I’m going to tell you about a trap. I’ll call it the personality trap. Like all traps, you need to escape it. Look at the quote above. We’ve all been asked that question. I hate that question. That very common question has lures and locks and snares and trap-doors.
Let me explain.
When it comes to optimism versus pessimism, it is common to think people “just are” one or the other. It is very easy to fall into the trap of labeling people as having personality traits that determine which “type” they are. Take a second look at that question above. It’s priming you to see optimism as a personality trait, rather a state of mind. It also makes it sound impossible (or at least very difficult) to change.
You need to escape that trap. I’ll tell you how:
- Recognize that optimism is a habit.
- Recognize that you can develop the habit of optimism by learning and using skills.
- Start practicing. It only takes a few weeks to make significant progress.
Optimism is a way of thinking, not an unchangeable way of being. It’s a habit of mind. Sure, some personality types take to it more easily than others — but that doesn’t mean that you can’t get better at it, no matter who you are. It’s just like playing tennis or golf, playing the piano, being assertive, playing Pac-Man, or speaking a foreign language. If you want to get better, you have to practice. You can get better at being optimistic by practicing.
Optimism has powerful effects on how productive we are under pressure, how we handle setbacks, how we handle uncertainty, how we cope with stress, how we bounce back from grief, etc. Getting better at optimism is in anyone’s interest.
So how do you practice optimism? Here’s one way (there are others): Start using a gratitude journal!
- Get a notebook.
- Write down what you are grateful for.
- Set a goal of writing five entries per day for three weeks.
- Entries can be very simple, like
- My kids are healthy.
- The weather was good today.
- My feet didn’t hurt as much as they usually do.
- A favorite song of mine came on the radio today.
- The traffic jam made me late, but it didn’t matter.
You get the idea! How and why does it work? Well, if you must reach a goal each day of identifying things that make you feel grateful, you will begin looking for things all day long in order to make your goal. You will get into the habit of looking at the bright side of things.
It’s that simple. So I’m asking you to commit to fairly minimal homework that yields powerful results.
Give this a try. I bet it helps!