On Tuesday we looked at how businesses so often spin every problem as an ‘opportunity’; and how that thinking alone is slightly off what we want in an organization. We don’t want to minimize the real struggles life throws our way. We want to keep our eyes on the goal, but when the reality we’re currently experiencing forces a change in the plan, we need to be okay with that. We need to keep moving forward in the face of that new plan, taking the setback into account.

The mindset that it takes to cultivate this is one of optimism.

While some people are inherently optimistic, others struggle to look on the bright side of life. In the book Resilience we learned that optimism was a key in resilience, but how do we improve optimism or optimistic thought?

Here are 5 ways to cultivate that optimistic thought we need to help us maximize our success.

Identify negative thoughts

Optimists who are realists don’t deny the difficulties they face, but they do tend to look for a silver lining. – Resilience

Really, what’s the worst that could happen if you don’t land that next project? Our mind instantly wants to go to the place where our kids live in a fridge box and none of our friends want to talk to us again, but that’s so unlikely as to be entirely false.

When you encounter a place where a challenge gets in your way, take a second and evaluate the truth behind these thoughts. If you don’t get a contract, sure, things will be tight for a bit, but you’re not going to end up in a fridge box on the street. Worst case, your friends will put you up for a bit, or you could even move back in with your parents.

The truth is that not landing the contract will be difficult, but won’t end with you tarred and feathered, the laughing stock of the town.

Increase the estimates of your abilities

Most of us far underestimate how awesome we are. We figure the work we do is so easy and that everyone we know is far better off than we are. At any point someone is going to come along and reveal us as the fraud we know deep down inside we are. This is often referred to as imposter syndrome.

You’re not an imposter, you’re Gandalf. What you do is amazing and so many people around you would love to learn what you know, or have you do work for them because you know so much.

Next time you take stock of your abilities, remember you’re awesome and add at least 10% to your own estimate of how awesome you are. When I’m struggling with imposter syndrome I end up with a note on my monitor reminding me I’m Gandalf. It doesn’t end the feeling immediately, but it helps keep me in the right mindset.

Watch who you spend time with

You are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with – Jim Rohn

Unfortunately some of the people we spend time with can’t be chosen carefully. The family we are born into can’t be changed. The coworkers we have likely aren’t decided by us. Despite these handicaps, we need to work hard to make sure we spend time with people who can contribute to our resilience.

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That means you don’t spend time with people who are always looking on the negative side of life. You look for people who let you vent for a bit and then call you to action. They ask you what you’re going to do to change the situation you’re currently faced with.

What if everyone around you is negative, you ask? First off, that’s probably not true, so stop being negative. Second, there are lots of positive people out there and you can access them. Dan Miller said on a recent podcast that he spends two hours a day listening to or reading positive material to get his day going properly.

What if one of your best friends is negative? One of my close friends went from being a hard driving positive person to no job and always negative. While they are still my friend, I limit the time I spend with them. I didn’t for a few years, but I can’t let myself get dragged into negative talk all the time, so I limit the time I spend with them.

Power leads

A power lead is a positive, optimistic, and inspiring beginning to a conversation or other communication that sets the tone for the ensuing social script – Broadcasting Happiness

For those times you simply must deal with negative people it’s time to take control of the conversation and steer it in a better direction. Start that by leading the conversation with something happy. Stop asking what someone thinks of the weather, and instead say:

Man it’s beautiful outside today, isn’t it!

By stating that it’s beautiful up front you’ve set the tone of the conversation, and it’s a good tone.

If the first text you get from your spouse most days is to tell you about something the kids are doing that they shouldn’t be, send them a message first to tell them they are awesome and you appreciate them.

By starting interactions out on a positive note you’re going to frame that conversation as a positive one. Even your interactions with negative people will get much better with that positive framing.

Be grateful

My oldest daughter was really negative. Every time you asked her about almost anything it was negative. Her friend played with her, but wouldn’t play what she wanted. The next day her friend played with someone else, or the weather wasn’t as nice as she wanted it to be. Even from a five-year-old, when every third comment is negative it’s hard to stay positive.

To combat this at home we started all stating three things we were thankful for each day. Sometimes it’s that it wasn’t raining too hard when we had to walk somewhere and sometimes it’s that we made a new friend. It took a few weeks but then she started buying into being grateful and it spilled over into most of the rest of her life.

Take your journal once a day and write down something you are thankful for. Today, the day after our kids got lice and I was up way too late doing laundry and I’m tired, I’m thankful that my new jacket came and that I still made it to CrossFit this morning. I’m thankful that during the workout I bettered my time on the workout by almost two minutes.

If you need a prompt then take a look at the 5 Minute Journal to start your day.

Cultivating optimistic thought is something you need to do to increase your happiness and odds of success. But that doesn’t mean you need to walk around like some Stepford Wife with an artificial smile glued to your face.

No one is saying you can’t take a minute to think, Dammit, this sucks. By all means, vent. Exhale. Take stock. Just don’t take too long. Because you have to get back to work. Because each obstacle we overcome makes us stronger for the next one. But … No. No excuses. No exceptions. No way around it: It’s on you. – The Obstacle is the Way

Let yourself acknowledge when things suck and then dive back in, moving forward and cultivating your optimistic thought. Keep moving forward with your new plan in the face of the hardship that’s come up and…keep moving forward.

photo credit: evaysucamara cc

2 responses to “Want to be more Optimistic? Here are 5 Ways to Cultivate Optimistic Thought”

  1. John Locke Avatar

    Great post, Curtis. I have struggled with staying optimistic in the past. One thing I found makes a big difference is gratitude. Starting the day by saying things that you’re grateful for is a way to get each day started on the right foot. It’s made a big difference for me over the past couple years.

    1. Curtis McHale Avatar
      Curtis McHale

      Makes a big difference with our kids as well, especially the oldest one.