Being An Optimist Changes Everything—And You Can Learn How To Be One!
by Tamara Mortimer, M. Ed, RCC, CCC
"Where attention goes, energy flows"
You may have heard this expression, or some version of it, in your travels. In essence, what we focus on, expands--and this principle can be applied helpfully whether we want to reduce the stress in a particular area of our lives or we want to enhance our intimate relationships.
Easier said than done? Perhaps. It is one thing to agree with this concept or see the wisdom in this mentally. It is a whole other thing to actually understand it—to feel an “a-ha” moment where this becomes clear and true for YOU, not just because someone told you so.
This actual knowing only comes from lived experience of the reality—the consequences—of the concept. And, most of us need the lived experience over and over again until we “get” it. In a moment I will share with you a technique that, over time, can help give you a felt-sense or deeper understanding of the power of this concept.
Firstly, though, I’d like to comment on the fact that in our western culture we are very conditioned to lead with our minds, and therefore we tend to believe most of what we think.
Many of us in the west are still in kindergarten when it comes to understanding the true nature of mind. As a result, when we experience negative thoughts about someone or something, before we know it we can find ourselves marinating in that negative or pessimistic state.
And, either immediately or after a time, this state will inevitably affect our emotional and physical reality.
How do we free ourselves from this place where we are, ultimately, trapped by our own minds?
Simple baby steps will take us to a deeper understanding of what our minds are designed to do and how we do ourselves a disservice when we put the mind in the driver’s seat without--well--going to driver’s training.
So--let’s get practical about how to work with this idea.
The first step to freeing ourselves from the trap we sometimes create with our minds is almost too simple: we need to become aware of the nature of our thinking.
Even simple awareness can give us the space to be slightly less identified with whatever thought/s we are believing in that moment. If we are not aware, and we are just used to the feeling of being in a negative, or even numb, state, we won’t take the next step.
So how do we become aware?
Usually the first clue that we are believing negative thoughts is from the emotional world where we feel an uncomfortable emotion such as fear, anger, or depression, or sometimes the clue is from the body when we feel fatigue, pain, ongoing illness, or other symptoms.
When you notice any of these emotions or symptoms, stop and begin to notice what and how you are thinking at that moment.
Once you’ve become aware of your negative thinking in that moment, you are ready for the next step.
Some of the more powerful tools for the next step (which I use with my clients) are beyond the scope of a newsletter, but I will leave you with a concept that is simple and can be helpful to break out of negative thinking.
Martin Seligman, one of the founders of Positive Psychology, and the author of the books Learned Optimism and Authentic Happiness, says that according to his research, an optimist and a pessimist differ in a basic, fundamental way in terms of how they view negative and positive events.
Ready? Here’s the heart of the matter:
In a nutshell, an optimist sees negative things in life as temporary and specific to that situation or incident (such as "I didn’t do well on that test because I wasn’t feeling well that day") and positive things as permanent and universal (such as "I got promoted because I’m good at my job.)
Conversely, a pessimist does the opposite: makes temporary and specific explanations for success (such as "I was just lucky"), and permanent and universal explanations for setbacks (such as "No one ever takes my ideas seriously.")
And--here’s the important consequence to this difference in thinking: research shows that optimists bounce back from troubles briskly and get on a roll easily when they succeed once, while pessimists let setbacks in one area of their life affect all the other areas of their lives, usually for a long time period, and rarely get on a roll.
So, in order to be happier in a relationship, or with the circumstances of life, here’s the simple, but not necessarily, easy, two-part prescription:
1. When life presents a situation, or someone does something that upsets you, try hard to find a believable temporary and specific explanation for it (i.e. "She was tired," "he was in a bad mood," "I didn’t feel well that day" instead of "she never listens to me," "he’s such a grouch," or "I can’t do anything right.")
2. When someone (i.e. your spouse, family member, boss, yourself,etc.) does something positive, enhance it in your mind with believable explanations that are permanent (always) and pervasive (connected to character traits.) For example, "she’s so smart," or "I always go for what I want" versus "they gave her a break" or"I’m just lucky."
I want to underline that this is not a prescription to live in denial, or stay in an abusive situation. If you are in a physically or emotionally abusive situation, get whatever support you need to get out.
This is also not a prescription to ignore the scared or angry parts of ourselves; if you find that these aspects are often in charge, this is where work with a counsellor can be helpful, to really help you get to the root of the negative thinking.
However, if you are simply dissatisfied with some aspect of your life, your spouse, or your relationship, and you truly change your mind, watch and see, because the world may just begin to transform itself right in front of you!
If you’re interested in learning effective tools to transform your reaction to stress in your life or to change your dissatisfaction about a relationship, please feel free to contact me at 1 888 504 4111 or firstname.lastname@example.org for a complimentary 20 minute phone consultation.