How To Be Optimistic, Even When You’re Feeling Pain And Despair

33% of people are medially optimistic only 13% highly optimistic. All outcomes are improved when people are optimistic…two techniques to increase optimism 1. When possible and to feel less intense emotional and physical reactions. Replay negative experiences from a self distance 3rd person “as a fly on the wall. 2. Increase your time spent with optimistic people “emotional contagion is real” We need to have a balance. If we want to create positive change keep optimism high and actively work to generate it for our selves and maybe the world around us.

With everything going on in the world right now, it’s more than understandable if you’re feeling an overriding sense of pessimism, despair and doom. I grapple with those same feelings.

But while pessimism and despondency is forgivable, it’s ultimately not potent. And potency, whether we’re talking about our careers or society at large, is exactly what we need.

That’s why optimism is so critical. There are myriad studies on optimism, and virtually all show that outcomes are improved when people are optimistic rather than pessimistic. For example, in one study of angioplasty patients, pessimists were three times more likely than optimists to have heart attacks or require repeat angioplasties or bypass operations.

Optimism is associated with a wide variety of positive outcomes, including better mental and physical health, motivation, performance, and personal relationships.

In the new study Employee Engagement Is Less Dependent On Managers Than You Think, 11,308 employees were surveyed about their inspiration at work and feelings about their career. The study revealed that having certain mindsets, like optimism, can increase engagement and happiness at work even more than working for a great manager.Most Popular In: Careers

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Unfortunately, based on that study we also know that only 13% of people have a high level of optimism, while nearly 33%% of people have low or moderately low optimism. This matters because people with high levels of optimism are far more inspired to give their best effort at work (and that’s going to drive career success).

A different way to think about optimism is this: The more pessimistic you feel, the less likely you are to keep fighting for progress (whether that’s progress in your career or in society). But when you’re optimistic, you’re more likely to keep advancing your career, fighting to get your project approved, hunting to find that dream job, combating racism or keeping your family safe from a pandemic.

So how can you increase your optimism, even when you’re understandably feeling pessimism, pain and despair?

Technique #1: Reduce The Emotional Impact Of Negative Events

There are lots of terrible things happening right now, from a pandemic to racism to mass unemployment. And while there’s no way to ignore those tragedies (nor should you), it is possible to slightly decrease the extent to which those calamities erode your mental capabilities. 

Typically, when we think about experiences that make us angry or pessimistic, we view the scene from a first-person perspective. We’re not a fly on the wall or watching ourselves from a distance; we’re immersed and imagining the scene just as we saw it the first time. If we’re replaying that time a leader made horrible and insensitive comments, we often replay it in our minds as though we’re right back in that situation, watching the leader say those horrible words.

But when we instead replay those negative experiences from a self-distanced, third-person perspective (the video camera in the corner or the fly on the wall perspective), it has a big impact on our mental state.

In one study, researchers asked people to remember a time when they were infuriated by a conflict with a romantic partner or a close friend. Some people put themselves right in the moment with a first-person view. But other people employed self-distancing and remembered the conflict as though a fly on the wall, like an out-of-body experience in which they could see themselves interacting with the romantic partner or friend.

Those who employed self-distancing (they imagined the situation from the perspective of a fly on the wall) felt much less intense emotional and physical reactions, and their blood pressure rose less and returned to its normal rate more quickly.

I’m not arguing that we shouldn’t be outraged by injustices, getting laid-off, a pandemic crippling entire industries, etc., but if we’re continuously replaying horrible events in our mind, we’re much more likely to feel angry and even pessimistic. And the more intensely we feel those emotions, the less likely we are to think strategically and take positive steps to fix our careers or the world around us. As a general rule, the less you’re ruled by negative emotions, the smarter you become.

Technique #2: Increase Your Time Spent With Optimistic People

Emotional contagion is very real. So if I’m spending most of my time interacting with pessimistic (rather than optimistic) people, there’s a high likelihood that I’m going to be influenced by their pessimism.

This doesn’t mean that you cut off all contact with your pessimistic friends; these may be people in real pain who need your support. However, you’ll want to balance out the time you spend with the pessimists by interacting with the optimists. And yes, that means even if you’re not feeling in the mood to interact with your optimistic friends, you have to do it.

One of the most effective ways to accomplish this is to simply schedule times to talk with your most optimistic friends and colleagues. I know it sounds a little hokey to schedule time to chat with optimists, but as psychologists will tell you, sometimes you have to “act as if.” That means you have to act as if you really want to talk with optimists and let their optimism influence you.

One of the hardest things to do is feel optimistic when it seems like the economy (and the world) is crumbling around us. But if we want to create any positive changes from the shambolic mess around us, we need to keep our optimism high.