Have you ever considered strategic optimism? I definitely think we can all benefit from putting on our rose coloured glasses from time to time!
Over the summer my daughters and I watched the Pixar film ‘Inside Out’ for the umpteenth time. The movie’s storyline got me thinking about the benefits of optimism. The character of Joy in the film is relentlessly cheerful and positive. A believer that a quick injection of happiness will fix all problems. She embodies optimism – a strong expectation that good things will be plentiful in the future and bad things scarce.
Whilst unbridled optimism can seem out of touch with the reality of our world, some deliberate optimism can be observed and should be developed. By that, I mean it can help us explain the causes of negative events in our lives. For example, we can decide that a problem is a temporary setback (rather than an ongoing disaster) and that its causes are specific to the situation (and therefore pretty unlikely to recur).
Rather than immediately (and automatically) heaping blame on ourselves for every issue, we can decide that things happened due to circumstances, bad luck or other people. These are the defining characteristics of an optimistic thinker.
Here’s a scenario:
Imagine that you reach across your desk now and somehow knock over a cup of coffee. Which of the following responses is more likely to jump into your mind?
A) Arrrggghhhh! I’m always sooooo clumsy! I can’t do anything without making a mess! There goes my good mood for the day!
B) Arrrggghhhh! What a shocker! How on earth did that happen? Too much stuff everywhere! Ok, clean it up, move on!
Both responses acknowledge that the spilt coffee is a negative event but the level of optimism in each response differs strongly. Yet the second response firmly places the problem as temporary and doesn’t leap to self-blame. It also keeps the event specific to the time and circumstances rather than having a wider impact.
As Mums, negative things happen, and sadly they can be a lot worse than a spilt hot drink. However, learning to think more optimistically can definitely help to maintain our mental wellbeing and build resilience to more effectively cope with the day to day stress and challenges we encounter. Research has linked higher levels of optimism to a reduced incidence of depression and anxiety and to overall better physical health.
For example, a recent study from the University of Illinois focused on cardiovascular health and found that individuals with higher levels of optimism were twice as likely to be in ideal cardiovascular health, as compared to more pessimistic people.
So, the next time that something goes wrong please notice your response and see whether there are ways you can guide your thinking in the direction of optimism. A bit of strategic optimism might be just what you need to achieve your goals in 2018!
Kate Wilkie has a Masters in Applied Science (Coaching Psychology) from the University of Sydney, and her particular coaching interest is in working with women to increase well-being, boost resilience and guide positive action.
Evidence from the science of Positive Psychology shows that boosting overall well-being can help women to increase their resilience to stress and help to avoid depression and anxiety. This can be particularly important in the early years of motherhood and as their children become more independent.
Over the past twenty years, Kate has worked and consulted across a range of industries and different sized businesses in the public, private and not for profit sectors. This varied experience has given Kate a strong understanding of, and clear perspective on, the challenges and opportunities that each individual and organisation faces.
FlexCareers offers a free 30-minute introductory meeting with our FlexCoaches, to help you establish if coaching is right for you. You can contact Kate through FlexCareers here, and you can find out more about their practice, Flourishing Mothers, here.