In the last post, I set out some of the reasons for thinking that optimism is a better choice of ‘explanatory style’ than pessimism, and suggested that it is possible to consciously develop a more optimistic way of thinking.
Making the transition to greater optimism is really a matter of recognizing three simple truths.
Recognize that you are in the habit of thinking negatively
We do not see the world as it truly is. We all filter reality through the lenses of our experience and expectations. For the most part, we have been wearing the same lenses for so long that we have forgotten we are wearing them. Optimists and pessimists are just wearing different lenses. You have probably seen the optical illusion where some people see an old woman and others beautiful young lady – it’s the same picture which our minds interpret in different ways.
Negative thinking is just one way of interpreting reality and, over time, it becomes a habit. Like alcoholism or drug addiction, it becomes an habituated response and, like these other addictions, it is a dangerous and destructive patterns of behavior. But it is a habit, and habits can be changed. Being aware is the first step.
Recognize that your thoughts originate in your own mind
You are the creator of your own thoughts. Because thoughts seem to arise spontaneously, people might believe that they accurately describe reality and that, therefore, there is some substance to them. Negative thinking, in other words, appears to be justified.
The truth, however, is that you are creating every thought you have, though it might not seem this way. Once we really understand that we are the creators of our own thoughts, it is a simple matter – in principle – to change them.
Recognize that you have the power to change your thoughts
A friend of mine, an excellent driver, once took an advanced driving course. The first thing he had to do was drive along a complicated road system while giving a detailed commentary of everything he was doing. He had become so competent at driving that it had all become automatic and, in order to move to the next level of skill, he had to become conscious again and unlearn all the bad habits he had picked up and internalized over the years.
You can do the same reprogramming exercise with the way you think. Becoming aware of your negative thoughts and consciously trying to replace them with more optimistic, supportive ones is the key. Trying to change habits can be difficult, and changing a habit of pessimism is no different. The key is persistence. Every time you catch yourself thinking in a negative way, try to remember the three steps. Try to watch your thoughts and, when you become aware of any pessimism or negativity, think again.
The way you look at life is a choice – it doesn’t happen to you: it’s something you make up, moment by moment. And it’s something you can change at any moment.