Whether you believe in evolution or God or both, you probably agree with me that our bodies and minds were made to survive. Fear protects us from the danger, we naturally don’t like the feeling of fear but it might save our life. Bad things happen in our life. Smaller setbacks or big life tragedies. Sometimes fear and sadness overcome us. Some of us look at the future pessimistically, because we want to be ready for whatever happens. However, we have no idea whether the situation turns out positive or negative. The chances are 50:50. Yet, when life challenges us, we feel that the world is falling apart.
Pessimism won’t save you. Fear is sometimes blind. It wants to protect us. Like a kind mom who is keeping you away from life experiences because she is too scared you might get hurt. She won’t let the child play in the public playground. What if there is a needle in the sand? What if the child falls? What if the child scratch himself and there is cat poo with some bacteria? What are the chances that it will happen and what are the chances that the kid will just have fun with his peers, learn something new and if he falls, he learns to be more careful and develop his motoric skills and coordination.
Pessimism is not a life saver, optimism is
Optimism was classified as an important evolutionary part of survival and it is connected to positive outcomes, such as higher life expectancy, better performance, strong mental and physical health. Optimism literally keeps us alive. If you feel that you’re naturally more in the negative spectrum, don’t feel bad about it. Some people have genes that make them more prone to pessimism, anxiety, depression and so on. The good news is optimism can be learnt!
The Me-Always-Everything Framework
The first step to change is awareness. Are you looking at the future pessimistic or optimistic? Seligmann, Reivich and Shatte have examined the Optimism scale by the way people reacted to negative events. They found out that people who frequently used the words ‘Me, Always, Everything’ were often going down a negative spiral in their thought patterns. So when exposed to an adversity it’s worthwhile asking:
- Me: Did this happen because of me? Where other forces involved or was it a mix of the two?
- Always: Does this really happen all the time to me? Or is perhaps not that permanent?
- Everything: Will it affect every other area in my life or can I view this as something isolated?
So be aware when these three words in your or someone else’s lingo appear too often.
How to find optimism
First of all, optimism does not mean being blind. If you followed resilience key no.1 Acceptance, and you have accepted the reality, then you are ready for an optimal optimism. We can find optimism through various ways.
- Nothing is permanent and everything can change. There is 50% chance that things will turn out positive and 50% chance they will turn out negative. Worrying just takes your energy.
- Laugh is the best medicine. It creates a pleasant environment for you and the others.
- Look at the bigger picture and put it into perspective. What have you learnt from what it? Is it all so negative or can you find something positive? Have you been grateful for the things in your life? What brings you joy in life.
- Focus on the benefits. Neuroscience made a lot of amazing discoveries. Optimism reduces anxiety, boost your drive and increase happiness.
Shifting focus, changing the reality
It is not easy to switch from pessimistic view to optimistic. You need to take small steps. Constantly. Sometime in the day, preferable in the evening, take the time to reflect on this very day and even if you are about to shout: what a crap day – hold your thought and focus on three things that went well and why was this so. Research has shown that even depressed people have improved results when performing this exercise.
You can’t control the sea – but you can learn to ride the waves. Good things happen – bad things happen. The up and down in life is unavoidable – but often it is only 10% what happens in life and 90% what we make out of the situation.
Do let us know what works for you in order to boost your optimism? In next blog post we will talk about resilience key no.3 self-efficacy.