When I am speaking to a large audience I often ask everyone to shout out the word that comes to mind when thinking about the idea of Optimism… without a doubt, the loudest and most frequent word I hear is: POSITIVITY… sure enough there is positivity in optimism but, most people find it surprising that as an Optimism Doctor, the word positivity is maybe 3rd or 4th on my list… the two most prominent words that come to my mind when defining Optimism are: RESILIENCY and CURIOSITY.
What Is Optimism + What Is It Not?
Despite popular belief, being optimistic is not about being positive all the time, and it is certainly not someone who is “devoid of reality” A true optimist is someone who is mindfully aware of the roadblocks and setbacks, or less-than-ideal situations that happen in all of our lives, but they see them as temporary and as things that they have the power to overcome.
Research shows that a more optimistic mindset is associated with many health benefits including an increase of happiness, greater life satisfaction, better cardiovascular health, longevity, an increase in goal setting and achieving (even in the face of obstacles), lower reactivity to stress, better self-esteem, confidence and more meaningful relationships.
The good news is we can actually work to increase our optimism. Here are some science-based tips from my Things Are Looking Up Optimism Deck of Cards to actually increase your optimism and resilience:
Focus On Your Strengths and Trust Your Competence
We are really good at focusing on what we can improve on, our shortcomings or the mistakes we have made —Try and focus on the unique skills you have, the progress you are making, what you are good at and the things that are going well. Celebrate your small and big wins and at the end of the day, instead of making a to-do list make a ta-da list— jot down all the things you have already achieved, no matter how small.
Practice Self Compassion
This sounds easier said than done, but this is a great practiced to get started on right now. Whenever in doubt, always start with self-compassion, try and treat yourself in the situation you are in with empathy and understanding. It is pretty hard to come up with solutions from a place of judgement or shame… we all experience the full range of emotions and so when a less than ideal one pops up start with compassion and work your way up.
Exercise your Perspective Shifting Muscle
Perspective is one of the most powerful tools we possess. It can either empower us or make us feel hopeless. Try and see if you can look at the situation you are in in a new way, it doesn’t have to be a positive shift… sometimes that is too difficult and when it is, aim for neutral, just start there. Once that seems comfortable start to challenge yourself to find the upside.
Surround Yourself with Optimistic People
Happiness is contagious and the science confirms this. Research shows that within social groups happiness spreads among networks up to three degrees of separation — if your friends and their friends are experiencing happiness you are more likely to as well.
Spend More Time in Nature
Research shows that spending just two hours on average a week outdoors in nature significantly reduces anxiety and stress cortisol levels and increases positive mood.
We have all heard of the power and benefits of gratitude, so many times my clients come in with a gratitude journal or exercise completed but I almost never see people put themselves on their own gratitude lists— we can very quickly forget that one of the most potent forms of gratitude is self-gratitude. One of the hallmarks of Optimism is being able to accept responsibility for the good things that happen in our lives. Don’t forget to thank yourself!
© Dr. Deepika Chopra 2022
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