Optimism is the tendency to focus on the positive aspects of situations and people, identify opportunity others may not see, and generally expect positive outcomes. Optimism doesn’t mean ignoring the negative; it means accepting setbacks when they happen, believing that there is a path to something better, and looking for ways to move forward.
People who believe that setbacks are temporary, limited to a specific situation, and manageable tend to be optimists. They believe there are ways to overcome obstacles even when they haven’t yet found the way. It is the expectation that they can find a way that drives them to keep trying. Their belief that their failures are temporary and situation specific allows them to bounce back from setbacks quickly.
Optimism is a valuable asset during any transition. At the outset, it will help you look for the best opportunities and aim high. When you encounter difficulties, optimism helps reframe situations, so you stay motivated and continue moving forward. Fortunately, optimism isn’t an immutable character trait, but something you can develop.
When you cultivate optimism, you will…
- Exert more effort during transitions
Transitions are full of obstacles. Optimists believe that their efforts will lead to favorable outcomes, so they persist when faced with obstacles. Pessimists have a greater tendency to disengage because they don’t believe their efforts will pay off, which can result in feelings of helplessness. Because they are willing to try and try again, optimists tend to experience more efficient and effective transitions.
- Enjoy better health and energy
The uncertainty and volume of work during transitions are common sources of stress that over time can weaken the immune system, leaving you more susceptible to illness and burnout. Optimism shields people from stress because optimists tend to interpret situations in a way that doesn’t elicit a stress response.
For example, an optimist who hears “no” when presenting an idea will respond with an “I’ll get the next one” or “I’ll try another approach” attitude. Optimists focus on their next move, not on the loss. By focusing on what they can do about a situation, the optimist maintains a sense of control that reduces stress.
Optimists also tend to let go of setbacks before they take a physical or mental toll. Pessimists have a greater tendency to ruminate about setbacks and get stuck in the negative emotions associated with them, which exacerbates stress. Optimists tend to reframe setbacks and move on before stress intensifies to unhealthy levels.
- Improve Problem Solving
Excessive negative thinking tends to exacerbate and prolong problems. People stuck in negative thinking patterns have less mental energy to find effective or creative solutions when problems arise. Because optimists spend less time focusing on the negative, they have more cognitive resources available to find a solution. They don’t pretend everything is fine. They believe it will be in spite of the problem and search for a way to make it happen.
How optimistic are you?
As valuable as optimism is during transitions and beyond, it doesn’t come naturally to everyone. People often think they are more optimistic than they actually are. We have put together some questions to help you identify your level of optimism.
If optimism doesn’t come naturally to you, it is worth cultivating to prevent feelings of helplessness, provide a buffer against illness, and to improve problem-solving.
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Three ways to cultivate optimism:
- Find the positive
Even people who have a natural tendency toward seeing the negative in a situation can deliberately search for the positive.
“Two men looked out from behind prison bars. One saw mud and the other saw stars.” Dale Carnegie
Both the mud and the stars are real. Even if you tend to notice the mud first, you can intentionally look up and find the stars.
A gratitude journal is a great way to deliberately focus on the positive. Taking the time to journal helps you process events and release negativity associated with them. When you include what you’re grateful for, your focus and emotions shift in a positive way. Even during times when everything seems to be going wrong, there are things to be grateful for if you simply look for them. Search for them, and you will find them.
- Find what you can control
Don’t waste energy focusing on things that you can’t control. There are elements of every situation that you can control. If nothing else, you can manage your response. Choosing a response in line with your purpose will give you a greater sense of control over a situation and mitigate the stress associated with it.
Sharon began her retirement in 2008. Although she didn’t know it at the time, it was the beginning of the great recession. After working diligently her whole life to prepare for retirement, everything suddenly changed for her. Sharon allowed herself very little time to dwell on her loss before reminding herself that she can’t control what the market does. Her financial situation changed and became a setback during her transition into retirement. Focusing on the problem or unfairness of the situation wasn’t going to help her; Sharon needed to move forward to fix it. She instead focused on the things she could control and began taking action toward achieving the financial goals that would enable her to have the retirement she wanted. Focusing on what she could control helped Sharon change her focus from the negativity of the situation to moving toward a solution.
- Hang out with optimists
The people with whom you associate influence your perception of yourself and the world around you. If you surround yourself with people who focus on the positive, expect the best, and encourage you to keep moving forward, you are more likely to do just that. You will have people around you, some of whom you love, who are pessimists. They are not bad people you need to banish from your life, and their pessimism also has value. Just be aware of how those around you impact your world view and response to challenges. During transitions, it is especially helpful to prioritize time with people who will reinforce an optimistic outlook.
Transitions can be both exciting and challenging. You will likely face unexpected obstacles and setbacks. Cultivating optimism will help you overcome obstacles and bounce back from setbacks so you can keep moving forward through the transition to the new chapter and beyond.