By Dr. Russ and Jackie Monroe
1. Admit to the pessimistic moment of a bad attitude.
• Learning to identify feelings and particularly negative emotions is an important optimism skill. In order to overcome and manage a negative feeling we must first be able to recognize it and identify the reason for it. Ignoring and suppressing feelings keeps them hidden from view and festering within us preventing past emotional wounds from healing.
2. Identify worrisome thoughts associated with the negativity.
• All feelings are triggered by thoughts both positive and negative. Thus, we must learn to identify the underlying negative thought that triggers a particular “down” emotion. Negative thoughts tend to trigger other negative thoughts that trigger other negative emotions. For example, the thought, “Oh, I might fail the test,” triggers mild anxiety, a rational response. But the associated thought, “If I fail the test, I will be a failure in life,” is an irrational response that triggers emotional despair. Learning to recognize and eliminate such irrational thoughts from our mindset is an important optimism skill.
3. Explore options with problem solving, creativity and a focus on what can be controlled instead of dwelling on what can’t be controlled.
• Recognize and learn to discern “real” problems from “made-up” ones that are the construction of the over worried irrational mind. “Made-up” problems are solved with the skill identified in step 2, above. “Real” problems, such as a flat tire, a poor test grade, a philandering spouse require creative problem solving and getting help from others. Such social problem solving skills once learned are honed and improved through life experience.
4. Recognize that negativity is often “sticky” and can “hang around,” but it is still your choice to be positive.
• Sometimes pessimism is “sticky” like gum on the bottom of a shoe. No matter how much we believe negative circumstances ultimately “make us stronger” some are tougher to let go of than others, e.g., death of a loved one, being fired, and social rejection to name a few. The key optimism skill to be learned here is one of “mental compartmentalization:” the ability to set aside the negative thought from active consciousness if we can’t let go of it.
5. Allow for catharsis, think about one thing for which you are grateful, and take a deep breath.
• It is OK to cry, howl at the moon in private, or emphatically express your disappointment in words as long as you don’t make such venting habitual, and so long as you own your feeling as yours without blaming others as the cause of your unhappiness. Thinking a grateful thought invariably improves mood and using diaphragmatic breathing automatically triggers the relaxation response.