March is Optimism Month, so I thought I’d touch on this topic once again. Optimism and pessimism are ways of looking at yourself and the world through a positive or negative filter. Although some people tend toward one or the other instinctively, either mindset can be learned. That means that you can cultivate optimism and reduce pessimism.
This is great news! When you think of optimism and pessimism as reflections of your mindset, it becomes much easier to believe you can change. Like any new behavior, you simply need to practice every day for it to become a habit. Try these six suggestions to cultivate your optimism every day.
1. Cultivate Optimism with a Journal
Journaling or keeping a diary allows you to process events and to get a different perspective on them. It encourages self-reflection and captures insights into your thinking and behavior. You can write down what happened during your day and document, not just the bald facts but how you did it, what you did to make it happen and what you did right. And, importantly, how it felt while you were doing it. Don’t just record the good things (a promotion, a presentation or meeting that went well), remember to write down the thing that didn’t go so well and reflect on what happened, how you dealt with it, and what you might do differently next time. Here’s a mini cheat sheet for your journal:
- What happened that went right today?
- What did I do to make this happen?
- What did I do right today?
- How did it feel?
- What happened that didn’t go so well today?
- How did I react?
- What can I do so that things will go better in the future?
- What lesson did I learn?
Did you know you can cultivate optimism simply by laughing? Consciously notice the funny side of things and write them down. (Yep, include this in your journal!) If the technology didn’t work, and you had to give the presentation without the slide deck, or the power went out, or there was a fire drill in the middle of your crucial meeting. What can seem like a disaster at the time can also be looked back on as a comedy of errors.
And, when you feel down and need a pick-me-up, watch or read something that makes you laugh. YouTube is filled with funny videos (I love the cat videos, episodes of Whose Line Is it Anyway? and Jay Lenno’s headlines.) Comics in the newspaper or humorous stories can also do the trick. I’m a big fan of Douglas Addams and Terry Pratchet. It is pretty much impossible to feel down when you’re laughing.
3. Write to your future
Write a letter or a journal entry that sets out the future you want. What job are you doing? Are you running your own business? What have you learned? What has changed? Imagining how your future life looks and feels can be a powerful motivator — if you focus on what you want and not what you are afraid will happen, that is.
4. Keep a kindness list
Have a page in your journal where you note down kind gestures. Write down when you are kind to someone, or when someone is kind to you. Even little things count, like opening a door for someone or letting them go first in the line for coffee. You’ll be surprised at how quickly they mount up, and your ever-lengthening list will give you a different perspective on things.
Need some ideas of what you can do to be kind? Here are five suggestions:
- Smile at 10 or more people every day. It boosts your endorphins and makes others feel good.
- Help someone reach something or find something on a shelf. Even the smallest actions taken can make a huge difference in someone’s life.
- Let someone get in front of you in line when you see a need. Moms with fussy kids and seniors appreciate this, and so do others in the line. Timing is important.
- Hold the door open for someone. Good manners never go out of style. Be a role model to others of how they should behave by using acts of kindness such as this one.
- When you see someone do a good deed, reward them with an appropriate kindness. “Givers” often put others first. Show your appreciation.
You may also want to check out my “Random Acts of Self-Kindness” mini-seminar.
5. Say thank you
Write a letter or email, phone or visit someone (a person outside your family) who has been genuinely kind to you. Tell them how much you appreciate what they did or said and how it has affected your life. Givers often think of others first and giving them this small kindness can mean a lot.
6. Cultivate optimism by choosing positivity
Make a positive choice to develop and maintain an optimistic outlook. Do this every morning when you wake up. Decide that today is going to be a great day. Everyone will have some level of suffering in their life. Choosing to be optimistic will make it easier to bounce back from the bad times and to enjoy and be certain of the good times. I talk a bit more about this idea in this video of a Facebook Live I did earlier this year.