While some individuals are born optimists, for most of us, it is a skill that is learned over time. In fact, the average person has 45,000 negative thoughts a day! Ultimately, optimists enjoy much greater rewards than those with pessimistic thinking styles. Optimists are more likely to experience good physical health, set and reach personal goals, and cope better when faced with adversity. Optimists view positive outcomes as evidence of further good things ahead and negative happenings as obstacles that can be overcome. They believe that positive events happen as a result of their personal skills and will continue to happen in the future and across multiple areas of their lives. Negative events are not attributed to being their fault and are seen as isolated occurrences that won’t continue to happen in the future or in other areas of their lives. For example, if an optimist receives a compliment from his boss, he believes it’s because he’s good at what he does, and anticipates that he may be eligible for a raise or a promotion down the road. If his boss critiques him, the optimist attributes this to having a bad day because he was tired and doesn’t anticipate that he will receive a lot of criticism from his boss in the future. Being an optimistic thinker does not mean you are lying to yourself and avoiding any negative interpretations or information but rather opening yourself up to the spectrum of possibilities in viewing the world, including positive ones and flexibility in your thinking.
Fortunately, anyone can learn thinking strategies to help them become more optimistic thinkers. When we say negative things to ourselves we often accept them as truths versus really examining the accuracy of these thoughts. Were anyone else to say such harsh things to us, we would most likely think of these people as bullies. When we step back and examine the evidence for our thoughts, alternative explanations for events and whether our line of thinking is useful and productive, we are often able to “decastrophize” and envision outcomes that don’t involve worst-case scenarios.
Exercise #1: Optimism quiz: Are you an optimistic or pessimistic thinker?
Exercise #2: Think about 3 positive things that happened today, as a direct or indirect result of your efforts. What specific things did you do which resulted in these positive events. Expand this exercise further and hold a positive happenings contest. Count how many positive things happen each day, that you play a part in. Do this for several days in a row, trying to beat your record each day.
Exercise #3: Think of an event that happened to you recently, which resulted in you attacking and beating yourself up. - For example, getting into a fight with a good friend and then thinking that you have a hard time maintaining your friendships. Write down:
- What actually happened during the negative event
- All the negative thoughts and beliefs you have in relation to this event
- The evidence you have that supports your negative thoughts and beliefs,
- Alternative explanations for why the event may have happened and all contributing factors
- The likelihood of your worst-case scenario playing out
- Whether your thoughts/beliefs are useful and productive? Would you let someone else say these things about you?