Have trouble looking on the bright side? If so, it could be your loss. Successful people aren’t all optimists, but one trait many of them share is the ability to see opportunity in unlikely places. Without a dose of optimism, we’d never try anything new, and our lives would remain perpetually stuck in the same place. Forward progress of any kind is predicated on it.
There’s the more immediate benefit, too, though; an optimistic mind-set simply helps our experiences feel more fulfilling and enjoyable. While many believe that optimism is something we’re born with in more or less finite quantities, we actually have some ability to shape our thoughts and actions–including our outlook on events. Here are seven habits to help you to cultivate optimism.
1. BEFORE GOING TO SLEEP, CONSIDER WHAT WENT WELL TODAY
We know that our subconscious minds will go over the last thoughts we had before going to sleep, influencing our dreams and even the things that start to preoccupy us the first thing in the morning. So spend a few minutes reviewing everything that went right for you that day–even the small stuff. What did you enjoy? What felt validating? This type of reflection can help you program positive thoughts and images into your minds for the night. You might even have a better sleep and awake more ready to face the day.
2. START THE DAY BY FOCUSING ON GOALS AND EXPECTATIONS
As soon as you wake up, start thinking about what you want to accomplish with the expectation that it will actually happen. Visualize yourself at the end of the day having achieved everything on your list–or even more than you’d planned to do. Don’t worry if it sounds too ambitious to complete. Spend a couple of minutes repeating your long-term goals to yourself, too, including whatever you consider to be your current mission or larger purpose in your life right now. Visualize yourself having already reached these goals.
3. RECORD YOUR DAILY PROGRESS—HOWEVER INCREMENTAL
Look at life and success as a marathon, not a sprint. It’s about building continuously on small wins and improvements. Take note of your daily development. What have you learned? Where have you improved? Write them down or recount them in your head while you’re brushing your teeth. The fact is that self-confidence takes practice. This habit can help you build and sustain it so that, over time, it will feel more natural to you to consider how you’re advancing.
4. PRACTICE GRATITUDE
The most successful optimists never forget what they have to be thankful for. While striving to reach our goals and achieve more, it’s important to feel grateful for what we have in the present. Otherwise we cultivate dissatisfaction alongside ambition. Personally, I keep a gratitude notebook where I record at least 10 things that I’m grateful for at the very start of my day. It helps me approach each morning with a positive frame of mind and gives me comfort knowing that I have a wonderful foundation to build upon every day–no matter what may happen.
5. ALWAYS SEEK SOLUTIONS FIRST
Every problem or difficulty confronts us with a choice: Where will we focus our thoughts and efforts? Optimists don’t waste time looking for people to blame or stewing on the particulars of the issue. They immediately start hunting for solutions. Consider some of your most frustrating past failures and setbacks. In retrospect, what did they help you learn? How did those experiences guide you to avoid similar missteps later? If you can cultivate that habit of analyzing past failures, you’ll similarly develop a knack for seeking solutions when new troubles arise.
6. SURROUND YOURSELF WITH OPTIMISTS
Optimistic people don’t have the time, energy, or inclination to spend time with naysayers and negative people. They realize those personalities sap their energy. Perhaps you’re one of them! In order to coax yourself out of your pessimism, find more positive-minded, motivated people to hang out with. Bounce ideas off one another. You’ll soon find that optimists attract other optimists, and those folks will offer you support and encouragement, boosting your own optimism in turn. It can become a virtuous circle, but you first need to seek it out or set it up.
7. LEARN YOUR WAY FORWARD
Being optimistic lets us believe that the future will be even better than the past. Optimists look forward to what’s to come with excitement and anticipation, not trepidation. Management guru Peter Drucker, who lived into his nineties, made it a goal to learn one new thing every year. One year he learned to speak Japanese. Not only does learning support us in our efforts to think more optimistically, it equips us with the actual skills we’ll need to achieve our goals and take advantage of opportunities when they do show up.
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