After doing a post on the characteristics of successful people, I became super interested in the idea of optimism fueling success, as opposed to the other way around. Obviously being optimistic results in a happier life, but how does it directly relate to business success, and how do you encourage and sustain this way of thinking?
Albert Bandura, one of the founding fathers of scientific psychology, discovered decades ago that perhaps the best predictor of an individual’s success is whether or not they believe they will succeed. Characteristics of optimists are seeing challenges as temporary, able to be overcome, and as stepping stones that are leading them to a better solution. Pessimists, on the other hand, see challenges as permanent and tend to blame themselves on the failures – therefore blocking their ability to creatively search for solutions.
Optimists make more money because their attitude results in being more motivated to reach goals, as well as more enjoyable to work with and to work for (making them great leaders). Positive self-talk also expands the ability to learn and adapt, and optimism has been clearly linked to creativity. It’s a rewarding cycle: When you decide to feel positively about events, you’re more able to respond imaginatively to challenge.
Sounds easy enough, but why is being an optimist such a challenge? Well, research estimates that we have as many as 50,000 thoughts per day, and for the average person roughly half of those thoughts are needlessly negative. This equates to the average person having up to 25,000 destructive thoughts daily. So how can we push aside those negative thoughts we all experience and learn to be more optimistic?
1. Catch negative thoughts
The first step is to simply become more aware of when you begin a negative thought pattern. Psychologist Martin Seligman outlined three categories of pessimistic thinking: pervasive, permanent and personal.
- Pervasive/Permanent negativity is using words like, “all,” “every,” “always,” “never” – For example, “All the people in my department are idiots” or “This will always be this way” or “You never listen to me” You are creating universal truths and catastrophizing something that is an isolated incident.
- Personal negativity means harboring the feeling that the universe is plotting against us. We say things like, “Why me?” “I am a useless failure” or “I deserve this.”
Just the simple act of bringing awareness to what our minds are reflexively doing gives us separation, distance and clarity. We have to practice watching our thoughts. When in a bad mood or about to take a negative action, it can help to pause just long enough to observe what’s going on in our mind, and having the understanding that those thoughts do not serve us.
2. Reframe the negative
Once you catch yourself going to that place of helplessness and negativity, change the way you’re thinking about the situation to reframe it in a more positive way.
- Instead of saying, “All the people in my department are clueless idiots,” switch the thought process to, “Everyone here is learning at different speeds, and I can appreciate that.”
- Instead of saying, “This will always be this way,” learn to say, “Right now, things are this way – and they simply aren’t as I want them to be yet.”
- Instead of saying, “I’m a failure,” say instead, “That one instance didn’t work out, but I will make sure that things will be different next time.” Instead of, “I deserve this,” say, “I’ll learn from this and strive to do and be better.”
- Ask yourself, ‘If I couldn”t fail at this, how would I proceed?” By asking that type of question, a pessimist will be able tap into the optimist thought process – a way of thinking that does not let obstacles stand in the way of their goals.
Neurons, the very circuitry of our brains, can be reshaped by new thought patterns – so breaking the pattern of negative and replacing it with positive will create an entire and lasting shift in your thinking and in turn, your life.
3. Visualize success daily & Practice gratitude
Sure, it sounds like I’m just preaching out of the book “The Secret”, but making it a daily ritual to visualize what you want your future to look like – down to your job, home, family, location — will put some emotional intensity behind your actions and transform the way that you think about yourself and your future. Plus, taking a page from Think and Grow Rich, your brain does not know the difference between real and imagined thoughts – so visualizing yourself already successful will motivate your subconscious to believe it is all very attainable.
Practicing gratitude is also one of the easiest ways to become more positive and optimistic. By writing down three new things per day you are grateful for, you can train your brain to begin to scan your environment and experiences for the positive. The more you notice good things, the better your brain gets at noticing good things. Remember, long term happiness is not predicted by whats going on around us, but by the meaning we attach to what’s going on around us. We need to be sure that we are giving empowering meaning to things instead of creating so many rules for what it takes for us to be happy.