Some people tend to have a darker view on life than others, they worry more about what could go wrong, expect more bad things to happen and believe in themselves less. Their self-talk, the internal dialogue in their heads, focuses on the negative side. The glass is half empty instead of half full. They see obstacles where others see opportunities.
When in real danger a realistic view might not be such a bad thing, but in normal situations negative thoughts can cause unnecessary stress and increase the risk of burnout.
People with an optimistic attitude on the other side, seem to be less vulnerable to stress and burnout.
Optimism can be learned
What to do if you’re a pessimist? What if you are the one who cannot but look at the negative side of things and what if you’re worrying about almost everything. Does this mean you will have to cope with it for the rest of your life? Or can you actually do something about it? The answer is yes, you CAN do something about it. You can learn to see things more positive and perhaps even become an optimist yourself.
Why should you care?
Optimists live longer. Studies have shown that optimism protects heart-health. A sense of well-being which is clearly connected with optimism, gives many other health benefits.
Optimists are healthier and happier people. To thrive, we need to experience more positive emotions. For optimists, positive emotions and attitudes come naturally. Optimists are more resilient and flexible and even when they are going through a tough time, they tend to experience positive emotions side by side with negative emotions.
There’s also a link with creativity. Optimists see more opportunities while pessimism and negative thoughts lead our focus to the dark side. It’s fantasizing the wrong way. Pessimism narrows your mind. You see less opportunities for improvement. The power of positive emotions is that you broaden your view and open up your mind to the world which ultimately leads to seeing more opportunities.
You CAN change the structure of your brain for the better
In the BBC Horizon episode ‘The Truth about Personality’ pessimist Michael Mosley who suffered from serious negative thoughts and insomnia, wanted to find out if he could change his outlook on life and improve the quality of his sleep. A brain scan showed the area of his brain most in use was typical for pessimistic thoughts.
During a 7-week period daily exercises helped him to successfully change his thought pattern from negative to positive which resulted in better sleep quality and a brighter view on life.
By intentionally focusing on positive things and practicing mindfulness he gradually changed his outlook on life. At the end of the experiment his new brain scans showed he actually changed the structure of his brain for the better.
This is a perfect example of neuroplasticity. The ability to change the structure of our brain by repeatedly focusing our attention in a specific way. Where attention goes, energy flows and neuronal connection grows.
We are the architect of our own brain. This change however can be both positive and negative. What you think matters a lot.
What can you do?
Especially aerobic exercise unleashes a cascade of neurochemicals which both lifts your mood and grows new neurons. Norepinephrine, dopamine and serotonin help you to improve your mood and feelings of wellness, enhance motivation and attention and regulate and promote impulse control and self-esteem.
Change your thoughts
Replace your negative thoughts with positive ones. Think about the things you’re grateful for, look for the good things in life. Count your blessings. Think about what goes well. Before something becomes a trait you have to practice it consistently and with intention, similar to building muscles.
Mindfulness helps you notice, recognize and accept your thoughts whether positive or negative. Thoughts come and go like clouds in the sky. Mindfulness gives you the ability to identify negative thoughts and exit a merry-go-round that often follows from focusing on negativity.
Feelings of joy, gratitude, love, curiosity, a sense of purpose all fall into the category of positive emotions. We, humans tend to be drawn to negative emotions more easily. By changing the ratio of positive emotions compared to negative ones we can broaden and build our personal resources.
Appreciative inquiry in the workplace
The questions we ask ourselves bring focus to our attention, channel our energy and build our capability. Do we ask why our collaboration is not working? Or do we ask ourselves when we were at our best? And how we can get more of that? The outcome will be completely different.