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No matter how much we love our lives, and no matter how many things we might have going in our favour, it’s natural for most of us to go through periods of melancholy, pessimism, and maybe even outright depression.
For some of us, the problem of pessimism can be something that we’ve struggled with throughout our lives, without a clear light at the end of the tunnel. Sometimes the idea of escaping pessimism may seem about as likely as flying pigs, flying homes, or geese that lay golden eggs.
Fortunately, there are some steps you can take to begin easing yourself into a more optimistic and life-affirming mindset. Here are some suggestions to get you started
Practice the “ABCD” method
The psychologist Martin Seligman suggested a particular method for combating destructive thinking and becoming more optimistic, in his book “Learned Optimism”.
In the book, Seligman pointed out that optimists can experience broadly the same external events as pessimists, but that they are prone to feel better, and be more successful in dealing with the challenges that arise in life.
He goes on to suggest that the difference between optimism and pessimism is largely a matter of our internal “self-talk”, or the way in which our inner dialogue runs. For a pessimist, this inner dialogue is primarily negative and creates a self-reinforcing negative feedback loop. For optimists, it’s the opposite.
Seligman proposed an “ABCD” method of fighting back against negative thoughts as they arise, and gradually conditioning yourself to take a more optimistic stance on life.
In this method, “ABCD” is an acronym for “Activator, Belief, Consequences, Dispute”. The way the method works is as follows:
When you experience a negative thought, feeling, or belief, begin by asking yourself what Activated it, or “triggered” it. Maybe it was the sight of a particular outfit. What Belief did this sight cause you? Perhaps that you were too far to wear nice clothes. What are the Consequences of this belief? You feel sad, ugly, and shy. Finally, how can you Dispute this belief? Is there another way of looking at things? Maybe there are lots of clothes that suit you, and that particular dress doesn’t really mean anything.
For every event that occurs, think of one positive side-effect
Pessimism is primarily a habit of thought, meaning that if you leave most situations thinking something like “that was a complete waste of time”, or “nothing every goes well for me”, you are reinforcing pessimistic beliefs.
One of the best ways of defusing this pattern of thought, is to force yourself to think of one positive outcome following every event.
This doesn’t have to be something that “feels true” to you at first. Just begin planting the right seeds. If, for example, you get fired from work, your “one positive thing” could be, “I now don’t have to deal with my old boss anymore!”
Stay well-fed and well-rested
The state of our physical health plays an enormous role in whether our thoughts tend towards the positive or the negative, by default.
If we are stressed, malnourished, and never sleep enough, it will be much, much harder for us to feel positive and optimistic.
By eating your fill of healthy foods throughout the day, and getting enough sleep and rest, you prime your body to help you become and remain optimistic.