Optimism is a key part of being resilient to stress. It stops us from becoming too weighed down by challenging events and helps us to bounce back from them quickly, by enabling us to look forward to a positive future.
How optimistic are you?
The good news is that optimism can be learnt and, with practice, anyone can become more optimistic. To begin with, you need to become aware of your own level of optimism/pessimism. Do you automatically see the glass as half full, or half empty?
To help you figure out whether you are more optimistic or pessimistic, ask yourself these questions:
- Do you usually see the negatives when faced with change or uncertainty?
- Do you generally expect things to go wrong for you?
- Do you rarely expect to get what you want?
- When things go wrong do you expect them to take a long time to pass?
- Do you always anticipate the worst outcome?
If you’re finding yourself answering yes to any of these questions, there’s definitely scope to improve your level of optimism.
How to think more optimistically
Here are some tactics you can practice that will help you learn to think in a more optimistic manner:
First of all, you need to learn to notice when you are using a pessimistic thinking style. Try to be conscious of your thought processes and you will begin to recognise the triggers for your pessimistic thoughts.
Begin to use flexible thinking to develop different ways of seeing things. Analyse your thoughts, and question whether they are helpful or if there is a more balanced way of seeing things. Look for exceptions to what you have automatically thought and try to see the whole picture, including other people’s perspectives.
Turn any pessimistic thoughts around by imagining that you are arguing back against them. Remind yourself that the situation is temporary and will pass; that it is specific to this particular set of circumstances and not necessarily going to be the case in other situations; and that it is external to you rather than something personal about you or your fault. Argue with the pessimistic thought by telling yourself it won’t go on forever, that it doesn’t always happen this way and that it is not your fault or something about you that has made it happen.
Start building a bank of evidence that supports a more optimistic outlook. You could try regularly making a note of things that you are grateful for, or writing down three good things that happened that day every night.
Or, you could set yourself the challenge of attempting to use your character strengths in new ways each day. If you don’t know your character strengths you can take this simple online test.
Keeping a simple diary of good things, or using your character strengths in this way has proven benefits to your happiness levels, so is definitely worth giving a go! A research study by Seligman, et al. (2005) found that people who wrote down either three good things or three funny things each night for one week or used their character strengths in a novel way each day, showed a reduction in depression scores and increases in happiness scores that lasted for at least six months.
Making an effort to show kindness to others is also a great way to build evidence that will help support a more optimistic explanatory style. Showing kindness contradicts negative feelings of guilt or self-criticism, helping to boost positive emotions.
Becoming more optimistic, much like when you are trying to make any other changes to your unconscious thinking patterns, will not happen overnight and will require practice. Keep going and stay hopeful and you will get there.