Develop and Maintain a Positive Outlook (LifeWorks article)

Optimistic people tend to believe that good things happen more often than bad things. They may face many challenges, but when they have setbacks, their positive thoughts help them cope. Research has found that optimists experience less stress, have stronger relationships, and show more of the perseverance needed to succeed at work and in life. 

Here are some tips on staying optimistic:

  • Be aware of your negative thoughts. Pull back from time to time and listen to the messages you’re sending yourself. If you have negative thoughts about a situation you can’t change, try to replace them with positive ones.
  • Practice talking back to yourself. Create alternate responses to the negative thoughts you would like to overcome, and consider writing those responses down. For example, if you think, “I’ll never be able finish that project,” try, “I’ll break it down into manageable parts.” If you think, “I don’t know how to do that,” try, “I have a chance to learn something new.”
  • Use “thought-stopping” techniques. Learn a few ways to interrupt negative thoughts, which some scientists call “thought-stopping techniques.” Psychologist Martin Seligman suggests in his book Learned Optimism that you carry a 3 x 5″ card with STOP written on it in red and look at it when you want to break a thought pattern. He adds, “Many people find it works well to wear a rubber band around their wrists and snap it hard to stop their ruminating.”
  • Distract yourself. If you can’t or don’t want to use thought-stopping techniques, find other ways to distract yourself from negative thoughts. Play a musical instrument or a sport that requires your full concentration. Or make a tape, burn a CD, or create a playlist of upbeat songs that make you want to sing along.
  • Bring more humor into your life. Tap into the power of laughter to banish gloomy thoughts. Rent funny movies, post cartoons on a bulletin board, or enjoy the jokes or humorous songs your friends upload to Facebook or a blog.
  • Spend time with optimistic people. Research has found that moods and ideas can be contagious. Chronic complainers may bring you down even if you aren’t aware of it. Spend as much time as you can with optimistic people who lift your spirits.
  • Use your core values. Behavioral scientists say that most people have two to five values that are especially important to them, which may include things like humor, kindness, creativity, spirituality, leadership, or a capacity to love. These core values (often called “signature strengths”) are strongly linked to more satisfaction in life. And using them may increase your optimism almost effortlessly because exercising them makes you feel invigorated rather than exhausted.
  • Practice gratitude. A pessimistic outlook may cause you to lose sight of the things you’re thankful for, and practicing gratitude can restore the balance. Spend a few minutes each day thinking about the good things in your life, or sharing them with a friend or family member. Some experts suggest that you keep a “gratitude journal” and write down the things that make you feel grateful.
  • Control what you can control. Even if you’re basically an optimist, you may start to feel pessimistic if you dwell on things you can’t control. Focus on doing all you can to improve what you can control.
  • Develop or keep up good-health routines. Optimism is easier to maintain when you feel good physically and mentally. Eat a healthy diet, sleep for 7 to 9 hours a night, and get 30 minutes of vigorous exercise at least three times a week.
  • Get help if you have unwanted negative thoughts that won’t go away. A therapist or other counselor can give you other ideas on what to do if you have persistent negative thoughts that are interfering with your work, relationships, or enjoyment of life. The employee assistance program (EAP) can give you information on how to find a therapist in your area.

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