Very few things in life are completely one thing or another so I urge caution when I ask you to consider if you’re an optimist or a pessimist. I remember a discussion on a course around the benefits and pitfalls of having an Eeyore or Tigger within your team. Many of the conversations around the room that day turned into an exercise in labelling people and putting them into boxes rather than considering the ‘whys’. Realistically, we all have moments of both and, of course, circumstances and context can have a huge impact here.
If you don’t already class yourself as an optimist however, it is worth exploring how cultivating aspects of optimistic behaviour could bring you significant benefits. There is much evidence of optimism being a protective factor which may contribute to a longer life and better health. There is also evidence which suggests that the way we think about a negative event, can have more of an impact than the severity of the event in the first place.
When we are optimistic, we have a belief system based around events generally having a positive or potentially improved outcome. Research has identified the typical behaviours of an optimist and these can be practised and developed. As we know, the more we practise something, the more likely it is to become a habit.
Dr Karen Reivich from the University of Pennsylvania identifies the following tendencies of optimistic people:
They are skilled in analysing problems rather than dwelling on them.
Once they identify a problem, they take action.
They see problems as a challenge as opposed to a threat.
They are approach-orientated rather than withdrawing from a situation.
They change what they can change and accept what they can’t.
They don’t ruminate endlessly on things that cannot be controlled.
They look for information to support solving a problem.
They know when to ask for help and have a strong understanding that the networks around them are vital.
They are more likely to use the positive emotions of humour and gratitude.
They tend to have healthier routines and habits.
So, if you want to grow your optimistic side, start noticing when you do these things or recognise when you have missed an opportunity to think this way. Here are some questions to help - perhaps print them out and stick them on your fridge for your Eeyore moments!
What is the problem here?
How can I change things so that this will improve?
How can I see this as a challenge rather than something negative?
What here is within my control? And what will I do to tackle the aspects within my control?
What is out of my control? These are things I need to put to one side.
If I notice I am dwelling on a thought, this is what I will do instead…
What extra information do I need in order to deal with this more effectively?
Who can I ask for help and support?
What positive emotions can I employ to help?
What healthy routines will support me?