On Positive Thinking

A recent column in the New York Times by Jane Brody on the power of optimism brought me back to my training in appreciative inquiry and positive psychology at the College of Executive coaching.  Brody shared the research that optimists had lower death rates than pessimists over a 30-year period, and there is plenty of other evidence to suggest that optimists are generally able to respond better to stress, and find satisfaction in their lives, than are pessimists.

Martin Seligman’s 2011 bestseller, Flourish:  A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being, reached beyond his prior focus on “happiness” to looking at building a life of overall well-being, and described four factors that allow individuals to thrive:  relationships, accomplishment, engagement with one’s work, and positive emotion. Brody’s column noted that irrespective of the context (work or relationships), it’s often not just about being positive, but being motivated and persistent, so that when things go wrong, optimists don’t give up – they learn from their troubles, and find new ways to press on.

While optimism appears to be strongly influenced by genes, it is also something that can be learned by changing behavior, which is why there is more than a grain of truth in the old adage, “fake it ‘til you make it.”  Rather than trying to change your emotions, try these new behaviors as a way to build more optimism into your repertoire by being optimistic:

  • Train your mind to focus on your successes each day.  Before you go to bed at night, write down one or two things that went well that day, and think about why they happened.
  • Think about your work and identify what makes it meaningful for you.  What are you proud of each day?

And remember what Stephen Covey famously said, it takes 21 days of repetition to make something a habit.  See if you are feeling more optimistic after you’ve made these new behaviors a regular habit – what have you got to lose?



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