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Understanding Informed Optimism

Informed Optimism: What Is It and How Can It Be Used to Cultivate a More Well-Rounded Mindset? 

Mary-Lauren O’Crowley, NCC, LPC

Do you ever find yourself thinking that the worst will happen? You are not the only one. As a matter of fact, many people often jump to conclusions and create their own version of reality, all as a result of fear. When your head is overrun with negative thoughts and pessimism, you start to doubt yourself and your ability to change your circumstances. In turn, you may lose confidence or find yourself grappling with a low mood, leading you towards further disappointment, fear, anxiety, and dissatisfaction. This piles up and leads us to internalize negative beliefs about ourselves and our lives, including, “I will never be able to do it” or “Nothing good will ever happen in my life.” But don’t worry, informed optimism is one way of getting rid of this constant feeling of self-doubt and negativity. With informed optimism, you use evidence, logic, and reason to challenge or discredit these negative thoughts and help you see that things may not be as bad as you thought. 

Introducing informed optimism into your life may help you to maintain a healthier perspective on your lived experience. But the question here is, how do you foster this form of optimism, thus shifting negative perspectives, without cultivating toxic positivity and invalidating negative emotions?

Smiling man in the city1) Believe in yourself 

One of the most important things you can do to help yourself cultivate informed positivity is to first give yourself credit where credit is due. What I mean by this is to acknowledge your abilities, your hard work, and your accomplishments. Self-blame and self-deprecation are quite commonly seen in pessimistic people. When things go wrong, they may blame themselves even when some external factor was at fault. In cognitive-behavioral therapy, we refer to this way of thinking both as personalizing and as discounting the positive. When we personalize, we blame ourselves for things that we had no control over (i.e., other people’s emotions, other people’s reactions). When we discount the positive, we focus almost entirely on what is going wrong or what mistakes we made rather than giving ourselves a pat on the back for our successes and accomplishments. If we can begin to shift our perspective from that of “I am always at fault” and “nothing ever goes right” to focusing on what has in fact gone right, we then give ourselves the opportunity to see things in a more logical and less negative way. 

2) Avoid over-optimism or toxic positivity 

When you are overly optimistic, you may find that you expect way more from something than its potential to provide. This can happen when you only consider the best-case scenario, rather than leaving space for all possible conclusions. To avoid being let down, you should “look before you leap.” Make decisions rationally and logically to judge the true potential of what you are going to do so you can know what to expect and what not to expect from it. Furthermore, if we are overly optimistic, we may find that it feels disingenuous. If you are invalidating your emotional experience including painful feelings simply to “look on the bright side,” this can actually backfire and lead to chronic health problems. While using logic and reasoning and making the best of any situation, good or bad, is important, it is also important to let yourself feel sad, angry, frustrated, etc.  

3) Reframe your setbacks

Something that distinguishes an optimistic person from a pessimist is their reaction to setbacks or failure. If a pessimist fails at a certain thing, they will likely think that they will fail at everything or that they themselves are a failure. An optimistic person, however, would be less likely to let one setback define everything. Instead, they may even use the evidence from their overall experiences to remind themselves that they have succeeded before and thus will succeed again. This allows us to reframe a difficult or negative experience, learn a valuable lesson, and grow from it rather than allow it to ruin us. 

4) Use questions to challenge your own negative thoughts

The best way to evaluate a situation is by applying logic and rational thinking to it and asking yourself questions regarding the matter. If you are about to take a test, and you find yourself thinking, “I am going to fail,” consider asking yourself questions like, “How realistic is this thought,” “Am I jumping to conclusions,” “Have I considered all of the information,” or “Have I actually ever failed a test before”. This helps our brain to recognize that our anxious or pessimistic thoughts may have in fact been incorrect or at least a little skewed. I personally refer to this method as Socratic questioning. There are many great online resources that utilize this same thought process to help us think in a more informed way.

If you or someone you know would like to learn how to challenge their anxious thoughts and utilize informed optimism, please reach out to the intake specialists at Symmetry Counseling today! 

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