Gifts for the New Year: Practice Optimism to Create a Positive Future
As Martin Seligman (the father of Positive Psychology) realized decades ago, we can train ourselves into any number of emotional states. He first noticed the phenomenon of Learned Helplessness in lab animals subjected to random reward/punishment activities over which they had no control. When he replicated the experiments with humans he concluded that, if we can train people to feel helpless and hopeless, we can ALSO train them to feel empowered and optimistic.
You can train your Optimism “muscles” by working in several areas. First, notice what you focus on in LANGUAGE. Do you spend more time talking about what failed and what you expect to go wrong tomorrow, or do you spend more time focused on what you feel grateful about and what you expect to go well in the future? Keeping a gratitude journal or Joy List will help you retrain your brain to notice what’s right versus what’s wrong.
Then engage your BODY in the practice. Simple shifts can make a big difference. For example, when you walk or stand, do you look down at the ground and your feet, or do you look up at the horizon and the sky? It may feel strange at first, but try lifting your chin and looking ahead with a smile versus looking down and with a frown, and notice how your mood shifts. (note: don’t do this if you’re walking outside on an icy day!)
As you plan for the new year, make time to list your POSITIVE expectations for 2011, and then practice showing up in confidence and with a smile. You won’t change how stressed other people are, but you’ll change how YOU feel. Plus, emotions – like viruses – are contagious, so if you’ve practiced your optimism (or hope, or cheerfulness, or acceptance) you’ll show up in a stronger emotion, and you’ll infect others in a positive way — and what you send out comes back to you (I’m just sayin’…).
Next: Use your Power To Choose the Weather!