I’ve written about optimism more than once. Personally, I think it is so important to keep a positive outlook that writing about it everyday wouldn’t be too much. No, I’m not going to turn this into a blog of cheesy life affirmations but I am completely serious when I type that I think an optimistic perspective is the most important thing a person can have.
I read somewhere that because we have to filter every experience through our minds in order to actually experience anything, our perspective is the key ingredient in each of our life experiences. Yes, I am saying everything you experience is in your mind. No, I’m not saying we live in a fantasy world where smiles and quotes on coffee mugs are going to ward off all the bad things that happen to people. But how you perceive and deal with these things, that’s totally up to you.
I’m not saying that keeping a positive outlook is going to make you happy. Frankly, I think that having happiness as a life goal is a great way to miss the point. To me happiness is a product of living a certain way, not a goal to be worked towards. I’ll write more about happiness later.
The key to obtaining and keeping a positive outlook is understanding that it is a skill and not something you were born with or have because you are a naturally cheery person. Like any skill, optimism can be developed, refined and improved on over the course of your life. The following are some of the ways I’ve been able to develop a flexible optimism muscle over the past decade. Hopefully you find them helpful as well.
Be able to make an “I’m awesome” list. Occasionally (several times a day) there is a little voice in the back of my head that reminds me; I often have little to no idea what I’m doing, people depend on me and that I’m far more likely to fail than I am to succeed. I shut this self doubt monster down by stopping and either mentally or physically listing 10 times I’ve surprised myself. The list might be simple things like dealing with 3 daughters throwing tantrums without losing my temper or it might contain successfully managing a penetrating chest wound in a frantic young hunting dog. The list serves as a good reminder that you are not a bumbling idiot in over your head as much as you are a skilled individual trying to stretch your comfort zone.
Set a few small goals and knock them out of the park. Make your bed in the morning, tidy up your car or desk. Little things like that can get you in the mindset that you are already being productive and that you are in fact good at doing things. This almost always gets me fired up to accomplish something else which in turn leads me to view my abilities, myself and the world in a more positive light.
Encourage others. I also call this “mining your friends.” Write, email or text a friend you have who is doing something awesome and productive or is going through something trying and difficult. I am assuming you are a decent person and want your friends to succeed and overcome their trials. Tell them how impressed you are with what they have accomplished and who they are as a person and be genuine. Don’t say stuff you don’t mean, ever. When your friend responds, save what they write, it’s almost always appreciative and kind and is helpful to remind yourself that when you put positive things out there, the world responds positively. Maybe I’m fortunate to have so many accomplished and successful friends or maybe my friends are fortunate to have someone who sees them that way. Either way, we all win.
Recognize you’re making a choice. Whether you decide to be positive or negative about an experience and how you choose to respond to an experience is entirely up to you. One of my favorite and most embarrassing attitude lessons in my recent past involved a very busy day; I had an appointment waiting, a client waiting in the lobby to speak to me, a client on hold on the telephone waiting to speak to me and a very fractious small dog with sutures near his eye that needed removing in front of me. It all became a little too much and I should have set the suture scissors down and walked away. Instead I sort of thrust the scissors onto a coworker and went to storm off, catching the pocket of my white coat on a door knob and tearing the coat. I took the coat off, threw it on the floor and walked off. I later apologized to the staff and one of my coworker’s looked at me and said, “It’s ok, I support your decision to lose your temper.” That statement is likely to stay with me for the rest of my life and serves as a good reminder that I had made a decision, and not a decision I am proud of. It also led to a Lonely Island song being played at work a lot over the next few weeks.
Raise your heart rate. Exercise is a great way to get yourself into a positive mindset. It makes you instantly feel better, accomplished and like you are taking good care of yourself. The long term results of regular exercise include better health, better self image and feeling like you can conquer lots of difficult tasks. Bonus points if you get your exercise outdoors, double bonus points if it’s through hiking, running or biking in the forest or swimming in a lake or the ocean. It’s pretty hard to be a pessimist after running through the forest or enjoying a swim in the ocean.
Cheat. When all else fails, guided meditation is a great way to let someone else do the heavy lifting. There are all kinds of guided meditations on youtube and while some of it is a little out there and cheesy, they are typically only 10 to 20 minutes long and do leave you feeling relaxed and better about the state of the world and your role in it. If you just can’t seem to shake your negative thoughts, a 20 minute break full of positive thoughts will always help. Pro-tip: listen to a guided meditation while running or walking through a natural park.
If you asked me to nail down the most important part of this list for me, it would have to be recognizing that I am making a choice in how I view and respond to the world. Each of these tricks have been very helpful to me during times when I needed to get a better perspective and maintain a positive outlook if I was going to get myself where I needed to be.
Thanks for reading.