Train Yourself To Be An Optimist (Yes, You Can!)

Written by Debra Kaye

Are you in a rut of thinking yourself as a failure? I use the word rut on purpose, because feeling like a failure – and behaving like one – is a habit you can change. You can flip it around and teach yourself to be an optimist, to act like a success and be successful.

It’s all about what psychologists call “learned optimism.” You see, happiness is not just a warm and fuzzy feeling. We can all consciously adapt easy practices that will help us develop the optimist’s style and point of view. Doing this will make us more willing to take risks, take failures in our stride, and be more willing to seek help, ask questions, and try again.

Martin Seligman, Director of the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania and founder of positive psychology, says people have unique ways of describing what happens to them, which he calls “explanatory style.” A pessimist describes outcomes as being due to a permanent personal flaw. (“My play was bad because I am a lousy storyteller.”) When something positive happens, the pessimist often describes the event as a temporary situation or dumb luck.

An optimist describes events more realistically, and sees negative outcomes as temporary or isolated events, which can be prevented in the future by taking a different tact or trying something new. (“They didn’t like my play – another group might like it better, or I can revise it.”) They see positive outcomes as the more natural state of affairs. (“I had a feeling they’d like my play!”) We can overcome pessimism by consciously adopting an optimistic explanatory style.

Here’s how:

1. Don’t be hard on yourself when you get into a funk.

“The greater the artist, the greater the doubt," said the late great art critic Robert Hugh. "Perfect confidence is granted to the less talented as a consolation prize." It’s human nature to get frustrated – it’s just not a habit you want to cultivate.

2. Work through feelings of disappointment and recommit to your goal. 

If something didn’t work, get rid of it, but don’t throw in the towel. Psychologists know that we can get through these periods with conscious effort – and improve our happiness quotient in the process.

3. Engage in "self talk" and actively dispute pessimistic assessments of our situation. 

This isn’t just a personal pep talk. It’s a rational evaluation of why past failures don’t determine the future.  An impartial analysis of what went wrong often reveals clues to what might work the next time around. By seeing failure as a temporary condition, we find the will to move on to new solutions, further research, and more questioning.

4. Do more of what you love and less of what you don't. 

Incorporate what lights you up during the day, and do as little as possible of what dims your lights. It seems like a small change, but it’s not – over time it makes you happier and encourages you to take more positive actions toward your goals. You'll experience less frustration and more personal positive reinforcement.

5. Surround yourself with reinforcement in the form of inspiring books, like minded friends, environments, and so on.

Thoughts have a frequency, your feelings have vibrations, and when you're vibrating to create expansion, it becomes the truth. This is not magical thinking. If you can visualize what you want, the first step, the limits you’ve placed on yourself begin to disappear.

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