This article was co-authored by Klare Heston, LCSW. Klare Heston is a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker based in Cleveland, Ohio. With experience in academic counseling and clinical supervision, Klare received her Master of Social Work from the Virginia Commonwealth University in 1983. She also holds a 2-Year Post-Graduate Certificate from the Gestalt Institute of Cleveland, as well as certification in Family Therapy, Supervision, Mediation, and Trauma Recovery and Treatment (EMDR).
There are 9 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page.
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While some people appear to be more positive than others, it doesn't mean that you cannot train yourself to approach life more optimistically. Practicing optimism often means creating practices around optimistic thinking. By focusing on your thoughts and mental patterns, you can begin to retrain yourself to think more positively and optimistically and learn new patterns of thought. Spend less time engaging negative thoughts and instead, replace them with positive or more helpful thoughts. Over time, you can train yourself to approach situations more positively and optimistically.
Part 1Part 1 of 3:Creating Practices to Improve Optimism
- 1Practice mindful meditation. Mindfulness includes focusing on the present moment, here and now. Often, this is done through connecting with your body because your body uses sensations to connect to the present moment. Have a daily meditation practice or make your daily activities a meditation by practicing mindfulness through observing your breath, especially when you're experiencing intense emotions. Tune into your everyday sensations such as feeling the water hitting your skin as you shower, observing the way your muscles and bones shift as you walk or climb stairs, or tuning into what noises you hear around you. Allow thoughts and feelings to pass through your mind without judging them or reacting to them.XResearch source This can help you stay detached from negative experiences.
- Practicing mindfulness can help increase positive emotions, increase gray matter in the brain, and boost compassion toward others and yourself.XTrustworthy SourceGreater Good MagazineJournal published by UC Berkeley's Greater Good Science Center, which uses scientific research to promote happier livingGo to source
- Drop in on a meditation class or find a phone application to help you practice mindfulness meditation.
- 2Imagine your best possible self. Imagine your life in the future when you are at your best. Consider all aspects of your life: health, hobbies/activities, career, friends, and family. Don't get caught up in how your life does not reflect these now and focus solely on the future. Get creative and continue writing for 15 minutes, diving into the depths of what you will be doing, what things you will enjoy, and who you will spend time with. People who do this exercise report feeling more positive even one month after completing it.XTrustworthy SourceGreater Good in ActionAn initiative by UC Berkeley's Greater Good Science Center promoting science-based practices for a meaningful lifeGo to source
- Imagining your best possible self can help you figure out your goals, dreams, and desires. It can help you identify your dreams and create steps to get you there.
- Think about what your best possible self looks like. What job do you have? Where do you live? Do you have pets? What kinds of things do you do for fun? Who are your friends and what do you like about them?
- 3Write positive affirmations. If you need a boost at home, in the car, or at work, keep some positive affirmations around to maintain an optimistic approach. You can also practice saying positive affirmations before your workday, events, or other situations where you may need a boost of positivity. Get in the habit of saying a meaningful affirmation when you wake up, when you're on your way to work, or before you attempt something challenging. This can help train you to approach situations more positively. The benefits of affirmations can last months and years.XResearch source
- For example, when you wake up, say to yourself, "I am capable and able to approach the day with kindness and love," "I can be successful at work today and every day," or "I can be happy about some things today."
- 4Sleep well each night. Keeping your body healthy can keep your brain healthy. Getting good rest can help your brain perform more optimally and boost your happiness. Not getting enough sleep affects your mind and can impact your stress levels. Low sleep can affect your physical and mental functioning, so make sure you're getting restful sleep each night. If you have problems sleeping, try waking up and going to bed at the same time each day, even on the weekends. Create a relaxing sleep environment and do calming activities before bed such as reading, taking a bath, or sipping tea.XTrustworthy SourceHelpGuideNonprofit organization dedicated to providing free, evidence-based mental health and wellness resources.Go to source
- Keep your bedroom relaxing. If excessive light disturbs you, buy darker curtains. Make your bedroom a place that looks and feels relaxing to you by decorating it in soft, not bright, tones.
- 5Eat a healthy diet. Eating wholesome, nourishing meals can help you stay energized and feeling good throughout the day instead of in a "brain fog." Make sure to include whole grains, proteins, and fats in your diet. If you don't know how to balance your meals or get proper nutrients, work with a nutritionist or use a food diary to keep track of your nutrients. You can download some free phone applications to help you track your calories, sugars, and major food groups each day.
- Cut down on sugar, alcohol, caffeine, tobacco, and other substances as a way to keep your head clear and your emotions in balance.
Part 2Part 2 of 3:Improving Your Thoughts
- 1Create happy memories. Your mind determines whether you remember an event as positive or negative. Creating more positive enforcement of memories can help you form positive emotions and memories. When you focus on negative thoughts during an experience, you're more likely to look back on the experience as negative. If you notice yourself creating a negative experience, think about what is going right.
- Reframe events you experience and remember them more positively.XResearch source This can help you retrain your brain to approach things more positively and remember them in a positive way. Most experiences can be perceived as either positive or negative, depending on your focus and mindset.
- For example, if you feel like you've had a bad day, think of the small things that went well or felt good throughout the day. Perhaps you can offset the difficulties of running late or forgetting your lunch in the morning with a more positive and fun afternoon by doing tasks you enjoy, buying a special treat, or talking to someone you care about.
- 2Look on the bright side. Instead of focusing on all of the things that could go wrong, find the things that are going right. Focus on possibilities and opportunities for optimism and not pessimism. If it feels like everything is going wrong, notice even the smallest thing that is going well. If you're feeling frustrated, stop and take a moment to shift your attention to something more positive. XResearch source
- For example, if you're running late to a meeting, you might feel overwhelmed or frustrated. Stop and think, "I'm upset that I will be late, but I know I will make it on time. I've prepared for this meeting so I expect that it will go well."
- Having a tangible motivation can help create a bright side. For example, plan a vacation if you are feeling stressed or overworked. You can look forward to your vacation when you start feeling overwhelmed and remind yourself that enjoyment is in your future.
- 3Practice gratitude. Gratitude is a way to give thanks for what you have. Instead of focusing on what you lack, focus on what you have or what you appreciate. People who consistently practice gratitude tend to have higher levels of optimism and happiness, act with generosity and compassion, and experience more positive emotions.XTrustworthy SourceGreater Good MagazineJournal published by UC Berkeley's Greater Good Science Center, which uses scientific research to promote happier livingGo to source Get in the habit of finding things every day that you are grateful for.
- You can write in a gratitude journal or notice things throughout your day that you can be thankful for.
- Try waking up and going to bed each day by naming three things that you are grateful for.
- 4Continue optimism when life is hard. Feeling optimistic is easy when life is going well and all of your needs are met. It gets much harder when you're feeling low, things go wrong, and you're struggling. Optimism isn't about feeling happy all the time or thinking that everything will turn out fine. It has more to do with continuing positive momentum even when life gets difficult.XResearch source
- If you engage in optimism practices, keep them up even when you're feeling low or in a bad mood.
Part 3Part 3 of 3:Decreasing Your Negative Thinking
- 1Disrupt negative thoughts. When you notice yourself thinking negatively, ask yourself whether the thought is helpful or not. If it's not a helpful thought, notice it and stop it, even if you cut yourself off in mid-thought. Notice your negative thoughts and stop them in their tracks.
- If you catch yourself thinking negatively about your abilities or approaching a day as a "bad day," think about how you turn that negativity around for something more positive.
- For example, if you dread a family function and think, "I can't believe how much time I'm going to waste and I wish I was doing something else," catch yourself in your negative thoughts and replace that thought with, "This may not be what I want to be doing, but I can be friendly and helpful to my family."
- 2Stop comparing yourself to others. Unhappy people tend to compare themselves to others while happy people don't engage in any comparisons with others, whether favorable or unfavorable.XResearch source If you catch yourself saying, "I wish I was more like her" or, "If only I had his job," it's time to stop these comparisons. Whether the comparisons are positive or negative, they are not improving your life.
- When you catch yourself in a comparison, focus on something more positive. For example, instead of thinking, "I wish I had a house more like theirs" think to yourself, "I know I can have a house like this if I continue to work hard and save money."
- 3Disengage from negative thought patterns. If you tend to think that things bring you happiness ("If only I could get that new game/dress/house/pair of shoes, etc…"), your happiness is threatened if your material circumstances change. Perhaps you're a perfectionist or you're always on the lookout for better options, even if you have something good in front of you. Your expectations may far exceed your ability to attain what you want and can make you feel incompetent or unsuccessful. These kinds of thought and behavior patterns may make you feel pessimistic about your abilities, not optimistic.XResearch source
- For example, if you really want a new cell phone and think that you'll finally be happy if you get it, think again. You will likely get used to having the phone and the novelty will wear off quickly, leaving you wanting something else.
- If you find yourself engaging in negative thought patterns, bring some awareness to your thoughts by saying to yourself, "These thoughts do not help me engage in positive or optimistic patterns and do not add to my life."
- QuestionHow do I become more optimistic?You can try writing in a journal and capture 1-2 positive things from your day. If you have to, force yourself. If the negative things are more automatic, you may have to work at it. But don't give up. You can retrain yourself.
- QuestionCan optimism be learned?Yes, optimism can be learned. In part, it is a habit or a manner of seeing and reacting to the world around you. Sometimes our families indirectly influence us in one direction when we are children. For example, some people see a glass of milk as half full vs. half empty. Affirmations help as well as journaling your reactions.
- QuestionWhy is it good to be optimistic?Optimism can keep us on a more even keel in our daily lives. But optimism doesn't mean that you are unrealistic. It is important to be reasonable and practical and realize that sometimes things will just go wrong for no reason at all. But optimism also means having faith and trust that you will be okay in these circumstances.