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March 2012 - Optimism

Definition

Optimism: Hopefulness and confidence about the future and successful outcomes.

Quotes

"A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty." -Winston Churchill

"Between the optimist and the pessimist, the difference is droll. The optimist sees the doughnut; the pessimist the hole!" -Oscar Wilde

"Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence." -Helen Keller

"An optimist is the human personification of spring." --Susan J. Bissonette

Teach Optimism

For Parents

Step 1: Learn to think optimistically yourself. What children see and hear indirectly from you as you lead your life and interact with others, your indirect actions and behavior influence them much more than what you try to teach them directly.

You can model optimism for your child by incorporating optimistic mental skills into your own way of thinking. This is not easy and does not occur over night; however, with practice, almost everyone can learn to think differently about life's events - even parents!

Step 2: Teach your child that there is a connection between how they think and how they feel. You can do this most easily by saying aloud how your own thoughts about adversity can create negative feelings in you.

For example, if you are driving your child to school and a driver cuts you off, verbalize the link between your thoughts and feelings by saying something like "I wonder why I'm feeling so angry; I guess I was saying to myself: 'Now I'm going to be late because the guy in front of me is going so slow. If he is going to drive like that he shouldn't drive during rush hour. How rude."

Step 3: Create a game called "Thought Catching." This helps your child learn to identify the thoughts that flit across his or her mind at the times they feel worst. These thoughts, although barely noticeable, greatly affect mood and behavior.

For instance, if your child receives a poor grade, ask: "When you got your grade, what did you say to yourself?"

Step 4: Teach your child how to evaluate automatic thoughts. This means acknowledging that the things we say to ourselves are not necessarily accurate.

For instance, after receiving the poor grade, your child may be telling himself he is a failure; he is not as smart as other kids, and he will never be able to succeed in school, etc. Many of these self-statements may not be accurate, but they are automatic in that situation.

Step 5: Instruct your children about how to generate more accurate explanations (to themselves) when bad things happen, and use them to challenge your child's automatic but inaccurate thoughts. Part of this process involves looking for evidence to the contrary (good grades in the past, success in other life areas, etc).

Another skill to teach your child to help him or her think optimistically is to "decatastrophize" the situation. That is, help your child understand that the bad event may not be as bad and/or will not have the adverse consequences imagined. Few things in life are as devastating as we fear, yet we blow them up in our minds.

Parents can influence the thinking styles of their children by modeling the principals of optimistic thinking.

Books

Books to share with your children about optimism:

  • How full is your bucket? by Tom Rath
  • Sink or Swim by Valerie Coulman
  • The Deep Dark Day In: Some Days Are Just Tough by Sherrie Theriault
  • Winnerfish Tales by Hal Gupstein
  • Of Beetles and Angels by Mawi Asgedom
  • Oliver: The Impossible Boy by Rex Wilder

Workplace

Business/Employer

Optimism, is an important component of achievement, and is especially important in times of chaos, change and turbulence. Recent research shows that having fun in the workplace can significantly improve productivity and performance. This research provides evidence that:

Happy Employees = Happy Customers = Better Bottom Line

Here are some factoids related to optimism in the workplace:

  • 75% of Americans consider themselves to be optimists.
  • 99% of workers prefer a positive job environment.
  • 90% of people say they are more productive around positive people.

So, where does optimism come from? Is it something we are born with or is it learned? For some lucky individuals, being optimistic comes naturally. The good news is that, for those who don't have it naturally, optimism is an attitude that can be learned and practiced. Here are some strategies you can consider in your journey to becoming more optimistic within yourself and in particular within the workplace:

1. Avoid negative environments. If this is not realistic, make every effort to seek the company of positive individuals in your organization. Sometimes this may mean fraternizing with peers in other departments. Stay away from the professional complainer.

2. Celebrate your strengths. The key to high achievement and happiness is to play out your strengths, not correct your weaknesses. Focus on what you do well. (If you are not sure what your signature strengths are, consider reading Now Discover Your Strengths which includes a web-based questionnaire that helps you discover your own top-five inborn talents.)

3. Take care of your spiritual and emotional well being by reading inspirational material on a daily basis. This may be different for each person. Some may be inspired by daily quotations, others by reading biographies of successful people in their field and yet others may derive inspiration from reading about all the innovations that we are graced with.

4. Manage or ignore what you cannot change. When faced with setbacks, identify what you can change and proactively try to find ways to do something about it. We have often heard this advice – it bears repeating. Be inspired by Benjamin Franklin's words: "While we may not be able to control all that happens to us, we can control what happens inside us."

5. Learn to reframe. This involved deliberately shifting perspective and looking for the hidden positive in a negative situation: the proverbial silver lining. Look for the gift in the adversity.

6. Adapt your language and outlook. Consider how a simple shift in the language you use can make a difference in your outlook: Do you frequently say: "yes, but...." in response to your constituents' suggestions? The "but" automatically negates anything you have said in the beginning part of the sentence. A simple shift to "yes, and..." might make a positive difference. Check the emails you have sent recently. Count the proportion of negative to positive words. It could be enlightening.

7. Become aware of your stance in business meetings. Are you known as the "devil's advocate", the one who is quick to shoot down others' ideas? Jumping in too quickly to negate an idea can derail the creative process. Often valuable ideas are the result of an initial "crazy" thought. At meetings, even when we don't have the floor, we are under a magnifying glass. Practice being more upbeat, practice speaking last, and see what happens.

7. Focus outside yourself, on important people in your life, on pursuits and projects that fire you up. Bertrand Russell once said that the quickest way to make ourselves miserable is to continually focus on ourselves. It was his love of mathematics that kept him going.

8. Nurture a culture of optimism when you are in charge of other people at work. Expect people to succeed. Even when they occasionally fail to achieve what they set out to do, encourage them so that they can tackle the next challenge. A simple: "I know you'll do better the next time" can have very positive effects.

9. Cultivate spontaneity. Consider putting aside all your plans once in a while to take a walk with your kids, play a game or catch a show. Getting out of your comfort zone by being spontaneous helps to develop your optimistic muscle, as spontaneity essentially involves an expectation of having a pleasurable experience.

10. Consider the health benefits. If you need an extra motivation for practicing optimism, consider the statistics linking optimism to greater health.