It’s been a little while since I have written a blog, I’ve got a whole heap of excuses why but basically it comes down to procrastination!
I was listening to Billy Connolly speaking on Nihal’s Radio 5 show the other day and felt this was the boot up the rear I had been waiting for.
Billy was talking about many things, he is infectiously funny and has incredible insight in to the world and human beings. But it’s what he had to say about optimism that really got me thinking…and writing this.
Discussing his ‘loathing’ of pessimism, he pointed out that we have a choice about how we look at things. Something challenging happens and you react; some of us will try to make the best of the situation and others will see it as yet another blow – something that will define their day, or even longer. It’s the media, amongst other things, which Billy believes is responsible for encouraging negativity and overlooking positivity. It’s a battle to be optimistic because you’re flowing against the tide of popular thinking. Billy’s solution? One would be to relocate good news or positive stories to the front page of the newspaper and Brexit to the back!
Obituaries, for example, traditionally at the back of newspapers, should be given pole position so we can see what amazing lives people had before they died. An opportunity maybe, to inspire others.
Locate, and then hang out with Optimists!
Spend half an hour with an optimist or a positive person and you’re probably more likely to feel upbeat or more positive yourself. Optimists don’t have easier lives necessarily, but they choose to view things with a more hopeful attitude. Perhaps they find it easier to move on from past difficulties and understand that the future may well be different? Having a rubbish week at work won’t have to define the following week or having an argument with someone doesn’t mean that you are an unlovable or an unpleasant person. Optimists find it easier to make the most of a situation…and then move on, but this doesn’t mean they don’t feel anger, frustration and sadness too.
I wouldn’t for one minute suggest that we float through life like a fluffy character from a Disney film. Let’s stick to reality and understand that excessive optimism may have it’s drawbacks. You wouldn’t bet a month’s wages on a horse just because you had a good feeling about it. Realistic optimism is the way forward and it’s something you can practice. As Billy said, “Learn to manufacture it (optimism) yourself…it’s up to you”.
Alright, so how can I do that?
I know I bang on about this, but small, yet significant, behavioural changes are one way to shift negative attitudes, funky moods and anxiety. I’ve already blogged about negative automatic thoughts (NATs). They can really influence what we do and how we feel. We are talking the likes of:
“She didn’t call me back, she obviously doesn’t like me”
“It probably won’t happen, so what’s the point in me trying?”
“I missed my train, why am I so stupid? I always mess things up”
Thoughts are only opinions and NOT facts. So yes, maybe a friend didn’t call when she said she did but there are many more reasons for this than she doesn’t like you.
Try to remember the last time your NAT was incorrect. In fact do your negative predictions ever come true? The last time something didn’t go to plan, how did you cope? Because often we are much better at coping and problem solving than we give ourselves credit for.
Opportunities can be found even in an undesired outcome. I didn’t work very hard as an undergraduate, this limited my work opportunities and I found myself in a job where I was unhappy. I decided to retrain and made absolutely sure I pulled my finger out second time around.
What I’m talking about here is a bit of ‘magical thinking’. Believing that if I’m pessimistic, I will be ready for when bad things happen. It will stop me feeling disappointed. But if I tell myself I won’t pass the exam am I more likely to pass it than if I feel positive? Actually, studying for the exam will probably influence the result far more than ‘not wanting to jinx it’ will.
Mind Your Language!
Something as subtle as the way you speak about yourself, your life or other people can affect your mood. Do you put yourself down, fail to accept compliments or say things like, “The whole day is ruined, why does this always happen to me?”, when something annoying happens, like your car breaks down?
Well look, it’s what we all do from time to time, but maybe just keep a check on that. Speak to yourself like you would speak to a friend and reduce the catastrophising. Acknowledge when something nice happens, albeit it small: there was a free car parking space when I needed it, the person in the queue behind me gave me a massive smile, or even, it’s NOT raining!
So, what to take away from this blog:
Billy Connolly is one wise man.
Optimism is your choice – you can choose to be pessimistic but it won’t affect the outcome.
Keep realistically optimistic – seek out the opportunities in any difficulty but don’t bet your month’s wages on a horse just because it’s named after your granddad!