Author Topic: How to be optimistic  (Read 3277 times)

ClassyCat

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How to be optimistic
« on: August 19, 2015, 06:09:30 PM »
I've been a bit of a pessimist my whole life for a number of reasons. One, I've had an anxiety disorder since I was a young kid, which made it difficult to maintain a balanced perspective. (Example: I often feared my mom dying anytime she went to a store.) Two, I've dealt with a lot of crap - diseases, brain tumor, and my dad unexpectedly died recently. For awhile I thought I wasn't going to live very long, but now I'm at a point where I'm able to see past those things and realize that I'm okay. I likely have a future ahead of me.

Because of this, I've been trying to be more positive in my thoughts lately. I've gotten much better about it and am quite proud of my progress. I used to have persistent nightmares where I died, but those are gone now. If I make a mistake, I recognize that while it sucks, it won't matter in the grand scheme of things and overall I should be happy to have this life. To be clear, I don't use that logic to justify carelessness, it's just how I cope with feeling crappy about a minor misstep on my end. I also try to turn a negative into a positive. For example, I got red scuff marks on my sandals the other day. I was annoyed, but then I jokingly told myself I could imagine it was from dancing in the blood of my enemies. :)

I turn to you guys for help because I'm far from perfect when it comes to optimism. For example, I had a dentist appointment today, and I was dreading it all week because I thought it would ruin my whole day. But it didn't. It was only an hour out of my day, and I was fine afterwards. I want to be able to avoid that thought pattern, or at least learn to not engage it.

So I guess my questions are: What thought patterns can I implement in my day-to-day life to improve or encourage optimism? How do you guys think about things from an optimistic perspective? How can I break some of these old negative habits?

PowerMustache

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Re: How to be optimistic
« Reply #1 on: August 19, 2015, 06:34:43 PM »
Hi CC, 

Congratulations on your motivation to become more optimistic. As a naturally optimistic person, I can't relate directly to your experience. But if I were you I would approach it just like implementing any other difficult new self-improvement habit, and I struggle with many of those. Take all this with a grain of salt since I'm no professional.

Your desire to change the status quo is a huge first step and not to be underestimated. I also think you are framing the problem in the right way when you talk about thought patterns.

With any new habit, it seems really difficult or impossible at first to overcome the momentum of your previous habits/patterns. So it takes a period of conscious attention to that habit in order to change it. Eventually after enough scrutiny and repetition the new pattern will start to stick and become unconscious.

One thought pattern you could focus on is your recent dentist appointment experience. Next time you start to dread a meeting or appointment and your thoughts start to snowball down the path of thinking it will ruin your whole day, stop whatever you are doing and consciously focus on how that dentist appointment was no big deal and tell yourself that this appointment will be no different.

Changing habits is simple to talk about but difficult to implement. Keep in mind that it won't happen all at once and it will feel really, really hard to change anything at first. That struggle will provide you another opportunity to practice optimism...instead of thinking 'I will never be able to think optimistically', stop what you are doing and say that yes, I will, it will just take time and I am on the right path already. 

While changing habits is hard, optimism is a habit that you have the opportunity to practice every second of every day, so you should have plenty of time to work on this!

Hope this helps.

mozar

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Re: How to be optimistic
« Reply #2 on: August 19, 2015, 09:05:57 PM »
Congrats you're doing great! Try reading Feeling Good, the new mood therapy. Also breathing exercises help me when I feel dread.

Sailor Sam

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Re: How to be optimistic
« Reply #3 on: August 19, 2015, 10:40:45 PM »
Oh, anxiety. I haz it. Nothing crippling, but I was a 'shy' kid and a 'worried' adult. One of my persistent childhood fears was that my mom would forget me in the grocery store, and accidentally leave me behind. If we got separated I would look for the cart, because I knew she wouldn't forget that!

About a decade ago, around age 25, I realized I didn't want to be like this anymore, and I set about fixing the problem. I don't think I've reached natural optimism, but my world is a much brighter place that in used to be.

I second the recommendation for Feeling Good, but David Burns. I found myself victim of many of the cognitive distortions Dr Burns listed. The book is admittedly thick. If you can't get through it on your own, you can try cognitive based therapy. They are essentially the same thing.

Breathing exercises, or straight up meditation has also been a big help. Living in the Now, instead of anticipating an unknown Future. I know it can sound bullshitty, but I've found some pretty deep wisdom in the theory. I'd recommend Full Catastrophe Living by John Kabat-Zinn.

Oddly enough, one big turning point in anxiety reduction quest was the result of screwing up royally in my professional life. I ran a boat into a big rock, damaging a propeller past the point of repair. Trust me when I say this did not feel good, physically or mentally.

I had to limp the boat from Philly all the way back to the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay on one engine. I had to go so slowly that a 1.5 day trip turned into 4 days. Naturally I spent the trip obsessing about how my life was over. I was sure to lose my job for incompetence. My US Coast Guard license would also be revoked due to same incompetence. My parents would turn from me in disgust. I would die on the street in a cardboard box. For sure.

But here's the thing - that trip was so goddamn slow that I eventually stopped being stressed. Sure, most moments were an unending litany of job loss --> familial rejection --> streets --> cardboard box --> death, but even terror has to stop to pee. I had full seconds where I stopped obsessing about the future, and sank into everyday boredom. Or hunger. Or I noticed a bird. I would stop thinking about the future, and I would focus on the present.

I don't recommend completely screwing the pooch as the optimal route to anxiety reduction, but if you do find yourself dropped into the shit, perhaps try to find the philosophical good. In my case, ephpany only cost the government one specially fabricated 48" NiBrAl propeller.

okits

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Re: How to be optimistic
« Reply #4 on: August 19, 2015, 11:23:43 PM »
Great reply by Sailor Sam.  I'll add a different approach: do you know anyone really happy and optimistic?  I worked with my polar opposite for years and tried really hard to understand how she saw the world.  I also saw how the world reacted to her (the world often reflects back to you what you radiate out).  I'm still kind of a negative pessimist, but some of the happy optimism definitely rubbed off on me and changed me for the better.

Sparkie

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Re: How to be optimistic
« Reply #5 on: August 20, 2015, 01:55:50 AM »
I'm naturally pessimistic, and was for a long time quite worrisome. Always wondering if I'd die in my sleep, or having nightmares about exams I hadn't studied for.  I've gotten rid of the worry to a large degree, mainly by just recognising that I didn't die in my sleep! My partner never worries, and just expects to be able to cope so thats probably rubbed off on me a bit

Once I got to 40, it dawned on me that what ever actually happened in my life, I had dealt with it appropriately. It was about trusting myself to be able to handle what life throws at me as it happens, removing the need to endlessly preplan.

I like being pessimistic.  Life is full of pleasant surprises.  Bad things that invariably crop up in life are expected and easy to deal with now.  I couldn't stand being optimistic, always expecting good outcomes and then being let down.  The grass is brown everywhere.  I'm grateful for what I have, strive for nothing, and am nicely content with my lot in life. One of life's happy plodders.

Mrs. Pomodoro

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Re: How to be optimistic
« Reply #6 on: August 20, 2015, 02:35:43 AM »
As a fellow pessimist and long-term GAD sufferer, I find Seligman's books "Authentic Happiness" and "Learned Optimism" quite helpful. I do notice changes in thought patterns when I make an effort to follow the thinking exercises mentioned in the books.

I've also taken "Mindfulness-based stress reduction" classes (twice!) that's based on Kabat-Zinn's work. It's helpful if you have the time to practice meditation, which I find it difficult with a stressful job and/or a kid.

I'm much better (though definitely not perfect) at catching myself before I go down the rabbit hole of pessimism now. It can be improved and sometimes I even appreciate the fact that I'm more "realistic" when it comes to setting expectations. :) Good luck!

Rezdent

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Re: How to be optimistic
« Reply #7 on: August 20, 2015, 05:58:18 AM »
As a fellow pessimist and long-term GAD sufferer, I find Seligman's books "Authentic Happiness" and "Learned Optimism" quite helpful. I do notice changes in thought patterns when I make an effort to follow the thinking exercises mentioned in the books.

I've also taken "Mindfulness-based stress reduction" classes (twice!) that's based on Kabat-Zinn's work. It's helpful if you have the time to practice meditation, which I find it difficult with a stressful job and/or a kid.

I'm much better (though definitely not perfect) at catching myself before I go down the rabbit hole of pessimism now. It can be improved and sometimes I even appreciate the fact that I'm more "realistic" when it comes to setting expectations. :) Good luck!
+1 for Seligman's Learned Optimism.

Bettis

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Re: How to be optimistic
« Reply #8 on: August 20, 2015, 11:57:39 AM »
Congrats you're doing great! Try reading Feeling Good, the new mood therapy. Also breathing exercises help me when I feel dread.

Quoted for truth.  I just finished reading it (check your local library) and it is fantastic.  The last 200+ pages are about medication so that may be skippable/skimmable but the first 400 spoke to me so much I may try to find a used copy to buy... or at least take notes on the techniques so I can implement them into my life.

FLBiker

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Re: How to be optimistic
« Reply #9 on: August 20, 2015, 12:03:36 PM »
+1 to meditation.  Noticing the thoughts I am constantly having (instead of just believing them) has made a big difference for me.

I recently had to give a big presentation, and while I was walking into work I kept thinking "What if the wifi doesn't work?  What it the projector doesn't work?  What if they think it's boring? etc."  As I watched these thoughts, I realized that their opposites, which were almost certainly more likely, never came into my mind.  For example, I never found myself thinking "Maybe everything will go fine."  So I started to do that intentionally -- I'd think "What if the wifi doesn't work?" and then intentionally "respond" "Yeah, but maybe it will work fine." and it really took the wind out of those negative sails.  For me, though, worrying is a strong habit, and I need to practice at it everyday.

little_brown_dog

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Re: How to be optimistic
« Reply #10 on: August 20, 2015, 12:22:36 PM »
Gratitude journals often work well write down 1 thing every day that you are thankful for. Be specific, take time to write out a detailed sentence or two about it. These can range from deeply personal  entries about friends/family/pets, health, or personal accomplishments, to little things you just find enjoyable or make your day better (ice cream, sunshine). This will force you to see more positive in your life.
Anxiety causes us to vastly overestimate the odds that something bad will happen to us, but taking account of good things can help correct this thinking.

MissStache

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Re: How to be optimistic
« Reply #11 on: August 20, 2015, 12:26:32 PM »
Optimism comes easily to me.  I'm not sure I would say I'm naturally optimistic, but I have a few sure-fire tricks that help me.

1.  When I have to do something I hate, I think about the good things about it.  You have to go to the dentist?  Jeez, that sucks, but just think:  once you're done you won't have to worry about this for a long time!  It feels so great to check things like that off the list.  I also try to,

2.  Get excited about little things.  Yeah, I have to go to the dentist but I get free dental floss!  Yay!  I get unreasonably excited about tiny things.  Things I exclaimed today on my miserable, humid walk to work "just look at the size of those sunflowers!"  "Oooh, they repainted that house!"  "Look at that dog that is the color of cinnamon!"  Really, if you allow yourself to get excited about tiny, small things then your day seems fun.

3.  Smile.  A lot, and to everyone.  ESPECIALLY when you don't feel like it.  Something about smiling tricks your brain into being in a good mood, especially when someone smiles back to you.  This has served me so well at work. I go out of my way to be friendly to people and now even when I'm in a bad mood, everyone smiles at me when they see me.  It's hard for me to be grumpy when people are smiling at me, and people are so used to be being friendly and smiling that they are ALWAYS friendly to me.  It's wonderful and a dependable way to make sure my mood stays elevated. 

4.  Statistics.  I don't worry about things that are dangerous or scary, because I know statistically they won't happen to me.  Don't worry about dying in a plane crash, or a fire, or someone murdering you. It almost certainly isn't going to happen to you and worrying about it definitely isn't going to stop it.  I don't do anything that increases my risk of danger, but I try to live like the world is safe. 

5.  Appreciation.  This is so easy for me because every morning on my walk to work, I go past a bunch of homeless people.  No matter what is going on, I see them and I think "OK, sure I'm worried about that presentation/my hair/that fight with my mom but at least I have a place to sleep and people who love me.  I am a big fan of daily gratitude affirmations.  I just think to myself how grateful I am of all of the spectacular stuff I have.  Sometimes it is really simple like "I'm so glad my flowers are blooming" and sometimes it is huge like "I'm so lucky that I grew up with the parents I did."  Find little things to be thankful for.  Note them.  Talk about them.  Share them on Facebook or with your coworker or SO. 

A lot of it is just practice and learning how to wrangle your thoughts and emotions.  I do still struggle with it and I have some occasional SPECTACULAR spirals into worry and anxiety, but generally I am a genuinely happy, grateful person.