Being born and brought up in Poland, where pessimism, critical approach, and so called ‘common sense’ prevail, I didn’t have an easy start. Add to it a strong cultural belief that by expecting positive outcome you might easily jinx it, and you see that I had to go a long way to appreciate optimistic mindset. Despite that now I realize that everybody can learn to be an optimist. Moreover, there is no better time than the present (literally) to make use of the powers of positivity.
WHY IS IT WORTHWHILE TO BE AN OPTIMIST?
Optimistic employees are generally happier, healthier, more productive, and (as Martin Seligman proved) they make more money. Additionally, their ability to see positive future and to deal with the weight of chronic stress at work overcomes any crisis. Having a joyful attitude to life puts people in a better position to achieve work-life balance. The most interesting part is that according to the father of positive psychology, “The basis of optimism does not lie in positive phrases or images of victory, but in the way you think about causes.” Since thought are stories, we can retell them in a way that work for us.
WHAT HAS HOPE TO DO WITH OPTIMISM?
Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee define hope as “an emotional magnet—it keeps people going even in the midst of challenges.” Talking about hope seems to be very far from a corporate world. Having said that, leaders need to have faith so they can quickly circulate it in a team to sustain any change and crisis. As a result, to cultivate a positive perspective hope is necessary. I noticed that some of my executive clients, who suffer from burnout or experience a hard time, cannot just look on their circumstances with rose-tinted glasses. It is too far from their life and mindset. Yet, it seems doable for them to talk about hope and search for it. It energizes them and it creates small windows of opportunity. They understand that optimism itself won’t stop negative incidents from happening. Though with an optimistic mindset one makes sure that they react in the most useful way possible.
HOW TO HACK YOUR PESSIMISM?
Become an anthropologist of your thoughts
There is no magical wand, I know of, that will prevent problems from arising in our lives. They will be present. The magic, however, hides in a way you think about them. If you want to have more optimistic approach start with hacking your pessimism. There were a few things I found helpful while working on my one thinking patterns. For example, I learned that when I feel low it is easier to concentrate on feeling curious than happy. Curiosity symbolizes for me neutral gear and from there it’s smoother transition to a positive mindset. “It’s interesting. I’m wondering what makes me think this way?” “How is this thought serving me?” “ What’s the truth?’, “How might I be sabotaging myself?’, ‘Is this what I want?’ ‘What could be different?’ “What is the worst that could happen?” – all of these questions change you thinking form pessimistic into curious.
Shift movement from inward to outward
Sadness seems passive since it incites no movement. A negative person usually transforms with a little bit of action. One way of igniting positive active emotions (curiosity, excitement, joy, inspiration, gratitude) is to redirect thoughts outward to others. Instead of concentrating on your negative situation, consider who you can help. Research shows that if people start volunteering two hours a week (100 hours a year), their happiness, satisfaction and self-esteem go up a year later.
You might start looking for volunteering opportunities at you work (being a mentor or a reverse mentor to a colleague), your kids’ school, community centers. Apart from psychological benefits, adding volunteer work to your CV demonstrates you have additional skills, you are passionate, and are motivated by things other than money.
Automate your optimism
Routines give us boundaries and help us create order in the expanse of time and space, and they just make life simpler. How to utilize the power of daily rituals so we can feel more optimistic? The easiest way is to plan a regular time for break and gratitude. You might or choose a regular time during a day to express gratitude in your thoughts or, as one of my clients decided to do, express it as an email to a colleague. She took on writing such thank-you emails daily. Apart from increased optimism she noticed stronger relationships at work and as well she started to receive appreciation form others as well that made her see her own contribution in a positive way. People who like journaling to reflect on a day have a tendency to write gratitude lists at the end of a day. It is an awareness building activity that promotes optimism as well. However, what to do when you aren’t interested in writing emails or diaries? Find a symbol that will remind you of expressing appreciation for at least one minute. It could be some object in the environment you are in. It could be an activity (for example brushing your teeth can give you at least 2 minutes of being thankful).
Another approach is to incorporate in your day certain rituals that increase your well-being. Some of my coachees began reading regularly (at least 30 minutes a day), others had a relaxing bath, went for a walk, or started practicing an old hobby. If it became a habit, it contributed to their positive mindset. You might even look at great role models and their routines, such as Benjamin Franklin who used to wake up every morning at 5 a.m. and ask himself the same question: “What good shall I do this day?”
Reduce the number of choices
From an early morning to the late evening you drain you energy on decisions – what to wear, what direction to take, how to manage your time, what task is more important right now, what to eat for lunch etc. Each one reduces the charge of the battery, and you end up with less energy available to make other decisions later. The feeling of fatigue and exhaustion impact adversely on levels of your optimism. The act of planning your day significantly reduces the number of decisions. To avoid unnecessary choices some people prefer to have a few sets of work clothes that they will put on interchangeably. Other plan their lunch options weekly. However, the best way to defeat decision fatigue is to ensure you sleep 7 hours a day.
Bet on learner mindset
Though, it is great to feel that we are good at something a learner mindset adds a lot of positive vibes to our day. First, when we learn we do not feel stupid and lesser than others. It builds our self-confidence and self-esteem. People, who have it, are more motivated to take on challenging work and to persist in the face of setbacks. Do not skip over “hard”! Optimism is not about avoiding difficult. Being a true optimist is feeling fear, reservations and doing new things anyway. Positive thinking is far from ignoring life’s stressors. Yet, being an optimist, you know how to approach adversity in a productive way.
All in all, positivity and enthusiasm are essential attributes, so let’s believe what Winston Churchill said, “a pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”