Habits of Optimistic People
Being cheerful and looking at the bright side of things isn't always easy but it's well worth the effort. Not only does it feel good to search for the silver lining, the mind/body benefits of optimism domino over to all areas of life including stronger immunity, stress-reduction, enhanced problem solving, and decision making capacities. Studies even show optimism can increase happiness levels and help you live longer! Even if you're naturally more of a glass half-empty type, there are plenty of ways you can learn from observing the optimist's mindset...
Instead of Problems, See Challenges
When pessimists see doom, forecasting the worst possible outcome of a difficult situation, optimists take a different angle. They remain somewhat detached, stepping back to recognize and flow with change. Unlike the pessimist who often shuts down, the optimist remains curious, determined, and self-aware.
One way to train yourself to alter your perspective, according to Licensed Psychotherapist and Certified Relationship Coach, Babita Spinelli, is to “catch negative thought patterns and redirect them in the moment.” By halting these thoughts as they surface, and swapping them for positive reality-based ones, this process “creates more optimistic thinking,” says Spinelli, who incorporates the tool in her work with clients, as it “encourages optimism and leads to more action steps which connects to resilience.”
Embrace Emotional Flexibility
Instead of viewing difficulties as long term and static, the optimist sees them as temporary and knows that life is constantly changing. Spinelli says, “When working with clients on resilience, we work through their assumed negative narratives or the stories they tell themselves about why something won’t happen or can’t happen and reengineer this thought process to why it can or how it can.” By uncovering and simultaneously tracing back to where specific fears are rooted, “we work on applying them one step at a time and continue to build from there,” says Spinelli.
Find Beauty in Unlikely Places
That old cliche, “Your thoughts become your reality,” is especially true when it comes to optimists. Keenly attuned to the frequency of goodness, optimists realize there's always more to discover and appreciate in life so they seek out people, places, and things, affirming their beliefs.
So if you want to see the positive side of things, expand your own awareness of joy and beauty. One way Spinelli suggests doing that is by integrating the daily habit of “pausing to connect with the beauty within yourself to see the beauty around you. Incorporate mindfulness practices by intimately connecting with what brings you joy - It could be simply moments -such as the beauty in the first sip of coffee or the sunshine coming in through your window.” Another way to grow positive energy, Spinelli recommends is, “Decide with intention to follow a passion. Incorporating something you feel passionate about lends itself to your relationship with finding the beauty in life.”
“Fear can transform itself when you get to the heart of it,” according to Connie L. Habash, MA, LMFT, Author of Awakening from Anxiety: A Spiritual Guide to Living a More Calm, Confident, and Courageous Life. Unlike swapping negative mind-chatter for positive thoughts, when you feel fear, resist the urge to alter the feeling or push it aside. Instead, Habash says “take time to actually feel the fear first – not by thinking, but feeling the sensations in the body.”
Habash explains that “emotions are physical sensations in the body that we narrate with our thoughts.” The idea being, by shifting the focus to physicalizing fear, you become better able to observe your thoughts. Objectively looking at thoughts matters because, “they may reveal something. Perhaps under the fear is another emotion, like sadness or anger,” says Habash.
Once you deepen your awareness, get curious. Find out what you can learn from the fear. Habash suggests doing that by, “asking the fear what action you could take to empower yourself. Trust your intuition. Write down whatever comes to mind, and then sit with what you discover.” Giving yourself the gift of clarity, helps you uncover options, and allows you to move forward, instead of being trapped by fear.
Choose Friends Wisely
Similar to the way that searching for beauty brings more of into your life, optimists realize that the people they surround themselves with affect them energetically. Not wanting to exhaust themselves by having to constantly defend their POV to pessimists, positive-minded folks tend to gravitate to friendships that uplift and inspire. And this support system of like-minded relationships helps maintain and expand an already positive outlook.
According to Habash, it is important to know that the “emotions, attitudes, and perceptions of others will influence yours.” That doesn't mean drop anyone who doesn't share a positive POV. Although, you may want to consider limiting time with emotionally draining friends. And “spend the majority of your time with people who spark positive feelings in you and make you feel safe to be yourself,” says Habash, adding that when a friend or loved one is “going through a difficult time, you can still be there to comfort them, but don’t take on their emotions or thoughts – leave them behind consciously when you depart from their company.” says Habash.
Optimists are often realists too; brave enough to look with awareness at uncomfortable situations, they choose to learn and grow from them. This ability allows them to flow with change, try new things, make mistakes, and succeed. It's true, viewing life from a positive angle doesn't come always naturally, especially during trying times. And when events feel out of control, the term “positive vibes,” can seem dismissive, even triggering, if you view it as slapping on a smile, instead of honoring your authentic feelings. Think of optimism as a perspective that accentuates the positive over the negative, in turn, giving you more control over how you view life, specifically the choices you take. For an in-depth study and practical tools to increase your levels of optimism, check out Coursera's Resilience Skills in a Time of Uncertainty.