Looking at the brighter side: How to become a realistic optimist

Posted on November 9, 2013
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Since the invention of tableware humans have been arguing about a simple, but important question: Is the glass half full or half empty? For many people being optimistic and thinking positively feels as unfamiliar as brushing teeth with their non-dominant hand. They feel more comfortable approaching the world expecting the worst rather than entertaining the “unrealistic” idea that everything will work out fine. Whether we are fundamentally optimistic or pessimistic is largely determined by the imprints we received during our childhood. Well-intended messages such as “life is hard and unfair,” “always be prepared for the worst” and “never rely on anyone,” can significantly shape our perspective and expectations on the world and ourselves. This general notation of struggle and uneasiness is further reinforced by the gloom and doom reports of most media outlets. And although it isn’t enjoyable to live in such a mind-set, a pessimist is convinced that it is better to be realistic and prepared than to fool themselves with too positive expectations. But is this notion really true? Is optimism really just wishful thinking, as unrealistic as living in Disneyland, or always having dessert first?.

Research has actually shown that negative thoughts and emotions, which are aimed to keep us safe, in general limit access to our creativity. From an evolutionary perspective it makes sense that our brain is programmed to focus on just a few options, when it comes to avoiding or defending oneself from predators, like running away, climbing a tree, or throwing a stone. But since we don’t usually deal with saber-toothed tigers, does a worried and bleak frame of mind really serve us? In fact in order to thrive and succeed in our fast-changing world, creativity and flexibility are some of the most valuable assets – assets, which are easier accessible by a positive mind-set. Recent studies demonstrated that with positive thoughts and emotions, such as joy, contentment and love, we are able to identify a much greater number of possibilities and solutions for a given problem than with a stressed and negative mental state. A positive attitude also increases our ability to acquire new skills and develop internal resources.

However, if your mind is used to always expect the worst, how can you turn it into a more positive and optimistic direction, without feeling you are losing touch with reality?

Listen to this interview on Empowerment Radio and learn how you can train your mind to naturally seek and find opportunities for more joy, creativity and success.