“Your optimism and level-headedness are adorable and rare.”
I don’t know if she remembers when or that she said it, but with those words a friend of mine reminded me of the person that once existed in my mind and heart during a time when I was shrouded by so many negative feelings and self-defeating introspective loops that I could barely remember being anything else. She, however, saw me. It was one of those moments when my entire perspective on life shifted. That was August of 2012.
Now we are in March of 2014, and a lot of the people I have met or reconnected with in the last year or so would most likely say I’m an upbeat, positive person. An incurable optimist with just enough of a streak of realism to keep me grounded. My co-worker and I have been referred to as the Mad Hatter and Cheshire Cat by other work colleagues because she wears crazy hats and apparently I always have a grin on my face. I have had friends and coworkers check in with me more than once to get a new perspective on a problem or just an experience in general when they are struggling.
More importantly though, I feel optimistic. I feel hopeful. I feel happy. My tolerance for when things don’t go as I’d hoped has gotten much higher, and instead of re-hashing how things could have gone differently, I take the outcome in stride and move forward. It’s not always rosy, but overall I feel good and I deal with the world around me in a much healthier and positive manner than I once did.
Optimism. Looking at a more favorable side of events and simply anticipating the best possible outcome in any situation. It sounds so simple. The benefits are real. It creates a positive anticipation of the future and allows us to deal with failure constructively. It promotes happiness, self-respect, compassion, and patience. It can increase productivity and make us proactive. It enhances various coping skills to handle challenges and reduces the level of stress experienced, increasing the likelihood of effective problem solving. It promotes laughter, a positive outlook, and enhances our moods and levels of motivation. It helps us find a balanced approach to life, enabling us to see a hopeful explanation to difficulties experienced, and open to embracing constructive change. It helps see past our limiting beliefs, creating room for self-expression and increasing our mental flexibility.
If there is one simple thing I can do for any fellow human being out there, it is to try to put a spark of optimism and hope in their mind and hearts. An unexpected smile. A kind word. Simple acts of compassion. Acknowledging someone. Listening. Being present. A living example. You will never know what impact you might have on someone, but simple acts are contagious and the ripples spread and may take on a life of their own.
It is so easy to become cynical and pessimistic. I’ve been there. I’m pretty sure it’s called being human. Everyone has their moments. Even after my friend’s comment sparked a change within myself, it took months and some therapy to build new thought patterns and new habits to break the cycle of introspective negativity I’d been trapped in for years. So I will share some of the things that have helped me:
1. Optimism (and pessimism) are contagious. Surround yourself with positive people and it will be easier to feel optimistic. Especially if you are trying to change from a predominantly pessimistic to optimistic outlook, you need to be aware of the people you spend your time with. You have to take care of yourself, before you can help anyone else.
2. Fake it. Fake it until you make it. Don’t just fake it to other people. Fake yourself out. Make it a game. Find a silver lining to whatever it is you are dealing with. Try to find the good in every situation, even in the difficult moments. The more often you do it, the easier it is to make those positive connections in your neural pathways. Reframe a negative thought into a positive one. Make a conscious effort. One day, you’ll find that you’re not faking it. The smile will be genuine. The thought will be real. It’s an exercise in rewiring your brain.
3. Focus on what you can control. Let go of that which you can’t control. Keep your focus on the present and the future. Going over the past doesn’t change it. Some reflection is good, but don’t get trapped in an unending loop of introspective “what ifs”. What if doesn’t matter. You can’t change it. Feel it, learn from it, then move on and bring your focus to the here, the now, the things within your control.
4. Have realistic goals and expectations. Acknowledge you are human and all that it entails. We are imperfect. We will mess up. We will have our lapses in judgement, emotional outbursts, and moments of despair. It’s okay. Every person out there has experienced that. Don’t beat yourself up over it. Don’t get hung up on it. Feel it, then let it go. Move on without judgement.
5. Strive to improve your physical health through exercise, a healthy diet, and good sleeping habits and hygiene. The better you feel, the brighter your outlook will be.
6. Sometimes doing it alone can be extremely tough. A therapist can do a world of good at helping you to understand yourself, but be careful, as finding a therapist that fits you well can be about as challenging as any other relationship. As one friend once said to me, if you need a therapist to help you deal with your therapist, it might not be a good match. ;-) Yes, I’ve been there, done that, and moved on.
Most importantly, be true to yourself. We are complicated beings with individual needs. Don’t fall into the trap of absolutes and hopelessness. Be open and be compassionate. We are more resilient than we think.
Once you open yourself up to hope and a positive approach to the world around you, life has a funny way of looking after you.