How to Cultivate Optimism During Rough Times

cultivate optimism

Feeling negative? Read this article to learn how to grow optimism and turn things around in your life.

Looking forward to a bright future with hope may not be easy for some of us. Our past experiences, the events happening around us, and our environment shape our perspective towards life. Add the elements of genetics, and we may even be predisposed to a feeling of doom and disaster. The good news is: It is still possible to flip the story of our life filled with anxiety, negativity and hopelessness to a life full of blithe, hope and a sense of control. 

Why Is It Easy to Feel Negative?

Speaking from an evolutionary point of view, as a species, we want to survive, reproduce and thrive. Anything which threatens our survival gets us into fight, flight or freeze mode.

Loss of social support is one such substantial threat to our survival. We want to be accepted and embraced by our fellow human beings because that provides us with the strength to fight challenges. 

When faced with a tiger, the early man found it much easier to tackle it when he had the support of others from his community. The strength of social support added to his chances of survival.

Any ridicule, any embarrassment, any failure diminish our chances of being accepted by others; that is the reason why we feel pain. We take rejections as a threat to our survival.

It’s important to understand that while we don’t have to fight tigers in this era, we do feel the same kind of nervousness and anxiety when asked to combat challenges all by ourselves. 

The truth is, a lot of what troubles us today, can be easily managed all by ourselves and we do not need so many people in our lives. But our primitive brain lets us think otherwise, and maybe that’s the reason we still seek external validation and get affected by other’s unfavourable opinions or passing comments about ourselves.

When life throws curveballs at us, we get stuck. With fear and anxiety, we start to feel dejected and conjure up scary images for our future.

These dark thoughts and feelings, not only keep us dormant, but it saps out all the motivation and zeal to face tomorrow.

Visualising a shining future becomes a challenge.

Does Pessimism Help Us in Any way?

The adverse events in our life compel us to overthink. We want to protect ourselves from impending failure, humiliation and hurt. So we fall into a downward spiral of ruminations, worry and repetitions. Days pass by second-guessing ourselves, rehashing the conversations and dwelling on choices, made in the past. Assuming the worst, we slip into a relentless struggle to plan our escape from every “what if” scenario.

Rather than taking actions and being productive, we become paralysed and begin to fall deeper into a rabbit hole of our imagined disastrous outcomes.

The chronic state of anxiety and anguish fuels the production of stress hormones such as cortisol in our bodies. Not only it depletes our energy, but our blood pressure and other cardiovascular health markers go haywire as well. Moreover, changes in appetite and weight may further take a toll on our well being and overall longevity.

How does Anticipating the Best Empower Us?

Being an optimist is our best bet for our survival. 

We can’t face future challenges by being paralysed, anxious and feeling listless. Pessimism does just that to us.

We don’t know what the future holds for us. But to be able to see a future, we need energy, zeal to move forward and motivation to act so that we achieve our desired future.

So, pessimism is not an option and has little to no benefits.

Learning optimism gives you the strength you need to keep on moving.

Picture a beautiful future for yourself so that you have the vitality to go for it. Anticipate your desired outcome, visualise yourself doing the actions you need to do to achieve your goal, and then actually act on it.

You will find yourself feeling amped up and motivated to go after the future of your dreams.

It doesn’t matter what the actual outcome is. What matters is that you take the journey with a positive bent of mind, believing that everything you seek is attainable.

Scientific studies show that optimistic people have better resilience, i.e. they can bounce back quickly from their failures. Moreover, they possess better cardiovascular health and suffer from lesser depressive episodes and enjoy better relationships with their friends and family.

Add A Pinch of Reality in Optimism

Being an optimist doesn’t mean daydreaming and doing nothing about it. Bring in some dose of realism in it. 

If you don’t know what’s the course of action should be, it’s okay! Take one step; just one. Move forward with whatever you know. 

Don’t let self-doubts come into your mind. Acknowledge your weaknesses and adjust accordingly, but never stop believing that what you want can’t be achieved.

A word of caution here, though. There are particular life events when it’s critical to know that unwise optimism can do you more harm than good.

For instance, if you had a break-up and your ex doesn’t want to get back together, but you insist on being an optimist and relentlessly try to change their mind, then such unwise optimism will only backfire. Not only will you find it difficult to move on, but it will also squash all your possibilities of meeting someone better.

How to Cultivate Optimism?

It doesn’t matter if you have been an eternal pessimist all your life. The truth of the matter is that people can learn to be optimistic. Here are 10 ways to improve optimism and turn things around.

1. Spend Some Time Writing Your Best Possible Future

When positive thinking doesn’t come naturally to us, we need some effort to create new neural pathways for us; the neural pathways to start thinking in a brighter picture.

To do that, scientists advise visualising your best possible future self.

Squeezing out just twenty minutes a day to write the best possible future for yourself can make a lot of difference in your attitude. Write about how in the next 9–10 years you would have achieved everything you wanted to; what fears you want to overcome; where you want to live; what kind of people you want in your life; what you want to conquer; what you want to learn. Then spend some time visualising everything. You may wish to do it for a month to see any significant shifts in your outlook.

To do this exercise, you don’t need to know how you will achieve your best future self. Write about it, assuming that everything is possible.

This exercise doesn’t ensure that you will get what you want to get. But all it does is that it makes you energetic, more active and motivated to go after your dreams. Your resilience may increase, as well. Overall, your vision will improve for the better and it would be easy for you to increase optimism.

Journaling to cultivate optimism

2. Restrain How Much News You Consume

The moment you enter the realm of the Internet, there is a barrage of negative news. Unless you live under a rock, it’s almost impossible to stay away from the negativity in today’s digital world.

It’s one thing to be aware of the general happenings, and another to be endlessly consuming news of death, destruction and catastrophe! Your psyche is bound to be affected negatively.

A piece of single negative news can trigger a series of bad moods without you even realising it. Additionally, negative information, it seems, is addictive too.

You read something, and you want to know more about it. And it starts a vicious cycle of feeling bad, curiosity, more google searches and more feeling bad. Endless streams may desensitise us or may even create frustration within us.

And some of us start to personalise and generalise the bad events. It unnecessarily adds to our anxiety and drains our energy.

To increase optimism, we must try our best to protect ourselves from getting immersed in the bottomless pit of negative media.

Limit social media to cultivate optimism

3. Acknowledge the Negative Thoughts and Emotions

Sure, life is not a bed of roses. It has a fair share of thorns too. Something terrible happens; it’s normal to feel bad. Optimism, by no means, is ignoring the pain, the hurt and disturbing emotions. 

It’s about acknowledging the ache, the heartbreak, and feeling it for as long as you want. But once that’s over, you need to put on your rose-tinted glasses and start working for the future of your dreams. Holding a grudge for mistreatment or misfortune will only perpetuate your pain.

Practising optimism is about getting up after being down. It’s about choosing to see the bright picture and letting yourself believe in it; no matter what the result is.

Optimism is about trusting yourself, your efforts, even if you are not prepared, and then facing the fight.

Read: How to Let Go of Grudges and Bitterness

4. Savour Life

We spend too much time fantasising about that perfect day and end up passing by several ordinary days without even living them up.

There is a lot of pleasure in the most ordinary, simplest and daily things. Once our minds are open to observe and savour these mundane happenings, every day of our life lights up. 

We, then, no more rely on just some “extraordinary days” to bring happiness to us. We are fed with lively elements of life daily. That sip of your favourite tea; the flight of fantasy that your book gives you; the cosiness of your bed after a day of hard work; the yummy food that your loved one prepared for you; the beads of sweat on your forehead after a good workout; and enjoying the sun— these kinds of stuff are what make the life worth living.

The more you learn to savour these simplest pleasures, the better you would become in perceiving life with an optimistic mindset.

Savour life to cultivate optimism

5. Be Kind to Yourself and Avoid being Overly Critical

A setback, an uncomfortable situation, one snide comment can make us overanalytical. And when it comes to criticising ourselves, we can be our rudest critics.

From what is wrong with us, what weaknesses we have to how incompetent we are — sometimes, our self-talk, instead of pulling us back from these dark chambers, may push further inside it.

You can’t cultivate optimism if you are not your own best friend. You ought to be your cheerleader before anybody else could be. 

Treating oneself with the same kindness and compassion as one does to a friend, can help us move forward even if our legs tremble. 

Read this article to learn How to Cultivate Self-Compassion.

6. Be Grateful for Your Gifts

It’s easy to be so engrossed in “what’s going wrong” in our lives that we miss out on acknowledging “what’s going right”.

All our prayers ask to give us something that we want. 

How often is it that we stop and extend our thanks to the universe for what’s unwinding favourably?

Not often, right?

That obsession with always asking, wanting more and never really feeling thankful about what’s already in our lives, can make us feel like eternally starving, and never content.

Being grateful, thus, helps us shift our perspective from “starving” to “having” mode.

Take a break and give yourself some time to feel the goodness of what’s making your life worth living. If you have received something which makes your life happier, there must be someone who must have helped you in receiving it. Acknowledge that someone! Feel good about it. Send your thanks to the universe or to the person who is the reason for that blessing.

Just acknowledging your positive emotions can set your mood right, and if done consistently, it can help cultivate optimism in you.

Read: How to Do Nothing

Be grateful to cultivate optimism

7. Positive Predictions for Tomorrow

As human beings, we get scared too much.

We avoid predicting positive outcomes for us thinking any positive prophecy will jinx our desired outcome. The flaw with this kind of thinking is that we, inadvertently, end up assuming the worst-case scenario for ourselves.

We think doing that would protect us from the pain of failure if we do end up failing. But the truth is, consistently predicting negative stories for your future life can make your present life miserable.

Training your mind to predict favourably may guard you against the biggest of failures. That’s the beauty of cultivating optimism.

Think positive

8. Take Care of Cognitive Distortions

A little knowledge of our cognitive distortions can come in handy in rectifying our flawed way of thinking.

A lot of us are guilty of personalising, catastrophising, jumping to conclusions without enough evidence, generalising, filtering, black and white thinking, controlling, blaming, and emotional reasoning.

A good idea to identify these distortions is to record our feelings and emotions daily for a few weeks. As a woman, you may want to record it for one or two cycles; as women undergo a lot of hormonal fluctuations in each week of their menstrual cycle, regular journaling could reveal a pattern in the way of thinking.

Once you know you have a flawed style of thinking, do everything to correct it. Doing so for years may improve your optimism.

Related: How to Stop Ruminating

Be careful of cognitive distortions

9. Meditate

Oh, that sounds trite, right?

Meditate! This advice is almost a panacea for all our sufferings, it seems. The more we hear it, the more we ignore it.

The reason being not many of us understand the inner workings of meditation. After all, we are no yogi, are we?

In the simplest terms, meditation practice teaches you to be non-judgmental of your thoughts.

If you don’t judge something, you don’t create any emotions or feelings. You remain unaffected by it.

Sometimes this skill could come in handy.

Imagine you have an exam tomorrow. You tried your best preparing for it, and now it’s nighttime when you are supposed to sleep and get some rest so that you could get up all fresh and alert and appear in the test.

But instead of sleeping, you are grappling with pesky thoughts. 

Thoughts of performing poorly, being ridiculed by classmates, chastised by your teacher and parents, infest your mind. You are tossing and turning in bed and getting frustrated by the thoughts and lack of sleep. You feel nervous and are pretty sure that you would bomb your test tomorrow.

Now, meditation practice can be your saviour here. Learning how to observe your thought, without resisting them or getting affected by them, may help you get some much-needed shut-eye.

Meditation can help you to be more aware of your thoughts and to acknowledge their presence without letting them disturb your peace. This practice can cultivate optimism.


10. Optimism is A Choice

Choosing to be an optimist lets you enjoy life and see opportunities even in the most unlikely situations. With improved resilience, you can shift the odds in your favour, massively. Even the most pessimist among us can learn to expect the best out of life.

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