Optimism is not magical thinking
There is no “secret” to success. No magical radio waves emanating to the universe that attracts success to you. It’s optimism. That simple.
Optimism . . . a trait that can be difficult to find when we are down and out. With practice, however, it can be found when we suffer. Finding optimism during suffering does not mean we become happy all of a sudden; instead, it means that we are able to see options that can help us find happiness.
Wouldn’t it be nice if we could just think nice things and then have them happen? We have certainly had times when life seemed magical like that, but for the most part, those positive thoughts must be followed by positive behaviors that create the benefit you are looking for. You see, a positive attitude certainly helps you to find positive/healthy behaviors, but it is the follow-through that gets the job done. Once we get the benefit from this follow-through, we are more likely to continue our pattern of healthy thinking and healthy choices in behaviors.
Finding optimism during stressful times
When you are feeling depressed and unmotivated, it can be difficult to find a positive attitude; it can be difficult to follow through on things that you know would be helpful. During these times, we can use a simplified approach to Optimism to help you get out of the rut. Rather than thinking of large, long-term goals that you would like to accomplish, try instead to pick a smaller, more here-and-now activity that will get you one step closer. I suggest that you write down a handful of behaviors that tend to re-energize you so that when you are feeling unmotivated you can easily access the ideas, rather than having to pull them up from memory. Things like getting outside for a nice walk, asking a friend to get you out of the house, reading a book that you enjoy, watching a comedy, listening to great music, etc. tend to give an extra push towards returning to an optimistic mindset. Once you have a little energy, pick one thing that you can accomplish, and do it. For example, if you need to clean up after a party and you look at the entire living room and kitchen, you will likely feel overwhelmed and decide to take a nap. However, if you focus on one specific area (like the coffee table or the kitchen table), you are less likely to feel overwhelmed and more likely to get that job done. The benefit of this successful accomplishment will help you to pick another small, manageable task to accomplish. Typically, you will find that a huge project that seems overwhelming actually consists of 4-6 smaller, more manageable tasks . . . that it is the Pessimistic mindset itself that is actually overwhelming you!
Healthy choices and optimism
Can you watch the Olympics and CHOOSE to appreciate the athleticism, dedication, and courage, in spite of any controversy, politics, accusations, etc.? Can you see each performance for its success and grace rather than focusing on errors? For some, this is natural, for others, it can be quite an exercise itself.
When you begin to consciously shift your awareness from the ‘negative,’ aspects to the positive, you change the wiring in your brain to a more healthy state. To change any part of the brain, you have to somehow directly stimulate it, and I don’t suggest sticking electrodes in your brain! So, stimulate it through direct behavior/thought change. This has the same basic effect, without all the headache and scars. Practice this shift from the negative to the positive repeatedly, and it will become more second nature.
Optimism and the brain
Neurophysiology research is showing that old patterns are more likely to be re-activated during stressful times (Neuropsychotherapy, Klaus Grawe, 2006). If you’d like to minimize that possibility, then practice the shift more often, and with more mindfulness in the beginning–I mean, really choose it; whatever the behavior/thought change is. . . if you want it to truly be a lifelong change, then you will likely need to engage it whenever you can. And when it comes to being more healthy, positive and happy, why not practice it as often as you can? Certainly, remember that it’s inappropriate to be grinning from ear to ear in certain situations. But even in sad situations, can you find the peacefulness? Can you remember the better times and choose to do whatever you can to move towards new better times? Please note, this does NOT mean spacing out into fantasy land, or denying a painful situation for what it is–as a matter of fact, what I am suggesting pretty much requires you to first be mindful of the present reality as it exists; THEN move into shifting of your focus . . . Accept the reality, then change the focus. For most, this shift won’t seem to work every time you try it, but it does become easier to access, even if delayed.
Learn more about Mindfulness-based Counseling in Austin.
Jonathan F. Anderson, LPC-s has worked in the helping profession since he started college in 1990. After completing his Bachelor’s degree at the University of Texas, Austin in 1994, he attended the highly-regarded University of Minnesota to earn his Master’s degree in 1997. He is a Licensed Professional Counselor and is recognized as a Board Approved Supervisor by the State of Texas Board of Examiners of Professional Counselors. Jonathan is a Gottman-trained Couples Counselor, and in 1998 received training by the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation in Advanced Critical Incident Stress Management & Debriefing. To learn more about Jonathan’s practice, click here: Jonathan F. Anderson, LPC-s.