Training optimism (and getting wise with mindset)
Updated: Mar 2
Optimism can be a bit of an opinion divider. For some it’s the positive state to aspire to at all times but for others, it conjures up ideas of naivety, ignorance, someone that has their head in the clouds or just isn’t seeing things in a ‘realistic’ light. What if I put a different idea at you though, one you might not have considered? What if you could train yourself to pick and choose a mindset that is most appropriate for any given situation? Wouldn’t that be the ideal? That’s what I’m exploring this month, and by all means come and join me.
In this blog we will explore:
· What the three different mindsets are
· The traits of each mindset
· Discover your own mindset
· The benefits of each
· How to train optimism
· Shifting mindset gears
What are the three different mindsets and their traits?
Pessimist Pessimists tend to favour a negative perspective or attitude to things. They expect an undesirable outcome, have a less hopeful attitude and habitually anticipates the worst.
· Tend to notice the bad things in life more
· Can feel that when things go wrong, its somehow their fault, even if it isn’t
· Often thinks things will remain bad in the future which can make them excellent planners
· Often complain
· Easily disheartened and more fearful of life
· Pleasantly surprised when life goes well
Realist Realists tend to see and accept things as they are. They favour facts and past events to help make sense of a current situation. This is a practical mindset but not a hopeful one.
· Not particularly influenced by positive or negative events
· Tend to analyse information/data available to them before making any opinion/decision
· Neither hopeful or disheartened
· Not overly effected by expectations
Optimist Optimists tend to favour a positive outlook or attitude. They are hopeful and more inclined to expecting a favourable outcome.
· Usually very bias towards the good things in life or focus in on positive aspects
· If something goes wrong, tend to think it is circumstantial rather than an internal fault
· More likely to problem solve through a difficulty and cope well in adversity
· Tend to be highly self-motivated
· Not easily put off and less fearful of life
· Bigger risk takers
You may look at this and think, you can relate to parts of all of those categories. I know I can. This is just a simplistic look at the general traits of the realist, pessimist and optimist.
Discover your mindset
If you want to get a clearer picture of which mindset you tend to favour then here are some links to online tests you can take.
This link will take you to a quick test: Click here
And this link will take you to an adapted test by Martin Seligman. It takes about 15 minutes but it is more in depth and it’s the one I tend to favour: Click here
What results did you get? Were you surprised?
Just in case you were thinking mindset is not something within your control, research shows contrary to that. In a study done on twins, our mindset was shown to be only 25% inherited. That means a whopping 75% is under our own control. (1)
So which mindset is it best to be?
The pessimist who is delighted when their worst-case-scenario isn’t realised? The realist who is analytical and sees the world as it is? Or the optimist, who sees the positive even in the darkest of times?
Exploring the benefits might help you decide.
Benefits of the pessimist, realist and optimist
In looking at and learning the benefits of each mindset, you are being truly clever here my friend. You are choosing not to see any one as the 'best' but rather recognise they all have a place. If you are aware of the benefits and the traits, you are empowering yourself to be able to select which mental attitude you adopt for any given situation.
Certain types of Pessimists (Defensive Pessimists) can actually use this trait to help drive them towards achieving a goal. They can make excellent planners and organisers because they have often considered every aspect that could go wrong. It is also recognised as a coping strategy by those who suffer with anxiety or have experienced trauma. So it’s not all doom and gloom for the pessimist.
Realists don’t seem to get any major benefit or negative result from their attitude. The realist is so based in logic, probability and the balancing of facts, that they react to each circumstance on an individual basis. Do keep in mind, that the realist still runs their mindset through a filter of their own knowledge, experience and beliefs.
Optimisms are generally happier, healthier, more successful people. Yup, the above are just a few of the benefits optimism can bring and just below, I’ve gone into this in a bit more detail. A warning to the optimist though: they can be much more inclined to take risks and also go far beyond what is considered realistic. The optimist, as crazy as they may sometimes seem, are the ones that push for progress. I suppose if someone hadn’t decided it was entirely possible for humans to be airborne we wouldn’t have the air travel we have today.
In the last decade or so, scientists and psychologists had become more interested in studying the effects of the way we experience life through the three different filters of mind sets; and the optimist, can boast the following benefits:
1. The optimist experiences better mental health
Optimists tend to be hopeful people and they usually find the best in situations. This means they are likely to experience less incidents of mental health related issues like anxiety and depression. Even if they do get them, it’s quite often not as deep and they’re more likely to climb out of episodes much quicker. Don’t get me wrong! It doesn’t mean the optimist will never again experience mental health issues, but they’re likely to fair better in this area than the pessimist.
2. Being optimistic increases dopamine production
You may have heard of the ‘Happy hormone’ or the ‘body’s reward’? Well, they’re talking about dopamine, a neurotransmitter that the body naturally produces. It’s what makes us feel good, feel pleasure, it makes us feel more motivated, improves our performance and it’s the high humans chase, sometimes without even knowing it. And optimists make more of it! Who wouldn’t want that?!
3. The optimist is less likely to get ill Whilst the link between optimism and feeling happier may feel quite obvious, the physical benefits aren’t always so. There are only a small number of studies in this area, but there is a clear correlation between optimists and better physical health. Studies of optimism have proved it can help cardiac issues and hypertension (High blood pressure). In fact, it’s good for the circulatory system in general. You’re less likely to get ill in the first place and if you do, your immune system will fend those bugs off quicker. One study in 2006, had Scientists evaluate the personality style of 193 healthy volunteers. Each was then given a common respiratory virus. People that had a positive personality style were less likely to develop viral symptoms than their less positive peers. How amazing is that?
4. When the proverbial poop hits the fan, optimists cope better! Studies from natural disaster victims, cancer patients, or trauma survivors show that the optimists among them cope better. This is due to a number of factors; their positive disposition sees them turn more readily to coping strategies such as humour, seeing the good (no matter how small) in a situation, asking for the support of others and they are more proactive in helping themselves. They are also credited with having greater problem- solving abilities. Due to these factors, they are likely to process the emotions attached to the events that have happened to them quicker and come to a point of acceptance more readily.
5. Optimists are happier Optimists tend to cultivate happier thoughts. This creates positive emotions and feelings plus a release of the hormones associated with them. If you consider this, plus the benefits of the optimistic mindset mentioned above, it's easy to see how this could create an upward cycle for yourself. 6. The optimist may well live longer Now that you know optimists are healthier and happier, that probably isn’t a surprise but studies have also found that optimists are also more likely to make healthier lifestyle choices.
These aren’t all the benefits to being an optimist but they give you the idea!
7. Optimists are more successful The optimistic mindset tends to most the one most associated with success. That probably isn't so surprising given the traits associated to the mindset, such as a willingness to explore alternative options, being open to new things and believing that a good outcome is not only possible but likely (which feeds into motivation levels), so if you want to feel and be more successful, optimism could be the mindset for you!
How to train optimism
I used to be deeply pessimistic but living as a pessimist didn’t make me a very happy person, or particularly fun to be around. I felt like every thought and conversation I had was dripping in negativity. I want to say now that no blame or shame should be involved for anyone who is a pessimist. It’s not that pessimists enjoy constantly anticipating the worse or focusing on the negative. It’s often a method of self-preservation, an attempt to self-protect. And that is totally understandable. I decided I needed a shift. My thinking was that if I had learnt pessimism and used it to serve me, then I could do the same for an alternative mindset.
If you’re interested in doing the same or want to increase your optimism levels, here are some quick tips on how to do so:
· Build your self-awareness. Get good at listening to your internal chatter, your expectations and your responses to situations. You can’t change your mindset if you have no awareness of how it is now. Mindfulness, journaling and CBT are all skills that can help with this.
· Aim to problem solve, rather than problem swallow. Challenge yourself whenever possible to make a situation better or to solve the issue.
· Proactively seek out the good in situations and others, no matter how hard. At first this might feel really difficult and a real effort but eventually, it does become habit and you will start seeing silver linings with ease.
· Keep a journal. It’s amazing when you read back on your writing to get a feel of yourself from an outside perspective. If you’re a negative nelly all the time, it will leap right off the page at you! Other practices that can really help with training your optimism are gratitude exercises, alternative perspective writing, free writing and affirmations.
· Mindfulness is a great one to look into as well. First it will help you with training your self-awareness but it will also teach you probably one of the most important skills of all in throughout this: to be kind to yourself (And others). It will make this process of change much easier if you do it with compassion. Don’t be afraid to give yourself a big ‘well done!’ from time to time too.
· Meditation can be another useful tool to utilise. Not so much in the moment but if you are no stranger to visualisation based meditations, then you can imagine yourself already in the state of mind you wish to achieve and behaving as though you already ARE the realist/pessimist/optimist.
· Surround yourself with people that share the mindset you want to achieve. People’s energy is contagious. Use that to your advantage. Plus you can study how those people behave and react, then practice doing the same yourself until it becomes a more natural behaviour.
· CBT (Cognative behavioural therapy) It can be excellent for helping you shift current thought patterns and behaviours. It’s a large subject but try this ‘ABC model’ exercise to give you a taster: Write down in sentences or in bullet points a recent event you’re having trouble with. A-Adversity: What has happened? B-Beliefs: What is the story your mind is telling about what has happened? C-Consequence: The results of your beliefs about the situation for you in thoughts and feelings. The idea of this exercise is to examine your own beliefs and how they relate to your thoughts and feelings. Then you are free to challenge them and give an alternative opinion.
· If you fall off the wagon 100 times, get back on 101! Keep going. This is not a quick process but one worth pursuing. Remember the benefits and why you started.
These skills will take time because what you are doing is actually changing your neural pathways in the brain so it’s no quick fix- Don’t give up though! It will come.
Shifting mindset gears As you saw at the start of the last section, I decided I didn’t want to be a pessimist anymore and that I wanted to be a firm optimist. I worked hard on myself and overtime, managed to achieve that optimistic state I was hoping for. And guess what? As a result, I AM more successful, I AM healthier and I am certainly HAPPIER. I wanted to push this further and have researched and practised ever deeper into the subject, but it was in doing so, I discovered something quite surprising and I’m going to share that with you here because frankly, it blew me away. Being an optimist isn’t always best. Maybe that seems obvious but I was so focused on achieving a naturally optimistic state as much as possible and everything I studied on mental health, wellbeing and success was reaffirming that should be my goal, that I just didn’t think to seek any other narrative. It was only when reading ‘Learned Optimism’ by Martin Seligman that a particular sentenced challenged my beliefs that optimism 24/7 should be my ultimate goal.
He gave an example, that when in a life or death situation, it would most certainly be advantageous to swap to a realist or even slightly pessimistic mindset and minimise risk taking.
Good point well made there Mr Seligman.
That is when I started to proactively research what the BENEFITS might be to being a pessimist and a realist. And as you’ll have discovered from reading this blog, they are benefits to those mindsets too.
So now I work at being as wise as possible in knowing which mindset is best for which situation and bringing through those qualities. I’m in the ‘optimistic’ gear most of the time, but I can shift if I need to. And that is a powerful thing.
Love and Light, Anna #Growthforlife
1: Quote from Eric S. Kim, a research fellow from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
Harvard Medical school-Coping with stress: divergent strategies of optimists and pessimists- Journal of Personality and Social Psychology National library of medicine
National institute of health