10 Strategies for aspiring Dispositional Optimists

In my previous post I discussed what it means to be a dispositional optimist and why its important for us to, at the very least, execute an attempt to take control of our 'default setting'. By this I mean potentially making the change from being a pessimist to an optimist. I didn't delve too far into the variety of techniques an individual can use in order to make said change and instead focused on Dr. Seligman's work and a few of the strategies he includes in his  popular publication, 'Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life'.  

I'd like to simplify things in today's post for those of you that aren't here for the science. A nice and friendly list, 'ten ways' style. A couple strategies you can use on a daily basis in order to progressively modify your default response. It might be a while before you begin to see results because like any good thing in life, this transformation takes time and persistence. 

I'm currently attempting to take the leap from dispositional pessimism to dispositional optimism myself. Despite what some might say it is a leap, for me, anyways. Abandoning the way in which I saw myself and my interactions before to cross over to the other side, where people dream without fearing the moment when they are forced to open their eyes. Where a good thing is simply a good thing, not what will inevitably fall apart and devastate you. I'd like to see the world in a different lens. Chances are if you're reading  this post its due to the fact that you and I share a common goal. 

1. Create a to-do list
This is one I've been using for as long as I can remember. Mostly as an organizational tool than anything else. I use a convenient pocket-sized notebook and a whiteboard I've mounted on the wall above my desk to display these lists. I include even the most minuscule tasks on them from attending a club meeting at school to showering. As the day progresses I'm able to put check marks beside the tasks I've completed. Before going to sleep I reflect on all that I've done since waking up in the morning. The strategy of not only creating the to-do lists but mentally running myself through all that I've accomplished by the end of the day energizes me. Makes me feel ready to wake up the next morning and do it all over again. The more check marks the better. Its quite satisfying to see all that you've managed to do on paper after a particularly hectic day. This strategy allows you to combat feelings of failure and the resulting loss of faith in self.

2. Keep a gratitude journal
Gratitude journals allow you to recognize and give importance to the small and seemingly insignificant things in everyday life that might put  a smile on your face. I write in mine at the end of the day when everything is still fresh in my mind. I have a horrible memory. I'm also not a morning person but if you are you can definitely implement this strategy bright and early each day. The idea is to jot down a few of the day's events that you are grateful for. Whether its being reunited with an old friend or watching a new movie and falling in love. I strive to list three points each day but if you're feeling ambitious you can aim for more. 

3. Think in fives
I think I first heard of this technique from a teacher of mine. Whenever something remotely negative happens I tend to overreact to it which only amplifies the intensity of my anxious thoughts. I assume that the worst has happened and I'm at the lowest I've ever been etc etc. Using this technique has helped me put things into perspective. In the instance that I've forgotten to complete a homework assignment I think to myself: will this matter five seconds from now? Five minutes from now? Five hours from now? On into the weeks, months, and years. I might still be thinking about that incomplete assignment in five hours but can easily steer clear of disaster by asking my teacher for an extension. When we are able to view events with a different, more positive attitude we begin to move towards a sunnier disposition.

4. Counteract negative thoughts
When you find yourself mulling over something in a negative manner stop for a second and analyze your thoughts. What do they mean? Why are you thinking them? Perhaps there's a more positive way in which you could be perceiving the same situation. What is it? Think, what would an optimist in my position do? It's tiresome at first, evaluating every fleeting thought when you're accustomed to allowing them free passage. Eventually it will become second nature as well as conjuring positive thoughts rather than negative ones to begin with. If the analysis is a bit difficult for you or if you find that you aren't benefiting from this technique you can try writing your thoughts and their respective investigations. 

5. Surround yourself with optimists
We tend to mirror the actions of our close family and friends in an effort to adopt qualities we appreciate and idolize in an individual. If your friends are all negative and moody teens that listen to heavy metal and bring you and everyone else down you'll begin to identify with this kind of personality to a greater extent over time if you haven't already. These people  may hinder your success in terms of flipping the hypothetical switch. Now you don't need to cut all ties with your existing friends if this happens to be the case but it couldn't hurt to introduce a Pollyanna  or two to the group. Adopting their habits will allow you to make more headway in your mission.

6. Say 'Thank You"...
Every time someone compliments me I respectfully deflect attention off of myself by saying that anyone could've done what I did and that the only reason I got a good mark was because the test was far too easy. A character flaw many pessimists fall victim to. If we keep debunking our own successes no one will acknowledge us and give us importance. Something I struggle with on a regular basis is simply responding with "Thank You" when someone applauds my work or mentions that they like my shoes. Its difficult to say those two words and nothing more but it will eventually become reflexive. Someday you might even be able to be like that girl whom answers with a flip of her hair and "I know" to compliments. This simple exercise has the power to boost your confidence greatly if used consistently.

7. Avoid looking for patterns
Pessimists tend to view negative occurrences as recurring while positive experiences are temporary and present themselves once in a blue moon. One dog snarling at you doesn't translate to all animals harboring a deep seated hatred for you. Its important to keep that in mind in order to keep from holding yourself back and break the aforementioned habit. You are not a psychic so try to approach things with an open mind. 

8. Positive affirmations
Writing 'I can do anything I set my mind to' on the back of your hand might imply naivety to the dispositional pessimist but does make you feel more powerful when you glance at it. Jot them down on sticky notes and leave them around the house for you to find later. You can write them in a notebook dedicated solely to your affirmations. It would be like having a motivational speaker at your beck and call. These affirmations empower you thereby giving you the energy you need to focus on positive thoughts and dismiss negative ideas.

9. Embrace a new hobby
Mastering a musical instrument and allocating yourself time to read before bed each day might make you feel more accomplished and special in the grand scheme of things.  Hobbies allow you to view yourself as an individual with certain talents and strengths rather than a blank canvas. If you practice sketching each day or once a week you'll see improvements over time. Seeing results is imperative to feeling motivated enough to stick with these strategies and techniques. Participating in activities that you find enjoyable and make you smile is also a proven mood enhancer. Allow yourself to enjoy life and smile a couple of more times each day. You might develop a certain spring in your step.

10. Wake up on the right side of bed
If you start your day off on the wrong foot a cloud of gloom and misery will follow you around throughout your day. It won't allow you to think positively much less abandon your pessimistic ways. A few of the ways in which I like to jump start my mornings are drinking coffee, watching a bit of TV, and listening to music while I get ready. Of course none of this is possible if your mornings are rushed. Make a conscious effort to go to sleep on time and wake up when your alarm tells you to. Cut down on the time it takes you to get out the door in the morning by preparing your clothes, breakfast, lunch, etc. prior to falling asleep. Eat breakfast sitting down for once. 

I haven't made the leap from pessimism to optimism yet but am well equipped to do so thanks to the above strategies and hopefully will soon. Wish me luck!


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