Years ago, when I decided to make the shift from traditional psychotherapy to optimism, I think the initial reaction I was met with the most from friends, family, colleagues and even clients was…huh?
Optimism isn’t an easy topic to tackle, let alone build your practice or area of specialty on. On the surface it seems like a simple concept and many people think they have a pretty basic understanding of what it entails, but the reality is, there’s a lot of misconceptions to what optimism is, and what it means. The common theory is that optimism is always staying positive based on how a person feels at a certain moment in time. What people don’t realize is that optimism is more than staying positive and unbothered – it’s your overall outlook.
Staying upbeat all the time puts an incredible amount of pressure on the individual to achieve the impossible.
As humans, we’re made to experience the full range of emotions -- even ones like sadness, stress and anxiety. In fact, we’ve been programmed, as human beings, to use these feelings as methods of protection and self-preservation. When we were cavemen (or cavepeople if you will), we learned that if something felt scary, it most likely meant we were in danger, so we would run and hide in order to survive. We, as human beings, don’t like to confront things that are scary or uncomfortable.
Positivity when it’s insincere, forced and incongruent to how you really feel, threatens the experience of our full range of emotions and trust me, it can be toxic.
What’s interesting is, through my practice and ongoing work, I’ve found that some of our low and neutral emotions can help build and exercise our optimism muscles even more than positive ones. Pushing negative emotions away can heighten problems faced and have a harmful effect on your physical and mental state. While we might not always want to embrace those negative feelings, acknowledging them and dealing with them head on can help build resiliency.
It would be impossible for me to explain optimism without touching on resiliency.
Resiliency and optimism are tied hand in hand. You can’t try to increase optimism, joy or happiness without utilizing resiliency muscles. The only way to build up those muscles is to push through and lean into moments of anxiety, convincing yourself that you have the power to stay positive. Resiliency can also be shaped by having a regular set of behaviors – including fitness, getting outside and into nature, and spending time with positive people.
Resiliency and optimism are tied hand in hand. You can’t try to increase optimism, joy or happiness without utilizing resiliency muscles.
Well, first, know that none of us are straight optimists or pessimists – we’re all on a continuum and are more optimistic in some aspects of our lives than others. An optimist isn’t someone devoid of reality, but rather someone who’s mindful of the challenges in their life but sees these obstacles as temporary and recognizes their ability to overcome them, even if they don’t know exactly how or when.
Now that we’ve debunked some of the biggest misconceptions about optimism, I hope you can move forward on a path toward optimism by embracing all your emotions, staying true to your authentic feelings, and building your resiliency muscles to become more optimistic in your everyday life.
Overall, we’re collectively experiencing a wide range of emotions and they’re all okay – whether positive or negative. Don’t try to avoid them. Rather acknowledge them and recognize how you’re truly feeling. In the end, being honest with ourselves and taking some simple steps to increase our optimism will help us improve our outlook each day.
Dr. Deepika Chopra has teamed up with Colgate to help inspire others to choose a little bit of optimism each day and create a future we can all smile about.