This year has been an eventful one in more ways than one. From the United Kingdom voting to leave the European Union to Trump being voted to become the next President of the United States, nothing seems to be going as expected. Uncertainty, fear and anxiety are on the rise, and many feel confused about how to handle the unknown change ahead. This is normal.

Change is always scary, regardless of whether it's deep inside within yourself or out there in the open world. It's ok to feel overwhelmed at the start and it's important to acknowledge all the emotions you are experiencing. Once you have given yourself the chance to process, digest and heal from the fact that change lies ahead, it's time to take back control. It's time to learn to remain optimistic.

Image by Rachel Brazell (Flickr)
Source: Image by Rachel Brazell (Flickr)

Introducing optimism into your life doesn't mean that you become delusional and start ignoring the facts. It simply means you start to see things from a more positive light. When you're able to see your life and your challenges in a more positive way, you're much more likely to overcome them. You'll become proactive rather than reactive, motivated rather than discouraged, confident rather than anxious.

There are three key beliefs which separate a pessimistic way of thinking from an optimistic one:

  1. Permanence: The belief that problems are permanent and will never end.
  2. Pervasiveness: The belief that problems are all encompassing and universal.
  3. Personalization: The belief that all problems come internally from you.

An optimist, on the other hand, thinks the following:

  1. Problems are temporary and can be resolved.
  2. Problems are particular to that event/person/experience, not related to everything.
  3. Problems are external and not a reflection of who you are.

Now let's put this into action. If the problem was my discomfort with Trump being elected the President of the United States, these are the two different ways I could think about it:

As a pessimist:

  1. The bad people always get elected. I'll never feel better about this.
  2. The whole world is in big trouble, not just the US. Everyone is a racist, a sexist and against immigration, not just Trump.
  3. I should have spoken out more about why he's not good for the world, and written about it more widely. It's partly my fault that he's the President.

As an optimist:

  1. I believed in Obama and he was elected last time so sometimes the good people win. Eventually I will adapt to the news of Trump and accept them. Then, I will carry on with life as usual.
  2. The US is powerful but they will remain cooperative with the rest of the world for their own good. Other countries still have the right to create their own laws and regulations unrelated to what Trump wants. Trump being elected doesn't mean the whole world is racist and sexist.
  3. I had little influence on Trump becoming the President as I'm not even eligible to vote and I don't even live in the country.

Time for you to have a go. Is there a challenge, problem or change that you've been struggling to process? Play with both the pessimistic and optimistic way of thinking to address it. The key questions to explore when you're doing that are:

  • Am I interpreting a situation as being permanent and enduring – or is it actually temporary?
  • Am I turning one thing into a universal or general truth – or is the problem particular to that one thing?
  • Am I putting all the blame on myself – or were there multiple variables at play?

As I said before, this isn't about ignoring the facts or passing on blame to someone else. It's about having a more rational, moderated interpretation of the challenges you are faced with.

Especially because, just like everything else in life, a problem or how you feel about it is temporary. And the quicker you can wrap yourself around that fact, the easier it is for you to get your optimistic groove on. The more you do that, the more resilient you become. The less angry, alone and stressed you feel. The more able you will be to grow from challenges, create more opportunities and even have better relationships.

This shows how the common saying, "You can make heaven out of hell, or hell out of heaven," rings true. Together, let's use optimism to make heaven happen.

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References

Carver, C., & Scheier, M. (2005). Optimism. In C.R. Snyder and S. J. Lopez (eds), Handbook of Positive Psychology. Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 235.

Scheier, M., Carver, C., & Bridges, W. (2002). Optimism, pessimism and psychological wellbeing. In Edward C. Chang (ed.), Optimism and pessimism: Implications for theory, research and practice. Washingon, DC: American Psychological Association, pp.87-90.

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