Are You An Optimist?
If not, you can learn to be one!
I never considered myself an optimist. But I never really considered myself a pessimist either. “I’m a realist,” I would say. But “realist” is just another word for optimistic pessimist, isn’t it?
Then, in 2009 I had the opportunity to attend a week-long Psychology conference in which the founders of some of the most brilliant theories and methods presented their work. I was inspired most by the father of Positive Psychology, Martin Seligman, Ph.D., and his research on optimism. Positive Psychology moves beyond simply treating mental illness to increasing “normal” life satisfaction. I’ve always told my clients they are coming to me to work on two things: 1) improving the negatives of life, and 2) strengthening the positives. But after hearing Dr. Seligman’s presentation, I realized just how much strengthening of positives we can actually do!
The Power of Optimism
Optimism is one of those areas that can be strengthened; in fact, optimism can be taught and learned. Seligman and his colleagues have found that teaching optimism to children in schools actually decreases depression in those children. The same applies for adults: The more optimistic you are, the less depressed. Optimistic people tend to believe they have the power to influence their environment, thus optimism is also linked with higher levels of self-esteem and self-efficacy. But we have to choose to focus on learning optimism in order to make a difference.
So, how can you learn to be more optimistic? Here are a few suggestions:
1) Listen to what you tell yourself throughout each day. Be honest—are you making pessimistic comments all the time? Or are you optimistically facing challenges?
2) If you notice pessimistic thinking popping up all over, you can stop, tell it to go away, and replace it with the optimistic perspective. After all, dwelling on the negatives isn’t going to improve your situation. I recall last year, on a trip to Costa Rica, we were trying to find our hotel late one night and ended up in a pretty shady neighborhood. Our travelling companions were getting nervous, frustrated, and then downright scared. But I purposefully tried to keep the optimistic point of view, saying things like, “Well, at least we get to see what downtown is like!” Having optimism as your companion certainly helps lighten the situation for everyone. (Click to learn more about Thought Management).
3) In times when it seems there are no optimistic alternatives, seek them out. Ask yourself this question: “If there were an optimistic view of this situation, what might it be?” Sometimes simply posing the question can turn things around.
4) If you hear your pessimistic beliefs creeping back in after you’ve already turned them around, go ahead and distract yourself by trying to think of something else instead. Distraction can be a great tool for greater optimism!
5) The most important thing is to simply be aware of how optimistic or pessimistic you really are and to know that you can improve! Dr. Seligman’s website is a great resource that provides questionnaires to help you assess your current level of optimism.
After taking the optimism assessments myself, it turns out that I’m a highly optimistic person after all! You might be surprised by your results too. As Winston Churchill once said, “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty!” Wouldn’t it be great to see opportunity in every difficulty? Choose to practice optimism and you will.:)
(Based on an excerpt from Dr. Hibbert’s upcoming book, This Is How We Grow.)
I want to know: Are you an optimist or a pessimist? What are your strategies for being more optimistic? What are your struggles? I’d love to hear all about it, so leave me a comment below!
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[author] [author_image timthumb='on']http://www.drchristinahibbert.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/square-head-shot1.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Clinical Psychologist, Mom of 6, Postpartum Couples DVD Producer, Non-Profit Founder, and expert on Parenting, Women’s Emotions, Pregnancy & Postpartum, and Grief & Loss, Dr. Christina Hibbert loves songwriting, learning, and teaching what she learns. Learn and Grow with Dr. Hibbert and her community of really great people![/author_info] [/author]
 Seligman, M., (1990). Learned Optimism: How to change your mind and your life. Vintage Books; New York, NY.