Optimists Hope for More

These are changing and challenging times. Life is difficult and setbacks are common in the great game of business and in life. Every person has a choice about the attitude they bring to their day and the actions they make. Those who will prosper must develop flexible optimism, resourcefulness, and persistence in the face of adversity and constant change.

Unfortunately, far too many are falling victim to the depression of our age, learned helplessness— “Nothing I can do is going to make any difference in what happens to me, so why try?”

By controlling your attitudes and habits you too can alter your life and influence others you live and work with. Here are fifteen practical tips to claim your own optimism advantage in bouncing back from any setback or disaster.

1. Nurture perspective and an appreciation for the healing power of time. One of Abraham Lincoln’s favorite quotes was: “This too shall pass.” Because we tend to think that our reactions to bad events will never fade, we also tend to feel especially good when we recover from trauma with unexpected speed. Don’t underestimate your own powers of recuperation from emotional trauma. None of us will ever forget the horror of September 11th or Hurricane Katrina, but we now look back with a calmer perspective only time can provide.

2. Dispute catastrophic thoughts by checking fears against the facts. Optimism can be learned. Recognize that people often have catastrophic thoughts—feelings that everything is wrong and that nothing is going to change. Think of these thoughts as if they are being said by some external enemy whose mission in life is to make you miserable. Then dispute those thoughts. Try using cold, impersonal facts to maintain a reality-based perspective. If you struggle with the fear of flying, you note that the National Safety Council reports that you’re 37 times more likely to die, mile for mile, in a vehicle crash than on a commercial airline.

3. Avoid victim thinking and seize the day as a survivor. As long as you are alive, you always have options. Survivors make the best of the options they have while victims whine about how few they have. There is never nothing you can do, the only question is whether a given action will work and if committed action is worth the investment of the time required to achieve the desired results. Survivors keep making choices one day at a time.

4. Control what you can—position, perform and persist. Security is not a fact; it is a feeling—a feeling that you can control what you do. You don’t control all events that happen, but you do control your response to events. You don’t control the cards you are dealt in life, but you can learn how to play even a poor hand well. Appreciate the words of Reinhold Niebuhr: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Get busy changing what you can—starting with your own attitude.

5. Move from analysis paralysis into action. Cultivate a continual sense of adventure that searches for and takes advantage of every opportunity. Failure to act doesn’t prevent failure it just turns life into slow death. As Yogi Berra would say, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

6. Master the strategic skills you need to invent the future. The age of lifelong employment is over. You become an old dog when you stop doing new and improved tricks. Invest 5% of your time in education to stay a recyclable asset. If you hate your job, raise that to 10%. Search for what you enjoy and have the gifts to do. Bouncing back with optimism is easier when you have a job that gives you passion, fulfillment, and energy.

7. Manage your motivation by catching yourself being effective. You are probably tougher on yourself than on any other person. Instead of taking yourself for granted, love yourself the way you love others you care about. If you are not catching yourself being effective, you may be winning and not know it because you’re not keeping score. Ask yourself daily, “What did I do today that made a difference?” Use your calendar to write down one success every day.

8. See mistakes as valued lessons on the way to success. Life is like a moving vehicle with no brakes; if you spend too much time in the rearview mirror, you may hit a tree out the front window. Keep your rearview mirror smaller than your front window by using self-criticism as course correction feedback on the road to success. Identify what was done wrong, but put your focus on the future: What are you going to do to rectify the problem? How will you handle it next time?

9. Persevere in reframing difficulties and downturns into strategic opportunities. Flexible optimists persevere even in the presence of obstacles and negative outcomes. They perceive failures as temporary setbacks, rather than final verdicts. What you think when things go wrong determines whether you give up or whether you get busy overcoming the problem. Victors say to themselves, “I’m going to figure out how to become successful one way or another.” Victims say, “I’ll never be able to succeed.”

10. Build an expectation of success through persistent hard work and invest your worry time in constructive action. Hunt for the silver lining. A crisis can be a time to reinvent a business, to cut costs that are not adding value, and to reinforce and strengthen customer ties.

11. Relationships are critical in times of crisis. Learn to accept support from others; you don’t have to go it alone. The tragedy of life is that the people you most want to spend time with you have to schedule time to even see. The people you least want to be with will find you wherever you are. Spend time with other optimistic and resourceful friends. Mark Twain said it well: “Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.” The company you keep can bring you up or bring you down. Pick your friends and associates wisely.

12. Balance working and living smart by making time for your family. Research shows that time spent with supportive families, friends and faith communities can help people find strength and comfort. People look at their priorities differently after a personal crisis. Make dates and buy a few tickets! When you’ve paid for theater tickets or a sporting event, you find a way to get everything done so that you can go no matter what work demands appear. In fact, have tickets every day and be willing to give them up only when unexpected job or life demands require it.

13. To maintain a positive attitude, take your health habits seriously in difficult times. Eat right, exercise, get plenty of sleep, and include daily stress breaks in your day. Maintaining your health habits can do wonders to help you sustain your optimism and manage your increased stress levels.

14. Find the power of purpose and serving others. Friedrich Nietzsche once said, “The one who has a why to live can bear with almost any how.” There is passion in being fully engaged in a meaningful mission and in doing your share of random acts of kindness. You make a difference for yourself when you make a difference for others. Faith, values and integrity are back in. People of faith tend not live in fear, but find peace in faith. Core values help direct your choices. They are both your anchor in the rough sea and the lighthouse that helps illuminate a positive and principled course in uncertain times. Honor is a gift you give yourself.

15. Use your sense of humor to regain perspective. Don’t go through your life with your face in “park “. Humor provides perspective that breaks the stress cycle and invites a more positive attitude. If you know that some day you will laugh at a problem, don’t wait—laugh as quickly as you can! Take your job and life seriously, but yourself lightly. Never forget that some days you’re the bug, and some days you’re the windshield. That’s a perspective worth remembering in these challenging times.

Finally, experience the power of gratitude. Unrealistic expectations are a sure road to disappointment. Optimists hope for more, but are not thrown by less. Start counting your blessings instead of your problems. Choose to be happy unless something happens to change that feeling, instead of being unhappy until something makes you happy. End the day by identifying five things for which you are grateful. In fact, you can start by being grateful that you found this article!