8 Tips For Boosting Optimism
By: Brie Darcy, PT, DPT
Last month on our blog, we shared exciting new research highlighting the benefits of an optimistic mindset. In case you missed it, you can review it here.
While optimism may come naturally to some individuals, in reality, that is not the case for many of us, especially those who may be experiencing challenging medical issues. Luckily, optimism has shown to be modifiable! This means it can be improved or enhanced with effort and practice. Take a look below for some top strategies which may help encourage a tendency towards optimism.
Strategies to Boost Optimism
1. Reframe Your Thoughts
Optimists and pessimists tend to view the same situation in different ways. For instance, pessimists might view a personal achievement as ‘luck’ while optimists might view the same success as a deserved outcome of their hard work. A similar pattern follows for setbacks. Pessimists are more likely to view setbacks as permanent and out of their control. On the other hand, optimists may view a similar setback as temporary and something they can improve. As a result, optimists may focus on solutions, rather than the problem itself.
Let’s consider an individual who experiences a stroke. An individual with a more pessimistic mindset might feel helpless and that their outcome is unchangeable regardless of their efforts. As a result, he or she may be less engaged in rehabilitation and treatment which, in turn, could lead to a less desirable outcome.
On the other hand, an optimistic individual would be more likely to focus on the solutions, feeling confident and empowered that their efforts will improve their outcome. This confidence might lead this individual to immerse themselves in stroke knowledge and rehabilitation resources. They would likely make efforts to attend all medical appointments, participate fully in treatments, and seek maximal rehabilitation opportunities. All of these efforts are likely to lead to better results.
In this context, reframing our thoughts more optimistically may substantially improve outcomes.
2. The Power of Positive Thinking
It is well-known in the medical field that expectations can affect outcomes. Perhaps you’ve heard the notion of ‘placebos’ or the ‘placebo effect.’ A placebo effect refers to an individual achieving a beneficial health outcome after receiving something that appears to be a real medical treatment – but isn’t.¹ A common example of a placebo is a sugar pill. Researchers found that some individuals who ingested sugar pills (but believed were taking a true medication) achieved a medical benefit as if they were taking the actual medication. In the case of a placebo, the individual expected to get better, so they did. While this phenomenon isn’t fully understood, it shows us the potential power that lies in believing you can improve your condition.
3. Choose Your Company Wisely
Did you know that emotions are contagious? This phenomenon, called emotional contagion, refers to the notion that we tend to express and feel the emotions of those around us.² In other words, we are influenced by the energy around us – positive or negative. Rather than fending off negative energy, spend time with people who believe in you, encourage you, and lift your spirits. Positive energy can be equally contagious.
4. Keep A Journal
There are many benefits to journaling. For the purpose of building optimism, a specific type of journaling , called a ‘gratitude journal’ can be beneficial. A gratitude journal is a diary of things for which one is grateful. Studies have shown that those who are habitually grateful are happier than those who are not. Additionally, gratefulness may help relieve depressive symptoms.³ A study of adults with neuromuscular disease found that writing a daily gratitude journal for 3 weeks led to increased optimism about one’s life (as well as more sleep, better quality sleep, and a sense of connectedness to others).
Physical exercise can cause the release of hormones known as endorphins. Endorphins are often called ‘happy hormones’ as they can create feelings of general happiness and well-being. Exercise also can help to alleviate stress, improve our mood, and boost self-esteem, all making way for positive emotions to set-in.
6. Set Reasonable and Achievable Goals
Set goals that are realistic. Setting goals that are too challenging or unachievable can lead to the reinforcement of negative emotions. Instead of deciding you are going to exercise every day this week, give yourself some leeway and start with a goal of 3 times this week. Build your goals slowly and celebrate your wins. Focus on your successes and occasionally step back to see how far you’ve come. Achieving your goals can build confidence in your abilities and optimism for the future.
7. Challenge Your Negative Thoughts
In the book ‘Learned Optimism,’ author Martin E.P. Seligman provides an analysis of optimistic and pessimistic mindsets as well as actionable items to improve optimism. One described exercise involves spending some time acknowledging and perhaps even writing down negative thoughts as they enter your mind. Next, once you’ve recognized some of your negative thoughts, start to challenge them. Ask yourself – Are these thoughts accurate? Or perhaps exaggerations? Is there another explanation for this negative thought?
Recognizing and challenging your negative thoughts can pave the way for more optimistic thinking.
8. Imagine Your “Best Self”
This exercise relates to an interesting study published in The Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry. In this experiment, the authors studied two groups of people who performed different ‘imagery’ exercises to determine if their levels of optimism could be improved. The first group was instructed to imagine their ‘best possible self’ while the second group imagined their regular, daily activities. These exercises were performed 5 minutes per day for 2 weeks. Results showed that imagining your ‘best possible self’ led to significantly larger increases in optimism!
Developing an optimistic mindset may require some effort and practice. However, the potential benefits are likely well worth the effort. The notable relationship between optimism, improved health, and longevity might be convincing enough for us all to try to see each situation in its best light.
For information on Moterum Technologies including our products and clinical trials, visit us at https://moterum.com/. For additional rehabilitation insights, visit our blog at https://moterum.com/blog/.
- Colagiuri B, Schenk LA, Kessler MD, Dorsey SG, Colloca L. The placebo effect: From concepts to genes. Neuroscience. 2015;307:171-190.
- Hatfield E, Cacioppo JT, Rapson RL. Emotional Contagion. Current Directions in Psychological Science. 1993;2(3):96-100.
- Lambert NM, Fincham FD, Stillman TF. Gratitude and depressive symptoms: The role of positive reframing and positive emotion. Cognition and Emotion. 2012;26(4):615-633.