By Alisha Ramos
Originally published as the Editor’s Note in Issue #157.
Some time late last year, I set a lofty 2020 intention to “be more optimistic.” A couple weeks into the year, though, I realized I wasn’t sure what this actually looked like in practice. In other words, I understood the why behind this intention (day-to-day happiness and less stomach knots, please), but I didn’t understand the how to get there portion of it. My brain is naturally hardwired for problem-solving — finding what’s wrong or could go wrong and trying to fix it — so this experiment in positivity wasn’t coming naturally to me.
This week, I agonized over a few decisions I had to make at work and while wedding-planning, and I started to feel those fearful and pessimistic thoughts creep back into my head. I took a deep breath and decided I needed some tools and practices to hold me accountable. Here’s what I tried:
I physically wrote down my internal pessimistic monologue. Writing this down allowed me to be honest with myself and observe my thought spiral objectively (it was easier because it was right there in front of me on paper).
I put my optimism goggles on and asked myself— even if things don’t go well…what’s the actual worst that could happen? I realized that the worst-case scenario is rarely as bad as my mind wanted me to believe.
Then I challenged myself to reframe each thought through a more optimistic lens. (For example: I used phrases like “But what if things actually go really well with x?” or “This could be really great for x, y, z.”) I didn’t stop until I found a way to reframe each thought.
This last one was important. After all this, I actually gave myself time to find closure and peace with each reframed thought. I let the resounding calm in my chest sweep over me. I found peace with the fact that I couldn’t control the outcome of everything, but things could go a lot better than I thought.
I’m not a licensed therapist or meditation expert, but after this, I felt lighter! I realized decisions I make won’t make or break the world, and that felt good. I started to feel better about things, so you can imagine my surprise a few days later, when I stumbled across this NYT article on optimism, which states (among other things) that “optimistic thinking can make you a better problem solver.” 😱
It turns out the exact thing I thought was preventing me from positive thinking can actually result from it — and after this week, I 100% believe it.
Writing the above felt odd, because it’s probably one of the more woo-woo, zen editor’s notes I’ve ever written, but I’m hoping if it helped me, it can help you too. Now I’m wondering: What tools or frameworks have helped you in achieving a glass-half-full outlook? What practices have you incorporated into your everyday life to help get there?
I asked you to send me your ideas, and here’s what you said:
“Some… things I do to help me achieve a glass half full mentality:
- Workout - moving my body always helps me clear my head and get those endorphins going.
- Get outside - put a podcast on and take a walk with my pups.
- Listen to some fun music and have a dance party or singalong - you can’t help but laugh at yourself and not take life too seriously.” - Jess N.
“A huge shift for me was moving from ‘look at all these things in my life that are making me unhappy or are not what I wish they would be and how inadequate I am at dealing with them’ (a constant loop when I was going through [during] a rough depression) to a mindset where I’m aware of the power I have to decide my future. Instead of thinking about all the bad things that could happen TO me, I look at life and identify the opportunities I have to DO or decide or choose something, or come up with a new solution or way of doing things that will make life better. It’s not perfect but I think that mindset allows me to feel way more empowered and uplifted about the future.” - Kendall H.
“I keep a massive mason jar in my room with an envelope of bright paper next to it. Whenever I have a moment I’m excited about - anything from learning a new recipe to getting a promotion - I jot it down and add it to the jar. If I’m having a rough day, I just look at it and see all the colors that reflect all the positives in my life, and if I need a little more of a boost, I’ll pull a few out to read.” - Katie R.
“I grew up as an optimistic and idealistic child/teen/twenty-something, and have noticed in my thirties that it doesn’t come as naturally anymore. But the plus side (still optimistic) is that I do try tools… to get back to that mindset and feel more like myself. One good one when everyday stressors feel overwhelming is to picture yourself as an old lady and think, “Is she still going to care about this sh*t?” First, it’s just fun to think about yourself as a wise old lady with sass, and second, pretty much always the answer is no. It’s a good reminder that most stress is temporary and to not invest your emotional energy into worrying about it. If something though does feel heavy and would bother your old lady self, it can help to think “What is the smallest thing I can do about it?” When I found out my best friend who lives across the country was diagnosed with a chronic disease that affects her life expectancy, I was devastated and felt powerless. But after some reflection, I figured I could do some small things for her to at least make her feel less alone. I sent her fun spa treats and booked a fight to see her in a month when she’d be feeling better. I know no matter what that at a minimum, I can be there for her to make her laugh and smile even when things are hard.” - Laura O.
“I use the meditation app, Headspace. It takes the time to talk to you like a child (without being condescending) when it comes to adjusting to this mindful practice. It has little cartoon shapes that are so calm and positive and sweet.” - Emily F.
“When I was a student, I would write notes to my future self and tape them to upcoming sections of my agenda. For example, if I had a really hard time with an assignment and was particularly mean to myself about the final product, I would write notes saying reminding myself to breathe, buckle down, let go of expectation, etc. in the weeks leading up to another project. It helped keep me focused in the moment, but more importantly it helped me reflect. If I survived the last project, I would survive this one, and everything would be okay. Like, look! I even had the time and energy to write nice notes when I wanted to die at the thought of reading another overwhelming source for a paper! I think writing reminders to your future self is helpful in many ways.” - Miranda L.
“I have a daily reminder on my phone for setting intentions at the start of the day which really helps frame out a positive mindset. I have another reminder for self-appreciation toward the end of my work day around when I tend to fall into a rut of negativity.” - Samantha M.
“Writing a positive phrase on a note card and placing it somewhere you will read it everyday (I put mine on the bathroom mirror) This can be used for upcoming tests, deadlines, events, or everyday life.” - Kortney K.
“Even when it seems impossible to bring in perspective, I stop, close my eyes, and imagine the size of the universe. It helps me remember how small these problems really are and how ultimately, there is so much more that matters beyond my thoughts and perceptions of my ‘problems.’ My friend Laura also told me here more always said to take a physical step back! It seems silly, but helps me to get out of my head and into my body in the present moment. You can then move forward (literally) accordingly.” - Allison F.
“Having a gratitude journal… made me feel grateful for the ‘small things’ which were actually the big things but things one should not take for granted like my home, my partner, my family friends, etc. People think you will be happy and positive when you have the things you don’t have instead of actually being grateful for what you have and things you already worked hard for.” - Monica P.
“I started doing this last year to try and get a grip on my stress and anxiety. I screenshot motivational messages I see online and place them in a specific folder in my camera gallery. I set an alarm once a day to remind me to take a few minutes to read them. I use the Random Gallery app to browse through them. It only takes a few minutes and helps me to keep life and stress in perspective.” - Ashley A.
“I try the following tools to help me (and my learners) frame experiences in a more positive light:
- Self-forgiveness: I evaluate the negative thought/experience & tell myself ‘I did the best I could with the information/time I had in the moment,’ and I give myself permission to say that has to be ok.
- Accept that your best is good enough. If you really truly do your best, even if it’s not the outcome you wanted, it has to be enough.
- My favorite Carrie Fisher quote is ‘stay afraid but do it anyway; it’s the action matters.’
We don’t have to be confident in a successful outcome to take that leap of faith!” - Meagan V.
“One of my new favorite things I do is play 2 Truths and A Lie with myself (although it’s probably a little different than the version you’re used to playing). A lot of times I get these lies in my head (mostly driven by my fear) and so I stop, write down the lie and then I write down 2 truths I know to counter the lie. An example:
Lie: People at work don’t think I’m doing a good enough job and are upset with how long my project is taking. Truth 1: My manager just told me yesterday’s she’s happy with how I’ve progressed and believes I have handled the project well despite setbacks. Truth 2: I received a raise during my annual review that shows my company believes I am doing more than ‘good enough.’
It’s so easy to forget these truths when your inner critic is screaming lies at you. But when you stop and counter these lies with things you know to be true, all of a sudden you begin to believe the good instead of the bad.” - Kendra A.
“I write out five things I am thankful for at the end of each day. It could be anything - big or small - a new recipe turning out well or the way the sun came through the window or getting praise at work. It is a way to end the day positively, so when I think about the day as a whole I can say ‘it had some bad things, but it had some good things too’ instead of just ‘it was a bad day.’ It is fun to go back at the end of the month and read through everything too!” - Cali B.
“I distinguish what I have control over in a situation. For example, I can’t control what others say to me but I can control if I take it to heart and allow their words to change how I view myself. Separating what I have control over and what I don’t prevents me from stressing about things I can’t change!” - Jessica P.