When I was 16 years old, I remember a classmate asking me why I was so happy all the time as she turned in her seat frowning back at me. It clearly wasn't intended to be a compliment or even a question with interest -- she meant it as an insult. I sat there at my desk as she continued to criticize, saying one day I would snap because I must have so much pent up anger -- or that I was "faking it."
I imagine my facial expression was something similar to Sandy’s in Grease when Rizzo personally attacks her.
Of course, her comments hurt my feelings. But I also remember thinking, how could I explain the concept of optimism to her? I've often thought about that day and I hope I found the right words. Optimism isn't looking the other way when things go wrong. It isn't viewing life through "rose-colored" glasses. And it certainly isn't bottling up negative emotions.
Here's how I've always looked at it -- we have a choice every day. Actually many moments within every day to choose how we react to life. Our perspective is really the only thing we can control.
We can embrace the highs and lows, successes and disappointments with an attitude that makes it easier or harder on ourselves. Why would we choose to make things more difficult?
I've always been described as a "glass half-full" person, but there are plenty moments of doubt, fear and sadness. That’s part of the human experience. And while I naturally tend to be more positive, I've found there are a few simple things I can do to fill up my cup of optimism.
Set your intention for the day by coming up with a phrase or even just one word that resonates with you about the attitude or spirit you want to bring to the day. Being intentional is like a compass -- helping you navigate your focus, time and energy.
I’m sure you’ve heard the saying that smiles are contagious. Just the act of smiling has an instant psychological boost. Truly, it sends a message to your brain that life is good! So, smile at a stranger as you pass them on the street. Offer a kind word to the lady at the grocery store counter. These small gestures can get your day moving in the right direction. They will also have a profound impact on others.
Be kind to yourself. I’ve made a concerted effort to start speaking to myself in a more positive way. We are our own worst critics. Next time you start to go down that path, ask yourself if you would talk to your best friend in that manner. It’s important to be honest with ourselves, but when things don’t go as planned, don’t beat yourself up. Assess the situation, learn from it and move on.
Comparison steals joy. If you’re constantly stacking yourself up to people who appear to have “more” — you’ll never have enough. If you start feeling envious, try to shift your focus to something you’re grateful to have in your life.
It’s natural to have negative thoughts and pessimistic moments. Allow those thoughts to come, but don’t dwell on them. If something’s bothering you — address it. Use that negative feeling to spur you into action. Let it motivate you. Next time you have a down moment, do something that will make you feel better about the situation, even if it’s as simple as going for a walk to help clear your mind, calling up a close friend or reading a few pages from your favorite book or magazine. Then identify a realistic action step to help you resolve what's on your mind.
Get connected. Whether it’s prayer, mediation, or yoga (for me, it’s a combination of all) tap into your spiritual side. It's amazing the power that comes from letting go.
Step outside your comfort zone. It could be trying that tough workout class, or learning a new language -- there is no better way to build self-confidence than by doing something that stretches you. Because you are, in fact, capable of more than you thought you were.
Would LOVE to hear your thoughts on this. If you try one of these strategies, please let me know how it works for you.