Do you tend to see the positive, even in tough situations? Or do you immediately assume the worst and focus on the negative?
Do you practice altruism, compassion, and empathy? Or are you distrustful, misanthropic, and cynical?
When it comes to our worldview, most people fall into one of two categories: optimist or pessimist.
And, according to research in the positive neuroscience and positive psychology fields, the category you fall into has a lot to do with your overall happiness.
Ask any successful person to divulge the secret to staying focused, doing well, feeling content and fulfilled, and they’ll generally say that optimism is key.
Optimism makes us confident, helps us believe in ourselves, and gives us faith in our ability to figure things out. Optimism is what helps us deal with ambiguity, pressure, and unexpected and negative surprises. Optimism is what helps us turn lemons into lemonade.
Keeping an optimistic outlook can help improve your health, help you reach your goals, and build your resilience so you can overcome the challenges of daily life. When you see the glass as half-full, you’ll have an easier time overcoming anxiety and low mood.
Be a problem-solver
If you find yourself obsessing about your grades, your friendships, or your love life, change your focus by asking: What are 3 things I could do differently that might make this situation better?
This causes you to focus on solutions, not on problems. You’ll feel a sense of forward movement, progress, and hope — the foundations of optimism.
Imagine your ideal life. What are you doing? How do you feel? How do you look? What have you accomplished? What does your life look like?
Set aside 2 minutes every day to visualize your ideal life. You can even set a daily calendar alert to visualize at the beginning, middle, or end of each day. This simple exercise will transform the way you think about your current self, your potential, and your future self.
Take care of your body
Optimism is easier when you feel good. When you take care of your body — nourishing with healthy food, strengthening through regular exercise, and replenishing with adequate sleep — you’ll have happier thoughts and positive emotions. In fact, researchers have found that people who work out regularly are significantly more optimistic and less pessimistic than those who don’t work out regularly.
Eat your vegetables. Find pockets of your day to squeeze in a workout — before school, after school, on the weekends, and in between study sessions. Get at least 8 hours of sleep per night.
Taking care of your physical body helps to set a foundation for keeping your mood high!
Give yourself credit
When you do well, no matter how small or large the victory, give yourself a pat on the back for making it happen. Think of all the ways you contributed, both directly and indirectly, to accomplish this thing. For instance, if you did well on a midterm, don’t just think of how great it is that you were prepared, but also think of how your focus and work ethic played a role.
This simple gesture reinforces optimism on a daily basis. The answers accumulate and eventually help you develop self-confidence, which is extremely important for your continued success.
Reduce obstacles to success
Everyone deals with distractions. They can come in the form of Netflix binges, endless scrolling on TikTok, or spending 24/7 with a significant other. One of the keys to achieving optimism is consistently surprising yourself with doing better every day — which requires you to limit distractions.
Take some time to figure out all the distractions that you deal with so that you don’t deplete your reserve of energy or discipline before completing your to-do list.
Be your own coach
How do students develop their applications to get into their dream university? How do athletes become top-of-field in their sports? How do executives learn to lead companies to the Fortune 500?
A coach is like a mirror that reflects your ambitions and potential. When you try to achieve something new, you want someone with you on the journey. Coaches motivate us to set objectives, stay accountable, and hone our skills. You can be your own coach by being self-aware and accountable to yourself — even when you’re tired, unmotivated, and burnt out.
Find your ‘Zone of Genius’
Your Zone of Genius is at the intersection of your interests, passions, and skills. Operating in it means you stop playing others’ games and start playing yours. Everyone’s Zone of Genius is different and unique to them as an individual.
To find your Zone of Genius, experiment wildly. Try different things. Test out different working styles. Your Zone of Genius includes all the things that you’re good at and that you love doing — if you focus on those, it’s easier to stay optimistic.
Stop dwelling on negative thoughts
When something is bothering you, it’s all too easy to fall into a pattern of rumination. In fact, research shows that when people are told to avoid thinking about a particular thing, it makes it even harder to forget about that thing.
Instead, think about the consequences that led to that negative event. Did you bomb your last midterm? Think about the reasons. Were you overbooked in the preceding week? Did you give up sleep to cram for the midterm? Did you receive bad news on the morning of your midterm? Not every shortcoming is due to a character flaw or personal weakness.
This doesn’t mean that you should never recognize when you may need to change your behavior in the future or deny responsibility for mistakes — that’s how we learn!
Life is easier and generally more enjoyable if you’re an optimist. Compared to pessimists, optimists tend to be more resilient in the face of stressful events, difficult interactions, and even tragedy.
Optimistic people understand that good things happen because of who they are or what they did. They consider victories, no matter how small, at as a sign of more positive events to come. They understand that negative events are not (entirely) their fault, and they don’t use negative events as a predictor for future events.
If you’re feeling hopeless or depressed, don’t hesitate to talk to a mental health professional. They can help you learn to reframe your situation so you can start noticing the silver linings, overcome challenges more readily, and develop healthier coping mechanisms.