How to Stay Optimistic

These are, to use an increasingly tired cliché, unprecedented times. How to stay optimistic has gone from a temporary challenge to genuine crisis for many people.

In the previous posting we discussed the greatest of all the gifts we are provided with at birth – the powerful gift of choice. I believe mindset is a choice too.

There are of course exceptions. Mental health isn’t something we have complete control over. However, for most of us, how to stay optimistic in the face of adversity is something well within our control.

I’d like to tell you about two people I know, both of whom were laid off this year from the same company.

Both people had their positions eliminated after more than fifteen years of employment. What struck me was how the meanings they chose to place on this experience profoundly influenced their actions and, ultimately, the results in their lives.

What is your attitude toward adversity?

The first person, Tyler, told me that for the first few days he was in shock and disbelief, struggling to accept that they would do this to him. He spent the next few days enraged with thoughts of revenge flooding his mind.

Tyler chose to believe that finding a new job would be next to impossible. We are in a pandemic, he said, as well as a precarious economic situation in Alberta. This has been validated for him by numerous media accounts.

Tyler has not “wasted his time” trying to find a new job. He his time online, doing “research” about how bad things are. Tyler is very unhappy.

Attitude Determines Altitude

The second person, Sue, told me she made a pact with herself. She would allow herself a few days to mourn, get angry, feel sorry for herself, and wallow. Then she would, in her words, “get over it.”

Sue spent several days the following week thinking about her life, her interests, her passions and what she would like to do.

She told me that she chose to focus on gratitude to her previous employer. That’s right. Gratitude. She is grateful for this unexpected opportunity to really examine her life, and choose a new direction.

She made a few decisions about what she wanted to do next and then she got down to work.

Sue hit the internet, and created a list of 37 companies she would be interested in talking to.

She contacted everyone on her contact list, explained she was looking for work, and forwarded the names of these 37 companies. She asked if anyone had any contacts within those companies.

While waiting to hear back from her contacts, Sue sent her resume to each of those companies with a cover letter saying that she would like to set up informational interviews with them to determine whether she would be a good fit.

Within 10 days, three of the 37 companies had called Sue back. She set up interviews, and she will be starting a contract position next month.

Optimism: It’s a Choice

Two identical events. Two very different choices. Two very different actions taken. Two very different results.

To me, there is a very obvious lesson to learn here. If you want to have a positive outlook, make up your mind to have one.

I’m not saying it’s easy advice to follow. Here are some shortcuts that will help:

  1. Give yourself grace for your loss. Sue did a very important thing. She first allowed herself to wallow in the pain and disappointment of losing her job. Yes, she made up her mind to move forward. However, she did not do that until she was fully ready. Until then she sobbed and swore and did whatever else she felt she needed to do. Then, she put down the Kleenex and the Ben and Jerry’s and she got to work.
  • Give yourself praise for small victories. Sue didn’t wait until she had a contract to be excited about her progress. She gave herself a big pat on the back for every tiny step she completed along the way. When she did the soul searching necessary to decide what she wanted to do next, she took a moment to congratulate herself. When she took the big, scary step to reach out to her contact list and ask for help, she treated herself to a nice bottle of wine with her husband. When things are tough, experts agree, we need to emphasize and celebrate progress, even small wins.
  • Choose Gratitude This advice can elicit an eye roll, it has become so common. However, it really does work. While it can be difficult in the moment to see how lucky we are during tough times, study after study shows that people who routinely make the choice to acknowledge the ways in which they are blessed, and appreciate those blessings have an easier time facing adversity and staying optimistic.

Even if you have not lost your job, there is absolutely no doubt times are difficult right now. This pandemic has gone on for longer than anyone has expected. People have wildly different opinions on what needs to be done about it, but the one things we all share is weariness of the situation. If you’re struggling to stay optimistic, you aren’t alone.

Try these strategies, I hope they help. Hang in there.

Till we read again.

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