Reality Check: Optimism or Pessimism: Can you choose?

If pessimism has a hold on you, the idea that you can choose optimism instead won’t sound very realistic.

What is optimism, anyway? Reality therapy says that behaviour has four aspects: thinking, feeling, action, and physiological effects. You can “feel optimistic,” “think optimistically,” and “act like an optimist.”

Is a life filled with optimism more satisfying than one of pessimism? That’s up to you to decide. Different folks find different ways to live satisfying lives. You might choose pessimism, perceiving that you’ll be less disappointed if wishes don’t come true.

However, if you want to give optimism a whirl, how would you do that? Let’s look at Abby.

When Abby graduated from school, she was pumped. Her recent experiences had been so positive that she felt able to do anything and raring to get started. In short, Abby was optimistic.

However, life doesn’t necessarily respond to optimism by immediately fulfilling hopes and dreams. Abby didn’t get the job she wanted, so she couldn’t afford the apartment she wanted, plus she hadn’t found the relationship she wanted. Her optimism slipped away.

Abby felt that if just one thing went well in her life, the rest would fall into place. But as she waited and waited for that one good thing to happen, possibilities faded. Her recent can-do attitude was slowly replaced by older, more familiar thinking: “I’ll never get what I want; everybody does better than me.”

Then, somewhere during this negative spiral, Abby decided that she wanted her optimism back. How?

One good starting point is to think of a time when life was more satisfying. Abby’s recent optimism had been connected with the feeling of accomplishment that she had in school. “But I can’t be a student forever!”

We don’t necessarily need to relive that more satisfying time, just recognize the characteristics that were contributing to your satisfaction.  For Abby: “What were you doing then? What were you thinking? What relationships were in your life? And, what can you control and act on now?”

To regain the feeling of power that she’d gotten from learning, Abby decided to create her own learning plan. In it, every day, she chose to do a set of problems from her school books, to research something new in her field of study, and to continue to enhance her portfolio.

As she worked through her plan, Abby’s perception of her own accomplishments strengthened. She then chose to revise her resume and began to approach a wider range of potential employers with renewed enthusiasm and confidence.

Is Abby now guaranteed a more satisfying and successful life? No, there’s no guarantee! However, what’s her alternative? Is it better for Abby to spend her days doing nothing while telling herself that she will never succeed?

Optimism, by itself, doesn’t necessarily cause good things to happen. If you want to make a change, but figure that “looking on the bright side” won’t do much for you, then try doing something positive instead. See what happens if you try choosing optimism by doing optimistic actions.

Do you think that taking action can change your thoughts and feelings?

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