There are some people who always look on the bright side of life and because of this, the bright side of life shines on them. People who are optimistic see solutions and opportunities everywhere and are more confident about their ability to be successful. Through optimistic thinking, they create a positive upward spiral, gaining more and more momentum.

But who are these people, are they for real and can anyone learn to be optimistic?

Are We Born Optimistic?

As we learn more about genetics, we have a better understanding of the diversity of the human race in terms of our chemistry and how this impacts our mood and our thinking. Scientists have found that some people are born with naturally higher levels of serotonin – the happiness/contentment chemical – and that these people, termed the ‘Dandelions’ will be more able ‘grow and flourish’ even in harsh environments.

But even dandelions are vulnerable. Certain circumstances, for example working in a high stressed state over prolonged periods of time, without proper recovery, can deplete serotonin levels, leaving the dandelions feeling depressed and burnt out.

Although our brain chemistry can make being optimistic come more naturally to us, the way that we have been taught to think about problems and opportunity is just as crucial.

Chin Up

Does thinking positively make us more optimistic and therefore attract more success?

It’s not really that simple. When we face a challenge, a threat or a disappointment, we will have a natural emotional reaction in our bodies and in our brains. Often people will deal with these by trying to suppress the feeling – inhibition – so that we don’t become unregulated – wailing, sobbing, shouting or fighting, are generally frowned upon in public.

But when we inhibit feelings, they don’t go away, they intensify.

What’s more, our feelings can be unconsciously communicated to those around us – they don’t know what’s wrong but they feel uneasy.

When we ignore or try to tell ourselves that everything will be alright, our brain goes into a threat state as it detects that this is not an accurate appraisal of the situation and we end up feeling worse.

So what do optimistic people do differently when they encounter a bump in the road?

It’s all about how we view ourselves and the world. When they face a challenge or a setback, pessimistic people see the problem as being:

  1. Personal to them – “It’s all my fault” or “there I go again, messing everything up” or “that’s just my luck, things always go wrong for me”.
  2. Permanent – “this problem is going to last forever” or “things are never going to get better”.
  3. Pervasive – “this is going to effect everything else in my life” “I will be a failure in everything I do” “What is the point in trying something else?”

Can we change our thinking and become more optimistic? Luckily the answer is Yes!

1. Name of Feeling

Labelling a difficult emotion – ‘there’s the disappointed feeling’ – immediately brings the brain from a threat state into a logically thinking state, where we can put the issue into perspective.

2. Is Personal?

Optimistic people don’t take failure and setbacks personally and allow them to define their characters. They say to themselves “everyone makes mistakes” and “you tried your best” or “these things happen”. Self talk is a powerful way of shifting thinking.

3. Is it Permanent?

Seeing a setback or difficult event as temporary, is a key feature of optimistic thinking. Reflecting back and understanding that things generally get better or that we generally feel better over time is key in being able move on more quickly.

4. Is it Pervasive?

People who think optimistically, see setbacks as being isolated to one part of their lives. They have good boundaries and do not allow negativity to spread into their other endeavours.

The wonderful thing is, when we are optimistic we feel physically and mentally better. We see good things in our lives as being permanent – will last for a long time, personal – because of our actions and pervasive – have a knock-on positive impact on everything else in our lives.

Just like training our muscles, we can train our brains to be stronger, calmer and more optimistic, priming us to take full advantage of all the wonderful opportunities out there.

Catherine McIntosh is the founder of STRIVE & THRIVE CONSULTING.  She is a Consultant, Trainer and Writer on Performance and Resilience for Teams.  Strive & Thrive provide a range of programmes Building Peak Performance and Resilience for Teams.
The Chemistry of Calm Workshop is specifically designed to be delivered to teams, teaching easy ways to make lasting changes to health and wellbeing.  Contact us:  catherine@striveandthriveconsulting.com