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Ask any successful person to divulge the secret to winning, to meeting and exceeding goals, to feeling fulfilled and accomplished, and he'll usually say that optimism is key. Optimism is what helps us deal with unexpected change, crushing stress, and inevitable disappointments. It's what prompts us to learn from mistakes rather than feel defeated by them.
Optimism doesn't just make us feel happier. It also makes us more confident. Optimism helps us believe in ourselves and our ability to bring about a solution.
Case in point: the 2006 St. Louis Cardinals. These talented athletes were already great at the mechanics of pitching, batting, and fielding. But the Cards hadn't won a World Series in 20 years. When I was hired as their first ever Director of Mental Training, I focused on a different type of coaching. They needed to learn how to set goals, focus on their priorities, stay positive, be disciplined, and win. They needed to learn how to cultivate optimism and confidence.
The season I worked with them, the Cards won their first World Series in two decades. I worked with them again in 2011 when they won a second time. This is a testament to the fact that optimism can definitely be learned.
Here are seven ways to cultivate optimism and confidence in your own life.
1. Focus on solutions, not on problems.
If you find yourself obsessing about a problem, feeling negative, or experiencing self-doubt, change your focus by asking: What's one thing I could do differently that might make this situation better? Replacing problem-focused thinking with solution-focused thinking immediately gives you a sense of forward movement, possibility, and hope — the foundations of optimism.
2. Play a 30-second "movie" of your life daily.
Create a imaginary movie reel of your ideal life, including specific details about how you look, how you feel, where you live, what you're doing, what you've accomplished, and what your life is like. Set aside 30 seconds every day to play this movie in your mind. Set an alarm on your phone to remind you to do it. This simple mental training exercise will instantly boost your mood and transform the way you think about yourself, your potential, and your future.
3. Find any improvement to the current situation.
One way to practice optimism, be more positive in your thinking, and orient yourself toward success is to get into the habit of looking for any improvement in the current situation as a solution, no matter how small. For example, losing a half pound may seem small when your goal is 50 pounds, but it's movement in the right direction.
4. Minimize obstacles to success.
What kinds of distractions or obstacles routinely get in the way of meeting your goals? Is it your to-do list? Unproductive habits? Negative people or saboteurs? One of the keys to achieving optimism is to make steady progress, and that means limiting distractions. Figure out ways to avoid temptations in your life so you don't deplete your reserve of discipline before getting priorities done. If you waste time on the internet, then don't go online. If you have difficulty saying, "I'm busy" to friends, let their calls go to voicemail. Succeeding rather than failing keeps you optimistic.
5. Conjure up an inner coach.
Many of us are more confident and perform better when someone is cheering us on. Yet a part of being a successful person is being self-aware and accountable to oneself. One way to reinforce these traits is to conjure up a coach in your mind. Recall a role model who inspired and challenged you. When faced with a daunting task, ask yourself, "What would So-and-So do if she had two reports and only 24 hours to complete them?"
6. Give yourself daily "done wells."
Get in the habit of recognizing "done wells." Take a few moments every day to ask the question, "What have I done well today?" This simple gesture reinforces optimism on a daily basis. The answers accumulate and eventually help you develop self-confidence, which is extremely important for success.
7. Nurture a happy body.
A happy body helps you generate happy thoughts and emotions. Optimism is easier when you feel good. Factors that interfere with one's ability to moderate a good mood and positive energy include: lack of sleep, depleted energy from poor eating and lifestyle habits, and too little exercise. If you have a big goal to achieve, "train" for it like a professional athlete. For optimal mental focus and performance, take a holistic approach to physical and mental health—sleep, rest, manage your stress, have a good diet, and get plenty of vigorous exercise.