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The Tough Love Guide To Finding Optimism

The Tough Love Guide To Finding Optimism

There’s a reason why the phrase “down in the dumps” exists.  It’s a real thing. Sometimes it feels like the silver lining stood you up and now you’re all dressed up with nowhere to go. Problems are problems. No matter what size they may be. There are times when they can feel so much bigger than you and you’re all alone in an empty room with them without any furniture for you to hide underneath.

Here’s some good news: you’re not alone. At some point or another, we all encounter dilemmas that challenge our happiness. It’s how we react to these challenging times that determines how long they last, what lessons we draw from them, and whether or not we change for the better. Optimism is a necessary tool for climbing out of the dumps and a strong device to draw out the best in this world.

When you feel like you’re so far down the hole that you can’t even see it, try these steps to ascend towards optimism.

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1. Find your people (or person)

Get on the phone, or better yet, meet in person with a good friend or family member who makes you feel safe and talk it out. If you don’t have this person in your life, pay someone like a therapist or a bartender with a good ear. Either way, connect with another human being who has the capacity to be warm and/or the ability to listen well.

Expressing your troubles aloud can have a cathartic effect. Getting whatever is bothering you off your chest will help alleviate some of the pressure built up from suppressing it. Plus, if you have the right people/person by your side, they can fill you up with some of that much needed optimism that you’ve had a hard time accessing.

2. Give it a name

This one you can do by yourself or you can make it a group activity. Dealer’s choice. Part of what keeps us from optimism is the inability to truly name what is at the root of our issue.

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Focus – truly examine what’s making you so blue. Many times the small things that we find dissatisfactory are really symptomatic of a bigger issue. Maybe it’s not really about the fact that you lost your job but the fear that your spouse might think you’re not able to pull your weight as an equal partner. Or maybe it’s not the fact that your boy/girlfriend picked a Lebanese film tonight and you hate subtitles but that all things Lebanon remind you of the one that got away. I don’t know. Whatever it is, give your oppressor a name so you know what to call it when you tell it to leave.

This could be hard because identifying a root problem requires some H-O-N-E-S-T-Y. However, in the long run, you’ll take pride in your bravery and that can bring you closer to optimism.

3. Exercise your talents; give away your gifts

Remember what you got, because it’s a lot. I don’t remember where I heard that. What I do remember is that there are certain things that I’m really good at. You have those too. Everyone has talents; some of us have gifts.

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What’s the difference?

Simply put: talents are abilities we’re naturally inclined to but need to be put into practice often in order to develop them. Gifts are characteristics that are in our nature that we operate in the world with in a more organic manner. One person can be a talented musician, well versed in multiple instruments. Additionally, they have the gift of patience which enables them to teach music to others. Pick one of your talent seeds, plant it, water it daily, and it may bring you a harvest one day. If you’re lucky enough to have a gift, then find a way to dispense it freely. Good vibes have a reflective quality. Witnessing your talents and gifts in play will definitely put optimism in your life.

4. Go outside and move around

If you’re like me, at some point, you might have had a string of days where blending into the couch seemed like a good idea. Trust me. It’s not. Motivation is scarce when you’re feeling down and maybe it really is too cold, or too sunny, or too scary to go out but you won’t know until you do it. So just do it.

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During one of my few couch spells, I read an article that proclaimed that simply walking is scientifically proven to release endorphins, a stress fighting chemical, in your brain thus making a person feel better. You know what? When I finally got off the couch, showered, then went for a walk I found out it was right. Crazy. I know. The only things that should be between your couch cushions should be some loose change, popcorn, and maybe a condom wrapper- not your hind-parts sinking into them because you’ve been sitting for that long. Optimism is definitely not there. Go outside, take a stroll, and find it.

5. Buck Up

Chances are if you and your loved ones are healthy, all else is solvable. Not to trivialize what may be going on with you but to break it down to a base level: this holds true most of the time. I remember when my father had his stroke a decade ago, other problems seemed to have melted away.

Looking back at the years that followed, I never heard my father complain about the state of his health or about all of the changes he had to make in order to stay healthy. The man adjusted his diet, exercised, and monitored his blood pressure regularly. All of this he kept to consistently. Recently, I had the privilege of traveling with him to the Philippines. Through the multiple flights and long days of exploration, he maintained the stamina of a man decades his junior. He was able to do that because when the most important thing: his health, came into question, he bucked up and just did what he had to do. He didn’t get weighed down with what ifs or the negative possibilities. This may be the most important step in claiming optimism.

6. Trust

When you try your best, you never have to be ashamed of the outcome. Whether the scale tips to your side or not, trust that the tide is in your favor. Your best efforts will put you on the best path for you. If you can make room for trust in your thoughts, you can bypass inner judgements that often create unnecessary comparison, worry, and overall displeasure. There are so many great things around you; happening for you. Trust yourself to do right by you and you may find yourself making better decisions more suited to your overall health. A balanced mind, body, and soul are definitely in possession of optimism.

Featured photo credit: Have You Seen This Man/Tony Fischer via flickr.com

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Last Updated on August 6, 2020

6 Reasons Why You Should Think Before You Speak

6 Reasons Why You Should Think Before You Speak

We’ve all done it. That moment when a series of words slithers from your mouth and the instant regret manifests through blushing and profuse apologies. If you could just think before you speak! It doesn’t have to be like this, and with a bit of practice, it’s actually quite easy to prevent.

“Think twice before you speak, because your words and influence will plant the seed of either success or failure in the mind of another.” – Napolean Hill

Are we speaking the same language?

My mum recently left me a note thanking me for looking after her dog. She’d signed it with “LOL.” In my world, this means “laugh out loud,” and in her world it means “lots of love.” My kids tell me things are “sick” when they’re good, and ”manck” when they’re bad (when I say “bad,” I don’t mean good!). It’s amazing that we manage to communicate at all.

When speaking, we tend to color our language with words and phrases that have become personal to us, things we’ve picked up from our friends, families and even memes from the internet. These colloquialisms become normal, and we expect the listener (or reader) to understand “what we mean.” If you really want the listener to understand your meaning, try to use words and phrases that they might use.

Am I being lazy?

When you’ve been in a relationship for a while, a strange metamorphosis takes place. People tend to become lazier in the way that they communicate with each other, with less thought for the feelings of their partner. There’s no malice intended; we just reach a “comfort zone” and know that our partners “know what we mean.”

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Here’s an exchange from Psychology Today to demonstrate what I mean:

Early in the relationship:

“Honey, I don’t want you to take this wrong, but I’m noticing that your hair is getting a little thin on top. I know guys are sensitive about losing their hair, but I don’t want someone else to embarrass you without your expecting it.”

When the relationship is established:

“Did you know that you’re losing a lot of hair on the back of your head? You’re combing it funny and it doesn’t help. Wear a baseball cap or something if you feel weird about it. Lots of guys get thin on top. It’s no big deal.”

It’s pretty clear which of these statements is more empathetic and more likely to be received well. Recognizing when we do this can be tricky, but with a little practice it becomes easy.

Have I actually got anything to say?

When I was a kid, my gran used to say to me that if I didn’t have anything good to say, I shouldn’t say anything at all. My gran couldn’t stand gossip, so this makes total sense, but you can take this statement a little further and modify it: “If you don’t have anything to say, then don’t say anything at all.”

A lot of the time, people speak to fill “uncomfortable silences,” or because they believe that saying something, anything, is better than staying quiet. It can even be a cause of anxiety for some people.

When somebody else is speaking, listen. Don’t wait to speak. Listen. Actually hear what that person is saying, think about it, and respond if necessary.

Am I painting an accurate picture?

One of the most common forms of miscommunication is the lack of a “referential index,” a type of generalization that fails to refer to specific nouns. As an example, look at these two simple phrases: “Can you pass me that?” and “Pass me that thing over there!”. How often have you said something similar?

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How is the listener supposed to know what you mean? The person that you’re talking to will start to fill in the gaps with something that may very well be completely different to what you mean. You’re thinking “pass me the salt,” but you get passed the pepper. This can be infuriating for the listener, and more importantly, can create a lack of understanding and ultimately produce conflict.

Before you speak, try to label people, places and objects in a way that it is easy for any listeners to understand.

What words am I using?

It’s well known that our use of nouns and verbs (or lack of them) gives an insight into where we grew up, our education, our thoughts and our feelings.

Less well known is that the use of pronouns offers a critical insight into how we emotionally code our sentences. James Pennebaker’s research in the 1990’s concluded that function words are important keys to someone’s psychological state and reveal much more than content words do.

Starting a sentence with “I think…” demonstrates self-focus rather than empathy with the speaker, whereas asking the speaker to elaborate or quantify what they’re saying clearly shows that you’re listening and have respect even if you disagree.

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Is the map really the territory?

Before speaking, we sometimes construct a scenario that makes us act in a way that isn’t necessarily reflective of the actual situation.

A while ago, John promised to help me out in a big way with a project that I was working on. After an initial meeting and some big promises, we put together a plan and set off on its execution. A week or so went by, and I tried to get a hold of John to see how things were going. After voice mails and emails with no reply and general silence, I tried again a week later and still got no response.

I was frustrated and started to get more than a bit vexed. The project obviously meant more to me than it did to him, and I started to construct all manner of crazy scenarios. I finally got through to John and immediately started a mild rant about making promises you can’t keep. He stopped me in my tracks with the news that his brother had died. If I’d have just thought before I spoke…

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