How to Become an Optimist
The way we view the world has a profound influence on our health and wellbeing. A negative perspective on life is so potentially undermining and distorting that cognitive therapists spend a lot of their time working with clients to develop ways of viewing the world as a less hostile place. If we adopt a mindset that says everything we do and try is bound to fail it becomes self-fulfilling. Yet just a little shift in this bias can make for a very positive change. If we can only agree that some things work out and others don’t, the shift towards optimism has already taken place and it opens the door to so much potential.
Pessimists see the worst and expect the worst in pretty much everything. It’s a hard nut to crack trying to persuade a person to adopt a less rigid mindset and in all honesty this is not something that is likely to be achieved overnight, or sometimes ever. But we mustn’t be pessimistic about this. There are people out there who know they are pessimists but actually would quite like to change. They know they sound and feel miserable and they know it has a negative effect on others. So where does this person start on the path to becoming more of an optimist?
In a previous Sharepost, The Olympic Effect: Tuning into Optimism, I suggested a good place to start was by asking yourself the question why? Why do suppose you are a pessimist? Is it because you expect to be hurt or disappointed? Does your pessimism act as a shield or some form of protection in this regard? Does it actually work for you and if you think it does, how can you prove it to yourself?
Secondly, do you like optimism? Some people find being around optimist’s lifts their spirits while others find them annoying, misinformed and somewhat shallow. How do you feel? Is your view of optimism shaped by a particular person you know (for good or bad)? Do you think there may be other forms of optimism (perhaps quieter more thoughtful forms) that would fit more closely with your world view?
If you’re trying to shake off pessimism then by definition you need to become more optimistic. The next time one of those thought bubbles or negative emotional moments appear, try to recognize it for what it is. Then, quite deliberately turn it around to view it in a more positive or neutral light. In this exercise it is alright to be indifferent as opposed to positive about everything. It will of course feel strange and contrived, but you will have achieved two important things. The first is you are starting to identify your negative thoughts and the second is you are actively generating alternatives.
In nearly all situations it is possible to see something good. So it poured with rain when you went for a walk – but you still got some exercise and fresh air. So the meal you paid for wasn’t that nice – but the company was good. So you lost your job – as one door closes another opens. You get the idea. Again, what’s important here isn’t the detail it’s the fact that you are tracking your own negativity and putting it in check.
Experiment with saying positive things. You know you’ve become a real pessimist if this feels odd. But keep experimenting and keep practicing. The more you do it, the easier it becomes and the better you start to feel. You may also be surprised to find how you are lifting the spirits of people around you. It’s a win-win situation.