The Role of Optimism & Positive Thinking For Resilience
Optimism and positive thinking help you build your resilience, in turn that offers your mental health another layer of protection from the stress and anxiety of the world.
You can define resilience as your capacity to recover from adversity. Rarely does a person escape through life without facing some type of challenge or adversity. The difference, of course, is that some people easily bounce back from adversity because they have a high level of resilience.
While those who lack resilience tend to drown in the negative emotions and dwell on their bad luck. Resilience is quite simply your ability to adapt when faced with a threat, a stressor, tragedy, adversity, or trauma.
There’s a wonderful quote from Winnie the Pooh, and I believe Tigger provided us with more wisdom than we could have realized. “Life is not about how you fast you run or how high you climb, but how well you bounce.”
Let’s get one thing straight before we continue. The resilience level you have right now is not the highest it can be. It isn’t something you’re born with (or not). It isn’t a fixed amount.
You can develop resilience. While some people are more naturally disposed to positivity or negativity, it doesn’t mean you’re stuck with it.
Optimism & Health
There are certain factors that help build resilience in a person. Your attitude matters. Your ability to adopt optimism, to cultivate a positive mindset, and learn emotional management are key. Optimists experience less stress because they have faith in their abilities and themselves overall.
They expect a good outcome. When they experience a minor setback, they see it as just that – a temporary obstacle that they have the strength and wisdom to overcome. The reality is, an optimist doesn’t give up easily and they’re more likely to take risks to create positive change in their lives.
Pessimists are convinced that every minor setback is the one that will end it all. They never expect a good outcome. As they anticipate something they say things like knowing my luck. You make your luck, it’s as simple as that, you just have to start believing it.
The purpose of the negative emotions that we experience is to deal with danger or an immediate threat. Evolutionarily, we were programmed to survive. Unfortunately, that is something that has stuck with us despite the reduced risk of danger.
Attentional bias is a phenomenon where everything but what we are focused on is filtered out. It’s why you turn the radio down when you’re focused on finding a particular address as you drive down an unfamiliar street.
When you feel this threat, you shut down. Your productivity, creativity, and logical thinking are closed off. Suddenly, your power is restricted and you find yourself trapped in a spiral of negativity. This is difficult in any situation in life, from the workplace to your home life.
Positive emotions help you build positivity, a well of positivity that you can draw from when faced with adversity.
- Optimism boosts your physical health by allowing you to believe your circumstances will improve. When you’re dealing with a bad situation, optimism primes you to take action and find a way out of that situation.
- Optimism boosts your physical health by improving your ability to build and maintain friendships. A strong support network reduces the risk of disease, but also your likelihood to spiral when faced with adversity.
- Optimism boosts your physical health by supporting your immune system. The ability to be positive helps battle stress, which is one of the most damaging things to your immune system.
- Positivity doesn’t mean that you simply ignore problems. It means that you understand it’s temporary and understand that you possess the abilities and skills to overcome your problems.
As you raft down the uncertain rough waters of life, you will experience difficulty and pain. You can allow them to steer the outcome of your life or, you can take control of the ride. That’s resilience.
Resilience doesn’t just help you get through the most difficult of times, it’s also empowering.
What Resilience Isn’t
- It doesn’t mean you will never experience distress or difficulty in your life. It simply means you will experience less emotional distress when faced with difficulties in life.
- While there are certain factors that contribute to resilience, which means some people find it easier to obtain… it isn’t a personality trait you either possess or don’t. It is a skill that anyone can develop. It’s just like exercising your muscles.
What Resilience Is
Prioritize your relationships and build understanding with people to grow your empathy. These are skills that help build your optimism, positive thinking, and resilience.
It’s particularly important that you find trustworthy people who extend compassion and validate feelings. In difficulty, we want to isolate, but having a strong support network will prevent this from happening.
You have to look after your body – it might feel like a buzzword, but self-care is an important aspect of fostering wellness to build resilience. Stress isn’t just emotional, it has a physical effect as well. Sleep well, eat right, exercise often, hydrate, and look after yourself to build positivity and resilience.
Shunning Negative Habits
As tempting as it is to reach for a bottle when faced with difficulty, turning to substances to navigate your pain is a lot like putting a bandaid on a bullet hole. It will make you feel better for a moment, but it’s not dealing with the problem. You have to address the root cause of the problem, not plaster over it.
If you want to build optimism, then you have to step outside of yourself and foster your self-worth and sense of purpose. You can do this by helping others however you decide to do so.
You are faced with overwhelming emotions in a difficult situation. You can foster self-discovery by being proactive about solving this problem. What can I do to deal with this? Take action and make a plan!
If you want to move forward, you have to set realistic goals. Every small accomplishment buoys your optimism. The more optimistic you are, the more you want to and will accomplish. Every step forward is worth celebrating.
Additionally, people grow when they walk through struggle. We find strength we didn’t know we had and overcome difficulty. Every adverse moment you face and overcome builds your well of positivity and resilience.
You have more control over your thoughts and feelings than you realize. It’s important to keep it all in perspective. Identify irrational thinking and seize on more realistic thought patterns.
When you start to feel overwhelmed, remind yourself it’s temporary, and it isn’t an indication of how the future will pan out. You are not helpless.
Imagine, for a moment, you are planning a white water rafting trip.
As you chart the route you will take on a map, you make a note of the shallows and slow waters. While you know these will be moments of calm, you also know there will be turns and rapids which are unavoidable.
You make plans as to how you will travel safely on your trip. You plan for the unexpected by taking safety precautions like wearing a life jacket. If you plan to undertake a particularly challenging route, you may seek out experienced rafters to join your trip. You may even opt for a stronger raft to tackle the adventure.
Life is a lot like white water rafting, the only difference is it doesn’t come with a map to chart. You can’t map out the emotions you will experience following a divorce of the death of a loved one.
Changes like this will impact each of us differently. We will experience a raft of emotions, uncertainty, and thoughts.
The process of adapting to such events is resilience. And in order to adapt a positive mindset is key in adapting.
If right now, as you read this, you are thinking oh my, I am more of a pessimist than I realize, that’s okay! You can train yourself to think more optimistically. There are two big ways in which you can do this, we have detailed them below.
This method is simple – it is as simple as distracting yourself when you become aware of negative thoughts entering your mind. For example, a thought-stopping technique can help you redirect your attention. One of the ways to do this is with a rubber band. You may have noticed people with them on their wrists, snapping them absentmindedly.
This is a common method of distraction. Essentially, when you experience the negative thought, you ping the rubber band.
That isn’t enough to change your attention, though, to interrupt the negative thought pattern completely, you have to divert your attention to something else. Just keep an object handy that you can study, feel, and focus on.
Negative thinking is a habit, which means it can be changed if you put in the effort. The best way to overcome habitual negative thinking is to debate it. You have to argue your negative interpretation of the situation.
You’re literally going to argue with yourself. Distraction does help, but if you want to nip it in the bud entirely, debating is the effective method in which you can do so. There are four steps to this process.
- Find evidence to counter negative beliefs. The best way to debate something is to prove it’s factually incorrect. A negative response is usually an overreaction due to unmanaged emotions. Rarely is a negative response the result of sound evidence.
- Find an alternative explanation. A negative situation is likely to have a multitude of causes, but a pessimist will seize on the personal, permanent, and pervasive causes. You have to intentionally focus on the other causes – the non-personal, temporary, and specific causes.
- You can’t just live with your negative beliefs, you have to consider the consequences. What implications are there from holding a negative belief that is not based on evidence or truth?
- It isn’t enough to consider the consequences of negative beliefs, you have to examine whether they are useful.
- Coping mechanisms are necessary when it comes to coping with uncertainty and stress, and this is something that cannot be built without optimism and positive thinking. This is how resilience is built. This is how you learn to overcome.
Positive Role Models
You can learn positivity and optimism by surrounding yourself with positive people. The people around you influence your attitude, so look for positive role models.
Gratitude promotes positive thinking. Make a gratitude list every week or everyday day. Read it over regularly.