At long last, the clocks have gone forward. It has felt like a particularly long winter, and although I know that many people love the winter, for me it is noticeable how my general mood shifts into a more positive one as the days stay lighter for longer.
And so, as the Easter weekend approaches, I got thinking about optimism and how this fuels us to be happier, perform better, and generally enjoy life more – be it in our working lives or with friends and family.
Optimism – Good For Your Health!
Positive Mental Attitude or PMA is a concept first developed and introduced in 1937 by Napoleon Hill in the book ‘Think and Grow Rich’. This is the idea that having an optimistic outlook in every situation in one’s life attracts positive changes and increases achievement.
According to statistics provided by MIND, at some point in our lives 1 in 4 of us are likely to suffer from some kind of mental health problem. Therefore it is important to try and counteract this by identifying those things that put us in a positive frame of mind, leading us to a greater feeling of wellbeing. For me, unquestionably, it is a sunny morning, being outside in nature. Or light, warm evenings, and having something to look forward to. What are the things that get you in your happy place?
Not only is there evidence to suggest that having a positive outlook and being happier is good for our mental health, there is also research which has shown that those with serious illnesses who have an optimistic disposition also live longer than more pessimistic souls. Another study published in 2011 found that people who are happier or in better moods were 35% less likely to die in the next five years.
Your Impact On Others
As well as the impact it has on ourselves, our mood can have an incredibly powerful effect on those around us. I know myself that subtle changes to a ‘Teeth! Coat! Shoes!’ approach with my children in the mornings can make a massive difference to all of our stress levels. If I change my mood, I’ve noticed that they change too. And, having experienced pessimistic people in the past, I know that working with those whose glasses are half full as opposed to half empty is much more enjoyable.
In your own workplace, or life in general, you may be able to identify people who might be described as ‘mood hoovers’ or those with negativity about themselves or a situation that leads them not to achieve their goals or disrupt the progress of the collective team.
When you encounter these people, how do you feel?
To use an example from sport, Sir Clive Woodward, in his book ‘Winning!’ talks about ‘energy sappers’ and ‘energisers’. Working with the Royal Marines prior to the 1999 Rugby World Cup, he identified that energy sappers depleted, undermined and weakened his squad. These players complained about conditions, pressure, and workload, and resisted change. Woodward realised that he needed a team without any energy sappers, ‘a team of energisers, people … who were open to new ideas, who were willing to contribute to the team and keep everyone’s energy levels high.’ He focussed on ensuring his 2003 World Cup squad was full of energisers…and the rest is history!
Coaching and Optimism
Having a positive outlook and taking control of your own life is really what is at the heart of coaching. When I am coaching clients, my aim is to get them into a positive, forward-looking mindset where they believe that anything is possible. This requires them to be aware of, question, and let go of limiting beliefs, those things that for whatever reason have been holding them back. Then we look at developing some creative options which puts the individual firmly in control of their actions and their own life.
Undoubtedly, coaching is far more effective when the individual wants to change, can see the benefits of change, and is willing to take a positive open-minded approach to moving forward.
Being positive and optimistic means that we are more likely to achieve what we want to by having motivation to take action. A negative outlook is more likely to prevent us from doing something and can lead us into a spiral of despair if allowed to continue.
‘Optimistic people pursue their goals more doggedly’Suzanne Segerstrom
You Are in Charge of … You!
Optimists believe that, if faced with adversity it is merely temporary, that life can change for the better, and that they are in control of their own life.
In contrast, pessimists often feel that a situation is hopeless and cannot be changed – they can become one of life’s victims. If we accept this negative self talk, it is more likely to become reality. As Richard Bach states – “Argue for your limitations, and sure enough, they’re yours.”
The good news is that, even if it is not our default, it seems that optimism can be learned! In his book, ‘Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life’ Martin Seligman explains that pessimists tend to internalise responsibility when things go wrong, thinking it is all their fault, and that they are hopeless. Optimists tend to look at the fault being elsewhere e.g. other people or the external environment.
If you do tend to be more on the pessimistic side, Seligman outlines some things you can consciously do to challenge the negative voice in your head, and learn to be more optimistic, such as:
- Being aware of negative thought patterns and challenging them
- Living more in the ‘now’
- Accepting failures and learning from them
- Looking for alternative explanations for what seem like bad/negative events, outside of yourself.
Some people keep a gratitude diary, make vision boards, or make plans to see people they want to spend time with. These are simple actions that can all help make us feel happier in the present and more hopeful for the future.
‘The way you see your life shapes your life.’Rick Warren
How Optimistic Are You?
- If pessimism was zero and optimism was ten, where would you be on the 0-10 scale? Are you a glass half-full person, or half-empty? Are you optimistic about the future, or pessimistic? Or do you shift along this scale, depending on what is happening in your life at the time?
- What gets you into an optimistic mood? How can you ‘get’ more of that?
- Remember a time when you turned negative thoughts into more positive ones. What was the impact of this on your life?
We all have ups and downs in life, and no one can realistically expect us to be deliriously happy 100% of the time. However, if we can become more optimistic and positive more often, it has beneficial effects for ourselves and those around us. There are some simple things we can all do to train our brain to think more positively and replace negative thoughts with positive ones.
‘A cloudy day is no match for a sunny disposition’William Arthur Ward
What Do You Think?
I would love to hear from you below, with your thoughts on optimism. Do you know people who might benefit from reading this blog? Please share it with them.
I hope that you have enjoyed reading and wish everyone a well-deserved, and optimistic Easter break!
I am a Personal Performance Coach working with clients to help them get to where they want to be in sport, career or their life in general. If you would like to discuss how coaching can help you, please get in touch via phone, email or through the contact form on my website.