Cultivating Your Positive Expat Mindset

June 14, 2023 in Ex-pat, Personal Development

positive expat mindset

Cultivating Your Positive Expat Mindset

Your mindset is a set of beliefs that shape how you make sense of the world and yourself

At Vibrant, we talk about "cultivating your positive expat mindset" when referring to how we want to show up in our expat lives. Cultivating your positive expat mindset means thinking on purpose, having thoughts that serve you, trying to leave behind those that don’t, and growing your awareness of this whole process. By doing this, we develop ways of thinking and being that help us overcome the daily challenges of this amazing, global lifestyle.

When we say “cultivate your positive expat mindset, " we refer to how you can use your brain to serve your expat experience.

This also means understanding the brain and why it can feel hard, grappling with the nuance of our experience as expats, and approaching these challenges with strategies that help us to think cleanly, decide how we want to show up on purpose, and live as much in the present moment as we can. 

positive expat mindset

Moving to a new country can be a big adjustment for the brain.

The amygdala, a small almond-shaped structure located deep within the brain's temporal lobe, plays a crucial role in our primal brain's response to perceived threats and fear. It acts as a kind of early warning system, alerting us to potential danger and initiating the fight-or-flight response. 

While the amygdala's primary function is to protect us from harm, it can also hinder our ability to change and adapt to new circumstances.

One of the amygdala's key functions is to process and store emotional memories, particularly those associated with fear and negative experiences. This capacity allows us to quickly recognize and respond to similar situations in the future, promoting our survival. 

For instance, if we encounter a dangerous animal, our amygdala triggers fear and activates a cascade of physiological responses, preparing us to fight or flee. This is your fight-or-flight response. We rely on these responses for our safety and are happy to have them when a real threat is upon us. 

However, this very mechanism can pose challenges when it comes to change; something ingrained in the expat experience. The amygdala's primary concern is our immediate safety and well-being, and it tends to prioritize familiar and predictable environments. It seeks to maintain the status quo and perceives change as a potential threat. This can manifest as resistance to new ideas, fear of the unknown, and a tendency to cling to familiar habits or beliefs. 

The amygdala's influence on our behavior can create a sense of discomfort or anxiety when we try to step outside our comfort zone or adopt new habits. It often triggers an emotional response that can lead to avoidance or resistance. Unfortunately, our primal brain sometimes perceives threats that are not actually threatening our survival but still activates the same physiological responses. 

This is why change can be difficult, even when we logically understand its benefits or necessity.

positive expat mindset

Below are some of the ways our brain works during our expatriation, giving us insights into the physiological responses that occur, showing us why expatriation can be so hard, and how we can use this information to help us better understand how we can cultivate our positive expat mindset:

  1. Stress response: Moving to a new country can activate the brain's stress response system, releasing cortisol and other stress hormones. This can lead to feelings of anxiety, stress, and uncertainty.
  2. Cognitive dissonance: Moving to a new country often involves adapting to new cultural norms and ways of doing things. This can create a sense of cognitive dissonance, where individuals feel discomfort or confusion due to conflicting beliefs or values.
  3. Neural plasticity: The brain has the ability to adapt and change, known as neural plasticity. This can be beneficial for adapting to new cultural norms, but it can also be challenging as the brain needs time to adjust.
  4. Social connection: The brain is wired for social connection and the lack of familiar social connections can trigger feelings of loneliness and isolation.
  5. Language learning: Moving to a new country often involves learning a new language, which can be challenging for the brain. However, learning a new language can also activate brain plasticity and enhance cognitive function.
cultivate an expat mindset

Using the prefrontal cortex to cultivate your positive expat mindset

It important to note that our brain is highly adaptable and capable of change. While the amygdala may initially react strongly to new or unfamiliar stimuli, other brain regions, such as the prefrontal cortex, can help regulate and modulate its responses. The prefrontal cortex is responsible for higher-order cognitive functions, including reasoning, decision-making, and self-control.

By consciously engaging the prefrontal cortex and actively working to reframe our perception of change, we can override the amygdala's instinctual responses. This involves consciously challenging our fears and assumptions, seeking new experiences, and gradually exposing ourselves to the desired changes. Over time, the brain can form new neural pathways, rewiring itself to accommodate the changes we seek.

With great success, we use various mindfulness techniques with our expat clients to help facilitate this process of change. By consciously observing and understanding our emotional responses, we can develop greater self-awareness and the ability to respond to change in a more intentional and adaptive manner. 

This is where our approach to thinking cleanly and clearly, deciding how we want to show up on purpose, and concentrating on the present moment supports the cultivation of a positive expat mindset. 

We need the amygdala to protect us but want our primary brain function to come from the prefrontal cortex

While the amygdala's primary role is to protect us, it can make it challenging to embrace change due to its preference for the familiar and predictable. However, with conscious effort and engagement of other brain regions like the prefrontal cortex, we can overcome these instinctual responses and adapt to new circumstances, fostering personal growth and development.

Overall, moving to a new country can be a challenging experience for the brain, but with time and effort, it can also be a positive and enriching experience. Practicing mindfulness, engaging in social activities, and seeking support can help the brain adjust to the changes and ultimately lead to a more positive expat life.

Here are some ways to train your brain to have fewer stress responses, to engage the prefrontal  cortex and to work towards cultivating your positive expat mindset:

  1. Practice mindfulness: Mindfulness can help you manage stress by bringing your attention to the present moment and reducing negative thoughts. This can help you regulate your emotions and respond to stressors in a more proactive manner.
  2. Exercise regularly: Exercise releases endorphins, which can help improve mood and reduce stress. Regular exercise can also help reduce the release of cortisol, a stress hormone.
  3. Get adequate sleep: Sleep plays a crucial role in regulating the stress response system. Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep per night and establish a consistent sleep routine.
  4. Eat a balanced diet: Eating a diet rich in whole foods, fruits, and vegetables, and low in processed foods can help reduce stress levels and improve overall health.
  5. Engage in stress-reducing activities: Engaging in activities like yoga, meditation, or tai chi can help reduce stress and improve well-being.
  6. Challenge negative thoughts: Try to reframe negative thoughts by focusing on the positive aspects of a situation 
  7. Seek support: Talking to someone about your stress and challenges can help you manage stress and reduce negative thoughts. Our coaching program employs a positive psychology approach with tips and tools for how you can be more mindful in your expat life.

Creating, developing, and cultivating your positive expat mindset means that we employ mindfulness in our expat lives. Using mindfulness in our lives is not just the key to being happier, but also the key to being more authentically alive.

Remember, it takes time to train your brain to have less stress responses, to adjust to change, and to live more presently. So be patient with yourself. 

And, as always, we are here for you. 

If you want to learn more about living a life of mindfulness, here are some suggested readings and resources to help you along the way.

Book: The Miracle of Mindfulness, Thich Nhat Hahn

Thich Nhat Hahn Foundation

Jon Kabat-Zinn’s work and guided meditations

A Wandering Mind is an Unhappy Mind 

David Richardson’s TedX Talk: How Mindfulness Changes the Emotional Life of Our Brains 

And, if you want to go deeper, book a free call to see how we can help you change your mindset and build a growth and positive mindset !


Karly and Chloé are certified NLP and Ikigai coaches. Vibrant Ikigai offers bilingual workshops and 1:1 coaching services to help expat women thrive in their lives abroad.

Contact us today to set up your free discovery call !