March is "Optimism Month" so this is a great time to explore your state of mind, change your frame of mind, and discuss the topic of learned optimism - which is the proactive choice of consciously challenging your negative self talk.
There are many things in life we cannot change or control, but fortunately we DO have complete control over our own thoughts and our state of mind.
It may not always feel like it of course, which is why "learned optimism" is a great topic. It's not as simple as just being optimistic. You have to learn how to BE optimistic, meaning... consciously choosing to change your frame of mind.
Why is March called Optimism Month?
Good question. I'm not sure, as there isn't very much information on this unofficial observance, but I could make a couple of guesses. For starters, in many parts of the world it is the month of Spring Equinox which signals the end of winter and the promise of warm days and sunshine returning. Humans and animals alike experience a touch of Spring Fever, with increased energy, enthusiasm and optimism.
March also marks the end of the first quarter, which you may view in a number of ways. The major family holidays and New Year Resolutions are behind us. It's tax season. It's a time to evaluate your progress and plan for the second quarter.
Whatever the reason this is the season, and optimism is a great topic!
Optimism: Meaning of the Word
According to the dictionary, optimism is the opposite of pessimism. It means to be hopeful and confident about the future, or about the outcome of a goal or project:
If you're pessimistic, you tend to see the worst in things or believe the worst will happen in a given situation. It can be easy to shift between the two - optimism and pessimism - especially with certain circumstances or external influences.
"The benefits of an optimistic outlook are many: Optimists are higher achievers and have better overall health. Pessimism, on the other hand, is much more common; pessimists are more likely to give up in the face of adversity or to suffer from depression." -source
What is Learned Optimism?
The term was coined by Martin Seligman, author of Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life. The concept stemmed from the study of "learned helplessness" which is the idea that a certain reoccurring negative event is out of the person's control.
His work on this topic looks VERY interesting, and immediately put me in mind of one of my favorite authors and all-time favorite books: Evolve Your Brain: The Science of Changing Your Mind by Joe Dispenza (recommended!!).
The mind is powerful. It can rationalize anything in our favor. We can choose to look at the positive side of things when it suits us, and choose to accept negative thoughts just the same. But in both situations, it IS a choice.
Realizing that we subconsciously choose how we feel, or how we interpret certain things or events or circumstances, is the first step toward making those choices consciously - and intentionally.
Learned optimism is simply the idea that "optimism" can be cultivated, specifically by consciously challenging negative self talk. -source
"According to Martin Seligman, anyone can learn optimism. Whether currently an optimist or a pessimist, benefits can be gained from exposure to the process of learned optimism to improve response to both big and small adversities.
A test developed by Seligman determines an individual’s base level of optimism and sort them on a scale. Being in the more pessimistic categories means that learning optimism has a chance of preventing depression, helping the person achieve more, and improve physical health.
Seligman’s process of learning optimism is simple, and trains a new way of responding to adversity. Namely, the person learns to talk themselves through personal defeat. It begins with the Ellis ABC model of adversity, belief, and consequence. Adversity is the event that happens, belief is how that adversity is interpreted, and consequences are the feelings and actions that result from the beliefs."
What does it mean to be PROactive?
It doesn't have anything to do with acne. lol. The defintion of "proactive" is to control a situation by making things happen or by preparing for possible future problems. To be proactive is to be in control, to make conscious choices and take definitive action toward a specific goal.
It's all too easy to just "let life lead you" by waking up every day, eating, working, going back to sleep, and accepting everything that happens in between as circumstance or luck or chance. That's bullshit - and I learned that the hard way myself.
Sure, a lot of crap happens. A lot of crap has happened to ME. I used to accept it as the life I was dealt. I used to get frustrated with the slew of events and circumstances that never seemed to end. And then I realized something. None too easily I'll say - I was very resistant and it was a HUGE mental process, lol.
I realized that while yes, those things happen, and yes they are totally outside my control (like getting hit by a tornado, your child being sick, your spouse leaving, etc) - that other things WERE in my control. Unfortunately I was not proactively leading in my life. I was REacting, instead of acting.
Once I started making conscious choices, taking deliberate actions, and got proactive about the direction of my life... everything changed! Yes, "shit happens" (still), but it's no longer the main event in my life - or in my day. Now those things are simply speed bumps or little hurdles and I keep on truckin'. Why? Frame of mind. That's it.
It's a simple shift from focusing on the negatives, and staying busy reacting to those, to being too busy taking action and focusing on bigger things to really give it much of your attention or energy. < Read that again.
How To Be Optimisitic
The first thing to do is figure out what really makes you happy. Figure out what your highest priorities are at the moment, and what your biggest goals are in life. Figuring out your priorities and goals goes back to first figuring out what makes you happy.
It's common to not be content with where you are in life at the moment. I think we can all agree that we would love to have more of this, less of that, wish were were further along in our careers, wish we were in better physical shape, etc.
Make a list of the things you would like to change about yourself or your life. We each have different priorities and preferences. Once you have that list made, prioritize it in order of importance to you - and specifically to your happiness, or state of well being.
Next, define the actions you need to take to make those changes in your life. Then get started! If exercise is on your list of actions, start today. Even if you only devote 15 minutes a day toward your goal, that consistent action will make a HUGE difference. The same goes for any goal you have. Consistency is key.
Once you get proactive about your goals and your state of life, and take control of how you spend your time and energy, a powerful shift happens. You become so focused on the positive outcome of the action you are taking, that the negatives (the pessimism) will take a back seat. Sure those thoughts will still be there, but they'll no longer lead you - because YOU are leading you.
You get one life. You might as well be happy and productive! There are so many things outside our control in this world, but the thoughts in our head is not one of them.
Decide to do less of what drains you and more of what excites you. Shift your focus to positive change, and stay too busy having fun and feeling excited about the future you are creating... to give the negatives any attention.
THAT is how to be optimistic!
p.s. Did you notice the quote by Helen Keller at the top left of this post? I just discovered that she published an essay on optimism: Optimism An Essay
- and you can currently get the Kindle version free on Amazon.
It has GREAT reviews!! I'm going to grab the paperback version myself as it looks like a great classic to add to my collection.