Is the glass half-empty for you more than it’s half-full? Does your mind tend to jump to what could go wrong instead of what could go right?
Pessimism is never a pretty look, but it’s quite normal; I used to be quite the pessimist myself who wanted to think the worst as a defense mechanism against life’s disappointments.
I mean, if I was already expecting it, it can’t hurt me, right?
Wrong. In fact, even if the negative thing we’re mentally prepared for never happens, it has already hurt us.
Pessimism makes life exponentially heavier and in fact, has health consequences, such as a weakened immune system and illnesses, both physical and mental.
But you don’t have to live that way. With these habits, you can get rid of the gray cloud hanging over you and see more color!
1) Try switching thoughts in the opposite direction
I’ll start with something that’s easier than done, but is absolutely necessary if you want to be more optimistic. And that’s making a switch from negative to positive.
I’m aware that sounds a little too simplistic; I mean, if it was that easy, then we wouldn’t have any pessimistic people walking the earth, right?
But really, when you get down to it, it’s that simple.
I think about it like trying on eyeglasses at the optician’s…and choosing the ones tinted with a tiny hint of rose.
I say “tiny hint” because it’s also not healthy to venture into full-on rose-colored glasses. We must always acknowledge the reality of things.
Let’s say you have a beach trip planned and it suddenly rains. Your first instinct would be to say, “Of course, it will rain! That’s just my luck!”
To switch that up, challenge yourself to think of the other good stuff you can do instead. Wouldn’t a rainy day be the perfect time for a cup of hot chocolate and a riveting crime thriller book or series?
It will take some time before this becomes a habit, but just like any habit, all it takes is consistency. And this next thing…
2) Practice mindfulness
Naturally, you can’t make that switch without being aware of your thought processes. For people who’ve been pessimists all their lives, a negative mindset is practically carved into their neural pathways.
The good news is, our brain is malleable. You can bust up those neural pathways and build new ones.
How exactly do you do that? With self-awareness. Mindfulness. Watching your thoughts and letting them pass you by without sucking you into the blackhole.
It’s nothing elaborate, really. Just the act of savoring the food you eat, the coffee you have in the morning, the way your breath moves in and out of your body…
…Those are all mindful acts that can chip away at those negative neurons like a patient sculptor with a chisel and hammer.
As a former pessimist, I started by dedicating a few minutes each day to this practice. Initially, it was challenging, as I have quite a wandering mind.
But as I persisted, it became easier to stay in the present. I became more aware of my thoughts and emotions without getting swept away by them.
More importantly, I learned how to choose. Yes, choose. Because the truth is, our mindset is a matter of choice.
3) Be intentional in finding things to be grateful for
Talking about choice brings me to this next point – choosing to be grateful. I know it sounds trite, but there’s a reason why mental health experts extol the glories of gratitude over and over.
You see, research has shown the many benefits of gratitude. It helps us:
- Feel more positive emotions
- Relish good experiences
- Improve our health
- Deal with adversity
- Build strong relationships
That’s because gratitude is a powerful perspective-changer. It can even make us appreciate the difficult times, which might sound unthinkable for the average pessimist!
And for me, what truly resonates is the fact that gratitude cultivates joy. As research professor Brené Brown said in a KonMari interview:
“In the research, we learned that the most effective way to cultivate joy in our lives is to practice gratitude. The key word here is practice. It’s not just about feeling grateful, it’s about developing an observable practice. So often we think that joy makes us grateful, when in reality it’s gratitude that brings joy.”
4) Lighten up!
Seriously, lighten up.
Humor is quite a serious business for me. By that, I mean that I’m really intentional in finding humor in everything.
Remember when you were a kid and you’d laugh at the silliest thing? Didn’t those belly laughs feel awesome?
There’s no reason why you can’t go back to being that lighthearted person right now. Sure, life may have thrown so many rocks at you and left you beaten and bruised. I totally see why you might have lost that natural capacity to be silly.
But you know what? Sometimes a good laugh is all you need to remember that life isn’t all doom and gloom. How can it be when there’s just so much to smile and laugh about?
5) Focus on learning new things
Another habit that has served me well in nudging my brain towards optimism is cultivating a growth mindset.
You see, a fixed mindset is fertile ground for pessimism. It limits our abilities, makes us fear failure, and blinds us to opportunities.
But when we adopt a growth mindset, we view challenges as opportunities. Failure becomes a vehicle for learning instead of the scary monster we think it is.
How did I incorporate this into my life? I began by accepting that making mistakes is part of learning.
Whenever I faltered, I asked myself, “What can I learn from this?” instead of lamenting yet another misstep.
I won’t say it’s easy because it’s not (negative pattern-busting never is). But this shift in perspective has made me feel more hopeful about each day that comes.
6) Let go of the idea of control
Here comes another difficult habit, but once you practice it, you’ll feel an immense sense of freedom.
Let’s face it – much of our frustration comes from not being able to control every variable in a situation.
Think back to that scenario where it rains on the day of your beach trip. I mean, the rain isn’t something you can control, right? So why stress about it?
Look, part of what makes life beautiful is its unpredictability. It’s not a strict narrative where you know the script by heart. If it was, it would be incredibly boring.
Letting go of the notion that you can control everything means learning to accept that things may not go the way you want and adapting when necessary. This acceptance inherently nurtures hope and optimism.
That said, there are some things you can indeed control to release yourself from the grip of negativity, such as what you consume, as the next point shows…
7) Filter what you’re consuming online
Do you engage in doomscrolling? Do you have a jaded attitude about the world because “there’s nothing but bad news anyway”?
That could be a major reason for your pessimism. Research has shown that watching just three minutes of negative news in the morning makes us 27% more likely to perceive our day as unhappy.
Wow, quite a finding, isn’t it?
So why not switch it up? Instead of doomscrolling, watch solution-oriented videos instead, (like this one).
Consume content that makes you see there are more good people out there than bad.
And if you really have to watch the news, give yourself a limit, just enough time to be updated, then turn it off.
8) Spend time with uplifting people
Just like online consumption, real-life consumption matters, too. That means the people you surround yourself with have an impact on the way you think.
Maybe you’ve been around people who are pessimists themselves. Or who diminish you and make you feel bad about yourself.
I love this saying: “If you don’t like where you are, you can move. You are not a tree.”
It reminds me that I don’t have to tolerate toxic people who mess with my view of life. I can focus on the positive relationships I have, the ones where I feel supported and encouraged.
Why stay with weeds when you can be in a field of flowers?
9) Celebrate the big wins – and more importantly, the small ones
I once had a coworker who was quite a Negative Nelly. Complaining was her default mood.
One of her biggest complaints was that she’d never gotten a raise. So when she finally did, you’d think she’d be happy, right?
Nope. She said, “3%? Pathetic.”
Take note, it was a very small company, so I knew that that 3% was a big deal for them. It was a real gesture of goodwill on their part.
My point is, celebrating even the small wins is an important part of developing optimism. Because if you keep waiting around to celebrate only for the big wins, you might be waiting a long time.
Do you really want to rejoice just a few times in your life instead of celebrating often?
10) Believe that you deserve good things
Lastly, I want to talk about self-belief. See, for many of us (the old me included), pessimism is a way to deal with disappointment. It can be a form of self-protection, where expecting the worst prepares us for any potential letdowns.
The thing is, life, again, doesn’t work that way. Bad things happen, yes, but good things do, too!
And they will happen to you, whether you believe it or not.
The problem is, you won’t see them if you’ve got those nega-tech blinders on. If you expect perfection, how can you see progress?
Real talk – the world mirrors our inner beliefs. If we believe we’re deserving of good things, we become more open to recognizing and receiving these good things when they come our way.
So you see, optimism comes from within. It’s always a matter of choice.