I Choose Hope
I am a basically optimistic person. I have to be. I make most of my living as a freelance writer. If I didn’t believe that eventually somebody would take my next pitch or query I would have to go and get a real job. But that doesn’t mean I am blindly positive about the future, of my work or the world that my children unfortunately will get to inherit. I have deep concerns about both.
But it somehow helps me get along better with the committee inside my head when I look at the glass as being half-full rather than half-empty. Both statements are true but thinking I have more instead of less encourages me, and as a self-motivator I need all the help I can get. I also get more energy from friends and colleagues who tend to be optimistic versus pessimistic about life in general. Debbie and Danny Downer don’t inspire me to do better. If I listened to them I would just give up.
I also find that even my mild form of optimism gives me an advantage in this dog-eat-dog world. I do my best and then send it out into the world with good intentions and hopes for the best. Sometimes the world or some grouchy editor is not ready for my feat of brilliance but that’s okay too. My positivity allows me to accept minor defeats graciously, thank them for their time, and move on to the next publication until I am finally successful.
United States President Barack Obama is fond of saving that while he strongly believes in hope, and it seems to be working for him since he’s won two elections on this theme, hope is not blind optimism. I agree with the President, but I would also say that blind optimism is better than having no hope at all. When I am down to my last chance, two out and a full count in the ninth inning in baseball parlance, I have to believe in something. And when I do, something good almost always happens.
So that’s my thinking. What do the experts say? According to the New York Times researchers at Harvard University have determined that being optimistic is not just good for your mental health, but being positive actually benefits your physical well-being as well. These researchers reviewed 200 studies that looked at the correlation between cardiovascular risks and emotional states and found that when people had optimism or hope they had a reduced risk of heart disease and stroke.
Not only that, but other studies have shown that positive people can cope with serious diseases and ailments like cancer better than pessimists, they respond better to treatment and their full recovery rates are much higher. Still more surveys show that optimistic people live longer and are more financially successful than those who have a negative attitude. So I guess the motto should be something like: be optimistic, live long and prosper? Funny, I didn’t realize that Spock was actually an optimist.
How Can I Be Optimistic?
If you are truly a pessimist at heart, don’t give up hope just yet. Geoffrey James, writing in INC magazine says that you can train your brain to be optimistic. In his view we all have rules in our heads that guide our thinking. Pessimists have rules that allow them to be miserable but make it difficult to be happy. Optimists have a completely different approach. James says that we have to re-train our brains to think optimistically.
The good news is that you can do that by following a number of basic steps to re-wire your thinking. Here is a summary of those suggestions.
- Write down what you are doing now (your rules)
Do not use your computer but actually write down what situations make you happy and those that don’t. What are you really feeling in these situations? Make your list, but keep it simple. There are no right or wrong answers.
- Examine the results
Is what you are you doing now working for you? Do your rules for when you are happy or sad make sense to you? If not then you need to make changes.
- Write down some different rules
Here’s the hard part. It’s time to separate out old feelings and thinking that doesn’t work for you with new and positive ideas. Your new rules should clarify when you think it is reasonable for you to be positive or negative. Geoffrey James’ suggested format is:
- I am happy when (event)
- I am miserable only when (event
- Get rid of (even burn) your old rules
Burning is an ancient ritual for letting go of something. So let go of your pessimism already. Burn, baby, burn.
- Post your new rules in a prominent place at work
This process only works if repeated over time and only if you keep it at the forefront of your thinking. That’s why you stick it on your office wall or on your cubicle. Your mind is now open to the possibility of optimism. But only if you do the work.
So when you think about it you might as well be optimistic. What have you got to lose? As Winston Churchill once said “I am an optimist. It does not seem too much use being anything else.” So if you are an optimist how do you maintain your positivity in a mostly negative world? Drop us a line, we’d love to hear from you.
Mike Martin is a writer and the author of Change the Things You Can: Dealing with Difficult People.
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