Discovering Our Superpower (Optimism)
In my last post, I discussed how we miss the point (and power) of optimism when we think optimism is viewing the glass as half full and pessimism as half empty.
Optimistic thinking is incredibly powerful, but we have to take it beyond the image of “glass half full” thinking and just seeing the good in everything. We need to identify what we did to fill the glass and what we can do to keep filling the glass. In this, we discover the super power of optimism. In these next few posts on optimism, we’ll explore ways to not only fill the glass, but keep the glass full in the face of events and circumstances that threaten to empty it.
Giving Gratitude an Oomph
A gratitude journal is one of the best ways to build a habit of noticing the good that happens around you. It is key to training your brain to see the glass as half full. The Army teaches this practice as a Hunt the Good Stuff journal, others call it a “5 good things” exercise, others gratitude or “give thanks” journal. In all cases, the basic premise is the same: you make a deliberate habit of looking for the good things that happen in your life. This exercise can be conducted in many ways:
Keeping a journal (taking the time to physically write them out helps make them more tangible)
Writing good things on pieces of paper that you add to a jar (to see the good things growing over time and get a boost by pulling them out to read occasionall)
Verbally sharing with others (increasing connection and positive vibes with those around you at the dinner table or at the beginning of meetings)
There is a wealth of research to support gratitude journals increasing happiness, decreasing depression and increasing optimistic expectations about their week and engagement in healthy behaviors (Peterson, 2006; Verkuyten & Thijs, 2002; Emmons & McCullough, 2003; Froh et al., 2010; Frederickson, 2004; Komter, 2004).
My family jokes that my grandma Lela has “Lela-colored” glasses. She has a very special way of looking at the world (as I imagine most grandmothers do). Every Tuesday, she prays for something special to happen to her or someone she loves. And every single week something special happens. Part of this is because we all know about it, so sometimes we made it a point to do something nice for her on a Tuesday, but part of it is she opened her aperture to find something good that happened. What truly gives my grandma her super power of optimism is her reflection of how those good things happened. She did something that helped to bring about that good thing. And she can repeat that behavior to make more good things happen.
We can give gratitude an oomph so it helps build our super power of optimism by taking the time to reflect on the items we identified. This reflection helps us savor the good stuff a little more, but most importantly, it gives us a “what’s next.” The reflection gives us a way to fill our glass even more effectively.
Why is this something I’m grateful for?
Is there someone I can thank for helping make this happen?
What can I do to generate more of this?
Is there a way I can pay this forward for others?
Gratitude is about noticing and savoring the good that happens. But the super power of optimism is about identifying what is next and what can you do to generate more things to be grateful for.
High-Yield Energy Investments
In the Yoga Sutras, there is a moral code called Bramacharya. Most often, when bramacharya is translated, it is thought to mean celibacy. In more modern interpretations, it refers right use of energy. Again, this can often be interpreted as exercising moderation in external or hedonistic indulgences. However, the idea of right use of energy can go beyond external expenditures of energy. We can examine internal energy expenditures as well. Where attention goes, energy flows. If we really think about where our energy is spent (and wasted) throughout a day, we spend an awful lot of energy spinning our wheels worrying and complaining about factors and circumstances we can’t control. Any time something happens to us, are are we spending our energy in the right way?
Low-yield energy investments tend to feel great in the moment. We complain, we vent, we identify other people or circumstances to blame for what’s going on, we look for allies to our point of view. In these energy investments, we tend to stay very problem focused; name the problem, how others created this problem for us, what it would be like if we didn’t have this problem, what we should have done differently to avoid this problem, and how great it would be if the stars aligned so this problem magically went away.
High-yield energy investments don’t feel as gratifying early on, but have much higher payouts. Right use of energy is about staying solution focused. Solution-focused thinking can be fact finding (especially using opposing or differing perspectives), generating solution strategies based on what is going on and what you can do next.
In short, solution focused thinking centers almost entirely on factors you can control or influence to replicate a good situation or improve a less-than-ideal situation. If you can change something about a situation, change it. If you don’t have control over anything about a certain situation, you can still control your perspective and how you spend your energy and attention on the situation. This is where positive action can occur. This is where the super power of optimism sits waiting to be unleashed. In the next post, we will explore how we refine the super power though changing our perspective and identifying where our beliefs and assumptions may be limiting our super power.
Emmons, R. (2008). Thanks!: How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happier. New York: Mariner Books.
Malouff, J.M. & Schutte, N.S. (2016). Can psychological interventions increase optimism? A meta-analysis. The Journal of Positive Psychology, DOI: 10.1080/17439760.2016.1221122
Newlyn, E. (2014, November 19). The Yamas: Brahmacharya, right use of energy. Retrieved from https://www.ekhartyoga.com/blog/the-yamas-brahmacharya-right-use-of-energy.
Peterson, C. (2006). A Primer In Positive Psychology. New York: Oxford University Press.