It was tax season. Ralph came barreling into my office slinging his backpack onto the sofa and spurting curse words. When I asked him what was the matter, he groaned that he had to pay a half million dollars in taxes. When I asked how much he made, he mumbled five million. Ralph was so caught up in his loss that it eclipsed his gain. He was a rich man living an impoverished life. It reminded me of Winston Churchill’s famous quote, “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” Pessimism can be a knee-jerk reaction that you might not be aware of. A friend of mine loved the warm, long days of summer. One day in June on the longest day of the year, I said to her, “You must be on cloud nine.” She replied, “No, I’m really down because tomorrow the days start getting shorter again.” When I pointed out how her outlook was shrinking her joy, she was surprised that her pessimism had hijacked her.
Studies Reveal the Secret Mojo
Scientists have gotten in on the act to discover the secret mojo to a longer and happier life. Their findings? The way you think about your lot makes all the difference in your mood, health and career success—even longevity. Research shows that optimism literally expands your peripheral vision and lets you see more possibilities and solutions to problems than pessimism, which limits your outlook. Optimism reminds you of your personal resources and capabilities to deal with an opportunity embedded in a hardship. If you’re an optimist, you’re more likely to scoot up the career success ladder faster and farther than a pessimist. One study showed that sales personnel with an optimistic outlook sold 37% more life insurance in their first two years than pessimists. Other studies show that you adopt healthier habits, too. Statistics reveal that you have a lower stress level and a more stable cardiovascular system than average, and you have a stronger immune system. You’re happier, have fewer health complaints, healthier relationships and live an average of seven and a half years longer than average.
Turn Your Life Around
Optimism is some of the best medicine you will ever find to boost your career, no matter how dire the circumstances. You don’t possess some magical joy juice. And you don’t have to become a smiley-face romantic with your head in the sand or look through rose-colored glasses. Optimists are realists who take positive steps to cope with obstacles instead of succumbing to them. You don’t have to be a natural born optimist, either. You can cultivate a positive outlook. With practice, you realize you have a choice on how to view the slings and arrows the job delivers, simply by choosing your outlook. Here are some ways to stir the optimistic juices.
Replace Your Zoom Lens with a Wide-Angle Lens
Like the zoom lens of a camera, Mother Nature pre-wired you to zero in on threats and negativity to protect you and help you survive. Your mind magnifies negative situations and hardships to keep you out of harm’s way. But most things are not all that threatening. Once you realize you have a choice of how to perceive and respond to a challenge and that optimism is always present—even under the direst pressures—you can start to focus your mind more on the optimistic aspects of situations and build on them:
1. Step back from a challenge and pinpoint a wide range of solutions instead of focusing on the difficulty.
2. Remember the personal resources you have at your disposal to overcome obstacles and how they provide an opportunity for you to learn more about your strengths and positive qualities.
3. Take the viewpoint that mistakes and hardships are not failures for you to endure (close-ended judgment) but lessons for you to learn (open-ended curiosity) that happen for you, not to you.
4. Don’t take setbacks personally. Make a U-turn, shift your perspective, and focus on what you can do. Ask yourself: “How can I make this situation work to my advantage?” or “Can I find something optimistic about this negative situation?” or “What can I manage or overcome in this instance?”
5. Practice positive self-talk and pep talks and refrain from attacking yourself or from making negative self-judgments when you stumble.
6. Broaden your perspective. Every time you’re feeling pessimistic or hopeless, put on your wide-angle lens, pull up the big picture and see the situation in the broad context of your life instead of from the narrow lens that clouds out possibilities.
7. Look for gains in your losses and beginnings in your endings. Discover gifts in adversity and how a seismic event can change your life for the better.
8. Hang out with positive people instead of those who pull you down. Like pessimism, optimism is contagious and it rubs off.
9. Pay attention to the attitude you bring to work, home or play and keep it in check.
10. Give yourself a fist pump every time you reach a milestone or important accomplishment. Tell yourself how awesome you are: “I knew I could do it!”
At first, you might find it difficult to underscore the upside of a downside situation. But with intention and dedicated practice, you will find it gets easier. And life gets better and longer and more meaningful. Here’s to a long, healthy, productive and happy life!