‘One of the things I learned the hard way was that it doesn’t pay to get discouraged. Keeping busy and making optimism a way of life can restore your faith in yourself’ – Lucille Ball
Some people seem to fall into the optimistic ‘glass half full’ type who look at the bright side of life. Others are more pessimistic ‘glass half empty’ types who worry about what might happen or what already has happened.
I would say that naturally I’m optimistic but, just like most people, I have down days when it’s hard to be positive. I wanted to find out if I could do anything to become more optimistic on those difficult days and whether it’s possible for more naturally pessimistic people to become more optimistic. Basically, is it possible to become more optimistic by simply putting some positive tweaks into your daily life?
Through my research, I discovered a few ideas which I think are worth trying. I also found out that being optimistic means you are less likely to suffer from stress, depression and anxiety and more likely to live longer than those who are more pessimistic. So if being optimistic actually has health benefits as well as making you happier, it’s got to be worth a try!
Just like everything else we’ve been looking at, change takes time and we need to keep practising until it becomes a normal part of our everyday life and we no longer even need to think about it.
One simple way to help you to become more aware of your negative thoughts is to wear an elastic band around your wrist. Every time you notice a pessimistic thought, snap the band. Over time this will help you to become more aware of the negative thoughts.
Argue with yourself!
Each time you have a negative thought, try to tell the pessimistic side of you an alternative, positive, thought. What feels better? Does it make you happy thinking that negative thought or do you feel more positive and less anxious if you believe the positive thought?
Many naturally pessimistic people will argue that they are more sensible and grounded and will avoid dangerous situations more than their positive friends and colleagues. But is that really true? Just because you’re an optimistic person, it doesn’t mean you will take unnecessary risks. What it does mean though, is you will begin to seek opportunities to have fun, be healthy and improve your life.
Sometimes bad things happen which are completely outside our control and, in these situations, it can be really hard to find the positive and be optimistic. But we can always learn from every situation even if we can’t always find the good there and then.
Often difficult situations show you the strength you have inside you or help you see a new path or direction. From this the optimist learns not to give up, to keep going when times are tough and believe that, whatever the situation, they will get through it. Sometimes a really difficult situation can bring someone into your life that you’d never have met otherwise or change friendships and personal relationships for the better. Yes, it’s tough right now but the optimist sees the silver lining that will come eventually.
Turning pessimistic thoughts into positive ones is called reframing. The idea is that every time you think something negative, you turn the thought around and think about it in a positive way, visualising a good outcome: “I know I should phone my sister but I’ve got nothing to say, my life is so boring” could become “I’m really looking forward to catching up with my sister, she always has lots to tell me about and I love to hear about my nieces and nephews”. “I’m really frightened about getting on this plane, I hate flying” could become “I’m really looking forward to going on holiday and I’m going to use the flight there to read my book and put the stresses and strains of daily life behind me so I arrive refreshed and ready to start my holiday straight away!”.
Pick a worry time
Choosing a time in your day when you allow yourself to worry and think about things that have gone wrong frees up the rest of the day for more positive emotions. You don’t need to worry there and then because you know you have the time slot later. One note of caution here though, don’t do it just before bedtime! Early evening is a good time for lots of people.
Use a worry journal
Similar to the suggestion above, this involves making a note in a journal every time you think something negative or a worry enters your mind. Simply acknowledge it, write it down, then forget about it. Try reviewing all your worries and negative thoughts once a week and think about what actually happened. Those things you worried would happen – did they?
The book of your life
I really like this idea, particularly if you often think negative thoughts about yourself. Try imagining that every thought is being written down somewhere and becoming your life story. So when you say to yourself you are unfit and in a boring job and you don’t have any friends, someone somewhere is writing down ‘unfit’, ‘boring job’, ‘no friends’. Is that what you want your story to look like? What would you prefer it to say?
Reframing those same thoughts could mean you say to yourself ‘I am doing my best to be active and live healthily’, ‘I am so grateful to have a job that pays the bills’ or ‘my family mean the world to me and as I grow in confidence I will join clubs and make new friends’. Think about what your story looks like now.
The difficulty is catching yourself criticising or self-sabotaging but once you start to spot it it’ll become easier and you’ll notice yourself doing it. Then reframe the thought from a negative to a positive and tell yourself the new thought. Make the book of your life a positive story!
I really hope something here inspires you to try to think more positively and banish those negative thoughts, at least occasionally! I love this from Harvey Mackay (American businessman and author of 7 New York Times bestsellers) ‘An optimist understands that life can be a bumpy road, but at least it is leading somewhere. They learn from mistakes and failures and are not afraid to fail again’.
Until next time xx
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