasts for attorneys, best podcasts for lawyers


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The Truth About Positivity

Happy New Year!

Before we get started with today’s topic, I want to let you know I’ve curated the essential Be a Better Lawyer Podcast episodes in a single place for you.

You can download Your Be a Better Lawyer podcast Treasure Map at

I’ve created sections for you to binge around almost any topic you’re interested in. Everything from anxiety to time management, from business building to confidence.

I’ve also hyperlinked to each episode, so you can also simply click on the episode to be taken to the episode show notes with the podcast player.

And of course, you can listen to these episodes on your favorite podcast app too.

Download it at

Alright, let’s dive into today’s episode. It’s a juicy one.

Imagine this: you’re at your desk looking at a stack of files. You open up your emails and see dozens and dozens of emails that you need to look at.

You tell yourself:

  • I should have worked harder yesterday.
  • Why did I put off doing that file? Now I’m behind.
  • What is wrong with me?
  • When am I going to change?

These questions lead you down a spiral of feeling bad about yourself and make you want to do anything but work.

In fact, everything you do feels like a slog.

You’re slow. You’re short with people who enter your office or call you.

You feel anxious and like there’s a ton of rocks on your chest.

One of the things popular culture has taught us is to push through and remind yourself it’s not so bad. You’re lucky to have a job. Keep going.

But even when you do that, you feel horrible.

When you push through. You may even get some work done, but you feel like this is a never-ending loop. Like Groundhog’s Day.

You get up. You go to work. You go home. You crash.

You feel disconnected from yourself and the people around you.

No one seems to understand what you’re going through.

And you can’t possibly think about growing your practice or promoting within your organization because you simply don’t have time.

If this sounds like you, keep listening.

From my personal experience with trying to push through, I can look back and see the harm I caused myself.

I was so deep in stress and worry that I didn’t realize I was creating unhealthy relationships to feel better temporarily, I was seeking approval from bosses in an unhealthy way by working myself to death — literally – if you know my story I was diagnosed with breast cancer at 29 years old as a young trial attorney.

I wasn’t taking care of myself physically or mentally.

And I didn’t have anyone I felt I could talk to about where I was at because I felt like we were being placed in competition with one another. If you showed weakness then you’d be looked down upon.

Once I was able to learn what I’m going to share with you in this episode, my life became so much easier.

What is positive thinking?

On the surface — and what we’re taught as a society — positive thinking is about thinking about the good and ignoring the bad.

There’s countless examples of this in our culture.

“We’ve got to eliminate the negative and accentuate the positive.” – Old popular song sung by Bing Crosby, Aretha Franklin and more.

We’re taught it’s about keeping a stiff upper lip.

In Peter Pan, we’re taught to “think happy thoughts,”

Or hakunamata in the Lion King.

If you go online, you can find a plethora of positive thinking quotes to help “brighten your day.”

Now I’m all for a good dance party or listening to something inspiring, but if you notice that your problems keep coming back, then it’s time to do something different.

Kind of like dosing yourself with caffeine or food or alcohol.

You get momentary pleasure.

But the next day it’s the same. You find yourself in the same place.

That’s because there’s a misconception about positive thinking.

Positive thinking isn’t wishful thinking or trying to be positive.

It’s not telling yourself you should be thankful or that you’re fine when you feel like your office is burning around you.

Before I tell you what it really means, let’s talk about what learning the true meaning of positive thinking is important.

Imagine that same scenario I mentioned above.

But this time, instead of feeling like it’s impossible or thinking there’s something wrong, it actually become no big deal.

Yes, you have things to do, but you know you’ll do them. It’s not a problem that you have emails. You’ll do what you can. It’s not a problem that you have files, you’ll figure it out.

Your body doesn’t feel anxious; instead it feels calm. Focused. Certain.

When you feel calm, focused, and certain, you go about your day. You plan and prioritize. You get things done. You even make time to think about working on your business. You’re kinder to people. You go home and you leave work at the office.

You even make time to go to the gym and be fully present with your loved one.

It’s a very different life.

And if you really feel into those calm, focused, certain feelings – they feel more natural. It feels more in harmony with life. More balanced.

Whenever something feels balanced or in harmony, I know I’m moving in the way I was intended.

Whether you want to call it a higher power, divine intelligence or nature – it makes sense.

We weren’t placed here to feel constant anxiety or worry.

We were placed here to learn how to be in harmony with what’s around us and be in emotional well-being.

How do I know that?

Look at benefits Mayo Clinic reports. In addition to simply feeling good, you get these benefits:

Increased life span
Lower rates of depression
Lower levels of distress and pain
Greater resistance to illnesses
Better psychological and physical well-being
Better cardiovascular health and reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease and stroke
Reduced risk of death from cancer
Reduced risk of death from respiratory conditions
Reduced risk of death from infections
Better coping skills during hardships and times of stress

Knowing that, you can’t convince me that it’s not essential for us to learn this skill.

If you’ve taken a look around lately, though, it’s not an easy task.

You may even have a difficult time imagining feeling harmony right now.

That’s okay.

The important thing is you notice there’s a possibility of a different life.

It’s made possible by rewiring your brain.

The Neuroscience of Positivity: How the Brain Works

Let’s talk about what rewiring your brain means.

To do that, we need to talk about neuroplasticity.

Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to continue evolving in response to life experiences.

Life experiences include learning new ways to think and to behave in the world. They include learning new communication skills, new business skills, and more.

The best thing about neuroplasticity is that it’s a lifelong ability.

You can be 70 years old and change. It may take more time to do it because you have more habits to unravel, but you can with practice.

Here’s why what we’ve been taught about positive thinking as a culture is wrong: that way of teaching positivity ignores all the other programming we’re fed over a lifetime.

All the worrying, self-doubts and negative self-talk habits we’ve accumulated over the years. All the people-pleasing and anxiety we’ve practiced over and over.

It also ignores the actions needed to dissolve those worries, self-doubts and negative self-talk, etc.

This is a problem I’ll sometimes see my newer clients go through — and sometimes clients who have been with me for a while.

They’ve learn how mindset works on a superficial level, and their brain interprets mindset — because of their prior experiences — as needing to think happy thoughts to feel better.

You’ve probably heard me and other people say that your thoughts create your feelings.

On a superficial level then, it makes sense that you could just replace the thought we have to create a new — better — feeling.

For instance, if they have an office full of files and notice they feel overwhelmed, they tell themselves, “It’s okay. It’s not overwhelming. I can do this.” Then they start working while still feeling overwhelmed. They notice it’s a slog. They then fall into the same habits of telling themselves there’s something wrong or that they aren’t working hard enough. That initial “happy thought” helps get them moving, but they fall into the old familiar pattern.

The cycle continues.

What we work on together is breaking that cycle and requiring their brain.

When they first start coaching, they don’t have a nuanced view of how mindset works, so they subconsciously brush past the actions they need to take before they can truly feel better and they fall into the same habits.

We’ll talk more on that in a bit.

When you practice what I’ll share, you’ll get into more prolonged states of well-being. That harmony I mentioned earlier.

When we’re in a state of well-being, studies have shown:

Focus increases
We’re better at problem-solving more creatively
We think more clearly
Communicate more clearly
Plan our time and energy more strategically
In addition to all those physical health benefits I mentioned

It’s like playing chess instead of checkers. It’s like being able to fly a Boeing 747 instead of a kite.

I see this change all the time with my clients.

They envision something larger for their firm and can think creatively about how to achieve it. Then they implement what they plan and hit their goals.

They analyze problems more clearly and can solve for those problems instead of going down a shame spiral.

They stop feeling overwhelmed about everything they need to do and make a plan that prioritizes not only the work that’s most important but takes into account their needs as a human.

Imagine the scenario I mentioned at the start of this episode.

When you feel stress, you can notice it and pivot. When you pivot, you can stop worrying and start thinking clearly about what needs to be prioritized.

Instead of feeling paralyzed by your emails or files, you stop and plan. You’re not worried about “wasting time” planning because you know this is strategy. You can access that logic part of your brain. Strategy is always worth your time. Because strategy helps you save time during your day, week, month and year.

Instead of jumping into emails, and feeling angry that people are wasting your time, you feel calm. You’re objective and empathetic.

So how do you access this magical well-being I’m talking about?

Well, it’s not actually magic at all.

It’s science. It’s biology.

Now I’m going to share with you 3 steps to help you move away from faux “positive thinking” and into a true sense of well-being.

These steps are deceptively simple, but they’re also a great starting point for anyone struggling with what I’ve been talking about today.

I’ve also simplified them because I know you may be in a hurry and you can’t stop and process an emotion in the middle of your work day. That’s some of the work I do with clients in our calls together, and that makes a huge difference in what they become capable of.

But I want this to be accessible to you too even if you’re not working with me yet.

Step 1: Pause and notice.

When you notice the old familiar feelings of overwhelm and worry and anxiety happening. Pause and notice what you’re feeling.

I didn’t know what I was feeling back in the day, so if that’s you too, I’m going to talk to you for a minute.

That tense feeling you have in your body? That constant feeling of alert or feeling on edge? Like you’re holding your breath? Like your shoulders can’t possibly feel any tighter?

That feeling isn’t how you’re supposed to feel a majority of your day..

That feeling is a normal feeling, but it’s not a feeling that we’re meant to hold on to. When animals are stressed in the wild, they shake it off. Our brain has made it a habit to hold onto the anxieties and worries, and this mindset work I’m sharing helps release it with practice.

It took me practice to notice how I was feeling and then to name it, so know that it can be done.

This practice interrupts all the thoughts happening in your head just long enough to do…

Step 2: When you pause and notice, then breath. Take full breaths in and out for at least 1 big breath or as many as you need.

This helps regulate your nervous system. The breath is a tool to help you self-regulate your emotions. It brings oxygen throughout all the systems in your body and increases your blood flow. Because it does that, it helps you think more clearly too.

It’s okay if your anxiety or overwhelm isn’t fully dissolved. But stay here for as long as possible.

In court you may not be able to do this for very many breaths, but when you’re at your desk, you can.

Now that you’ve interrupted the thought patterns creating anxiety and you’ve allowed yourself to be present with them, I want you to…

Step 3: Ask yourself, “what do I want to do?”

You don’t need to latch onto a happy thought. You just need to reset your brain long enough to help you regulate your nervous system and refocus your brain on what’s most important in that moment.

How do you want to behave?
What decision do you want to make?
What will be most helpful for you in that moment?

Asking yourself a helpful question like these to allow your brain to naturally regain its focus.

These three steps may see so simple, but they will have a profound impact on how you feel, how you practice the law, and how you interact with people.

You’ll notice the more you practice this, the more awareness you’ll get, and the more present you’ll become to your thoughts and feelings.

Then you’ll begin noticing there will be more and more time between your thoughts and you reacting in a way you don’t like.

For example, if you notice that you become angry at the drop of a hat, you’ll start to feel the anger rising up in your chest and take note a moment before you open your mouth to snap at someone. You’ll then be able to make conscious choices about how you behave.

Or if you notice that you feel panicked just before you dive into the email rabbit hole, you’ll get a moment of clarity that allows you to stop going down the rabbit hole and make a plan to prioritize what’s most important instead.

This will make a massive difference when you practice it.

We covered a lot in this episode, so I want to summarize the big takeaways for you.

First, positive thinking doesn’t mean pushing away negative thoughts and wallpapering them with happy thoughts. When you put wallpaper on top of dirty walls, the dirty wall is still there.

Second, our brains have neuroplasticity that allows us to change our habitual way of being. So even if you’ve felt overwhelmed and anxious since high school, you can change. Overwhelm is a habit and so is being in a state of well-being.

Third, there are three steps you can take to help you reset your nervous system and your brain. When you practice these steps over time, it will feel more natural to be in a state of well-being than to be in a state of anxiety.

One: Pause and notice. Notice how you feel in your body.
Two: Breath.
Three: Ask yourself a helpful question like, “What’s most helpful right now?” Or “What do I want to decide to do?”

This podcast really simplifies emotional processing to give you a tool you can use on your own when you’re in the middle of a work day.

This is just one tool you can use to help guide yourself into a state of well-being.

If you want to implement what you learned here in the podcast and learn how to process anxiety and stress that comes from the intensity of working in our current legal culture, I encourage you to book a Strategy Session with me.

During our session, we’ll check in with what’s going on with you overall. You’ll get clarity on what needs to change for you to be more in a place of well-being than anxiety. It’s almost never what we think needs to change.

And if after we talk, you want to learn about working with me, we can do that too.

You can book a Strategy Session with me at

Alright my friend, I hope you have a beautiful rest of your day.

Talk to you next week.


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