Everywhere we look we are urged to be positive – in printed advertising, social media – even our Prime Minister has urged us to “not to be negative”. We are under so much pressure to be happy it is almost depressing!!
My advice is that it’s ok to be positive – but hey let’s keep it real. In fact being positive all the time can have quite the opposite effect – it can be quite de-motivating.
Optimism is a fuel that ignites our resilience and well being and provides energy to power other resilience factor. It facilitates an active and creative approach to coping with challenging situations. Optimism is “a future oriented attitude, involving hope and confidence that things will turn out well” (Southwick and Charney: Resilience – The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges).
There are two styles of optimism – disposition or trait optimism (almost a permanent state of mind) and situational optimism (where the individual feels hopeful about a positive outcome in a particular situation). Resilient people tend to have both styles to various degrees. However what resilient people also tend to be is not “blindly optimistic” – rather they are what I refer to as realistic optimists – they accept bad thing do happen in this life but have developed coping skills that allow them to move to the problem solving mode – as opposed to the flight or fight – where we will ignore the problem, or get through it by “thinking happy thoughts” or will focus on the messenger – as opposed to the message.
But aren’t people either born optimists or pessimists and need to deal with the cards they are dealt with? NO! The results of a study of twins strongly suggest that only 30-50% of most of our personality traits – including optimism are genetically transmitted. Meaning that the other 50-70% is shaped by our environment, including the people with interact.
So we can learn to be realistic optimists. We don’t have to accept self-talk or the talk of others that says “That’s the way it is little darlin (apologies to Darryl Brathwaite)… I have always been and that’s what I am”
We can change the way we can choose to look at situations in our life – We can choice to see the situation as either half full or half empty – it’s all in our control – And I reckon that is so cool.
So what can you do to be a realistic optimist? A couple of suggestions.
Make the choice! There are many benefits of making the choice to be a realistic optimist. Research has shown that people who have chosen to be the optimism have longer lives, less likely to become ill and when they do, are more likely to recover quickly from such illnesses. Certainly they are better people to be around – think about this yourself. Who would you prefer to interact with – the optimist or the pessimist? Other research has also indicated that when given a preference, people prefer to be around the realistic optimist as opposed to the “Pollyanna” personality. Is this your experience as well?
I will warn you of a danger of making a choice to be the optimist. While it will change the type of people you do interact with, you will also attract the negative or pessimistic type of personality – because they want to be like you – but be aware – they will take more energy from you than give so really be aware of the people you will attract.
Understand and accept that bad things will happen. Bad things happen in this world and those bad things can and do happen to you. Being optimistic is about being real – it’s about understanding these things will happen and having strategies to be able to bounce forward through these bad things, learnt the lessons and thrive.
Increase your positive thoughts and self-talk. Develop a mantra that shapes your views and approach to the world. Give life a crack! In the early stages of increasing positive thoughts, you may have to “hone it to you own it” but this’s ok! As Dr Russ Harris says the first stage of being confident is acting confidently (The Confidence Gap). Focus on your own and others strengths. Change your words from the “yes but” to the ‘Yes and…” Stop the “The problem with that…” statement to words such as ‘To address this opportunity or challenge, I can do this…” Move from the ‘I have to …” to the ‘I want to…” statements. Try it – its take a little while to process but once done, your world will be changed – by you!!!!
Decrease negative thoughts and self-talk. Apply some cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) techniques to change your perception of situations change. Ask yourself (or have someone ask you these questions!!) of your reactions to a particular situation;
- What is the evidence of this negative belief?
- Is there a less destructive way of looking at this belief?
What are the implications of this belief?
- Say who that this should happen?
- Am I “catastrophising” or exaggerating the potential impact of the situation?
- Am I over-generalising or falsely assuming this particular situation has broad implications?
- Is this pessimistic approach working for me in this situation? (If yes – that’s ok you have to realistic but if no – change!!)
I really encourage urge you to be optimistic in your thought, words and behaviours. The universe has a marvellous way of sending back positive things to those of us who are either born or chose to be optimistic – but hey – keep it real.