“Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.” – Helen Keller
It has been said, contrasting the mind-sets of optimism and pessimism, that pessimists are more often right about things, but that optimists are happier.
That very well might be true. And on the right occasion, at the right moment, I might ask a client, “If you had to pick one or the other – being right or being happy – which would you pick?” The implication of this question? We have the power and the authority to choose our thoughts and beliefs about life, even though we’ve been programmed to think one way or another. The old saying “Hope for the best, and prepare for the worst”, implies that we can be optimistic, while still taking care to make wise choices.
Let’s say your brain tends toward self-limiting, self-defeating thoughts, and you have chosen to change that habit, and to adopt a sunny way of thinking. On the other hand, you may be naturally optimistic. In either case, you may not need to read this article. But, if you do think like a pessimist … seeing the glass “half empty”, often expecting the unwanted outcome … And, if you also wonder … is this a problem for me? Can I change it? In general, can negative or pessimistic thinking habits be turned around, and can a person with those habits acquire the habit of thinking positively and looking forward to good outcomes? Let’s look into it.
I propose two ways of thinking about this question. And these two ways of thinking will depend entirely on the words we use to pose the question.
Way number one: thinking in terms of behavior. We might verbalize the situation in this way: “I have a habit of thinking to myself thoughts like, ‘with my luck, this will never work out’ or ‘it doesn’t matter how much I do, it will never be enough.’ Another behavioral example: when it seems like things are not going to work out for me, my tendency is to give up or walk away.
Way number two: in terms of identity: In this case we literally identify ourselves as “a pessimist” by nature, and might say things like, “I can’t change that, it’s just the way I am.” The use of that kind of language programs the brain to maintain the status quo, and to not seek out opportunities for change and growth.
Back to way number one: If we define pessimism as a habit of thinking, or a pattern of behavior that we’ve gotten into, we are far more likely to believe that we can change it. After all, people break bad habits all the time. If other people can do it, it’s humanly possible. And that means, since we happen to be human, we can do it, too!
And turning once again to way number two: if we define pessimism as a part of our personality – built-in, you might say – we are much less likely to believe we can change it, any more than we could change our sense of humor, our ear for music, our athletic ability or any other personality trait.
In short, the words we use to define the problem will inevitably and decisively impact our belief in the possibility of change. And if we don’t believe we can change … we won’t even try.
If you’re going through a tough time and not feeling hopeful about the future, please take a moment to notice the way you think about your situation. Notice the amount of time your mind spends on it. Do you ruminate, going over and over the same thoughts? Do the thoughts come at particular times of day? Do you tend to focus on problems posed by your environment, or by other people? Notice the words you use to think about your situation. Do they describe your behavior? Your beliefs? Your identity?
A mountain of evidence exists to show that people can, indeed, ‘reprogram’ their thinking. When you train yourself to think optimistically about your situation, and verbalize it in terms of behavior – instead of believing, ‘this is just the way I am’ – you will be delighted at the positive outcome that can appear, as if by magic. If you find it a little too difficult to get there, please contact me. I believe I can help, and would be honored to do so. Don’t hesitate to call (219) 309-3928 for a free consultation, or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.