Is optimism something that you’re born with, or is it something that can be learned and developed like any other skill?
I would describe myself as usually a realist, sometimes an optimist, and rarely a pessimist, but my moods and opinions fluctuate, as they do for so many people. I’m always amazed by those friends and colleagues who are persistently upbeat and positive – it seems to take so much energy! But when I’m with a pessimist for too long I feel the energy draining away with the barrage of their negativity.
The general view of a pessimist is that good things just don’t happen to them, that its easier for optimists to be that way simply because everything goes right for them – they get the promotion, they find the £10 lying on the street, clients just seem to find them.. But studies actually show that, in the same circumstances, optimists do better because they take advantage of what’s handed to them, whereas pessimist either do not see the opportunities or simply ignore them.
In 2011, Derren Brown released a short series called The Experiments. In one of the four episodes, The Secret of Luck, the mentalist spread a rumour of a lucky dog amongst villagers and documented the effects it had on different people. He found that those who believed in the luck not only perceived themselves as more lucky but actually WERE more lucky. Now, luck is not exactly the same as optimism, but it’s fairly close and requires the same kind of outlook, so I’m going to treat it as one and the same for the purpose of this blog.
One experiment involved placing some money on the ground where the subjects were due to walk by. When the more optimistic people passed, they spotted the note and picked it up – therefore making themselves a little richer. On the other hand, when one particularly pessimistic man walked past, he didn’t even see the cash on the ground. The consensus was that the optimistic people were always on the lookout for good things whereas the pessimists were too inside themselves to notice what was going on around them.
So, if things don’t seem to be going right for you in your personal life, your relationships, work, your business, maybe the secret is that you’re not optimistic enough! So here are some ways to find a more positive outlook on life and as a result become happier, more confident, and more content with your lot.
1. Count your successes
One of our worst habits as a human race in general is to focus on our failures and our difficulties rather than celebrate our successes. Especially if you’re running your own business, if you only see the negatives, all the hopes and dreams you had at the start are going to be lost to you. It’s important to celebrate your daily achievements, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, because every step in the right direction brings you closer to your bigger goals.
Try keeping a success diary; each night before bed, jot down the successes of the day. Did you get up half an hour earlier and go for a run before work? Did you finish a tricky project? Did you bring on a new client? Did you spend a bit more time with your friends or your family? Write it all down and when you’re feeling blue, look back to see all the fantastic things that you’ve achieved.
2. Adjust your focus
We’ve all had those days when it seems as though everything is going wrong; your alarm didn’t go off, stock didn’t arrive, the WiFi isn’t working, that difficult client is on your back again. We can get bogged down in the WHAT has gone wrong when we should be focusing on the HOW we’re going to fix it.
If you focus on the solution rather than the issue, you’re already being more optimistic because you are acknowledging that there can be a positive resolution. Think back to a time when you worked hard to rectify a difficult problem – yes, you might have been exhausted afterwards, but do you also remember the endorphins and adrenaline flowing through your body and giving you a real sense of achievement? That’s what you need to be heading towards.
3. Tell yourself how great you are
Often our harshest critics are ourselves. We berate ourselves for doing something badly, not doing something at all, or because we think ‘if only I’d done just a little bit more’. Self-doubt can be absolutely paralysing and it tends to grow to giant proportions at the most inconvenient times. When you’re about to pitch to a new client, present in front of a room of people, or make an important decision for your business, the last thing you need is a little voice questioning your every thought. So stand up in front of a mirror and confidently tell yourself just how great you are. It’s a bit of a bizarre thing to do, so don’t worry about laughing at yourself, because that will help you relax, too!
I love this one – I sometimes sing in concerts and competitions and suffer badly from nerves, but saying positive words to myself out loud really quells the negative whispers inside my head.
4. Clear the pessimists from your life
No matter how hard you try to be an optimist, if close friends or family are always taking a negative outlook, it can be difficult for you to stay upbeat. A study suggests that you are like the five people you spend the most time with so take a look around you and see where your time is spent. Could the people you’re with be the reason you look at the world so glumly?
A lot of advice suggests pulling away from your relationship with these people, but I’m not going to do that because I don’t believe you should immediately walk out on people because of one perceived flaw in their personality. Instead, speak to the pessimists in your life and see if you can get them to follow your lead; can you text each another every evening about one positive thing that happened during your days? Or why not work together to find a solution to a problem that one or both of you have, and then celebrate together when you’re successful?
4. Seek perspective
I find my most pessimistic moments are when I’m panicking and not thinking straight. I’ll be so tightly wound that there’s no room for anything other than negativity. So, try and be more aware of your moods and your behaviour and learn to recognise when you’ve hit this point. Then take a moment, close your eyes, and BREATHE. Nothing bad is going to happen if you use 30 seconds to take stock and relax. By just stepping away from yourself for a moment you will begin to unwind and be able to look at the situation more reasonably so that you can start acting positively to rectify it.
Whether you need to inject more optimism into your personal life or your work life, I challenge you to find time in March to begin training yourself towards positivity. I’d love to know how you get on and if you find much of a difference, so feel free to get in touch and let me know what you did to become more optimistic and what changes you saw as a result of it.
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