We all wish there was a clear road map for us to help us when we feel stuck in the darkness.
When we are there, the air feels heavy, everything is a struggle and finding a silver lining is the last thing on our minds.
There are a few things that tend to be pretty high yield to get us unstuck that we all know about, like exercising– even when we don’t feel like it, eating well (healthy choices) and having a healthy sleep schedule (at least 6 continuous hrs of restful sleep/ night). There is another high yield choice that is less known, learning to be an OPTIMIST.
OPTIMISM refers to how likely it is we will expect positive outcomes in any given situation. Some people believe that is not something we can change, we are born that way…great news! That is not entirely true! The genetic heritability of optimism is only 25%, which is lower than most personality traits. This means 75% of it CAN change with time and be learned.
Why be an optimist?
- It protects our physical and mental health – how you ask?
- It improves cardiovascular outcomes (heart issues, even protecting against stroke!), improves immune function, improves cancer outcomes, has better outcomes related to pregnancy, lower pain scores and overall lower death rates
- In general, optimistic people tend to be less reactive to life stressors, which results on less wear and tear on their bodies over a life span
- On the flip side, having low levels of optimism, is a strong predictor of depression and anxiety
- It turns out the number and quality of negative or stressful experiences a person experiences is not as important as the way these experiences were interpreted.
- Pretty impressive considering it is just how we talk to ourselves about what we expect!
- One more thing…people who have a more optimistic outlook tend to be more pro-active in their approach to problems when they arise and actively work to change their situation. This leads to better outcomes, so it becomes a self full-filling prophecy because they make their expectation of a positive outcome true.
- Let’s look at a quick example: Jane expects people to be kind and treat her fairly. She has been getting swamped at work lately and was starting to feel overwhelmed. Once she recognized this, she decided to speak to her managers about her work load and they redistributed and prioritized her work load, so now she no longer feels overwhelmed. Although it doesn’t always go so smoothly, research shows that even when optimists first attempts don’t work, they keep trying to find solutions that are favorable and people who use an active problem solving style are most likely to yield outcomes they are happy with.
So HOW exactly do we do this?
- Look for the positives in a situation consciously BE GRATEFUL
2. Practice acknowledging your part in positive outcomes – recognizing where possible and relevant, that positive outcomes often occur from a combination of hard work and luck and acknowledge the internal factors you brought to each success. For example, that you didn’t give up (your perseverance and determination), your efforts, your innate or practiced abilities or to your personality or competence.
3. CELEBRATE!!!! Seriously- this is an important part of being well and can change pain scores, health outcomes, depression and anxiety scores and how social we are. Anyone who has worked with me knows that I frequently talk about how whether we are well or not, life goes up and down and will continue to do so until we die, BUT…when we allow ourselves to SEE and CELEBRATE the positives, even amidst the darkness, the darkness passes sooner and is often less intense.
So what do you have to celebrate today?
If you want to “level up” and make this even more challenging with even more benefits, celebrate with someone who matters to you (make sure it is someone who you feel emotionally safe with) or if you are not ready for that, start by sharing your success with someone, even a stranger!