The greatest challenge is stating the problem in a way that will allow a solution.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Learned optimism: It's possible

Even though sustained negativity is toxic and bad for your health, many people are still more intrinsically pessimistic than optimistic. Is this because they can't help themselves? Are they born with a propensity towards one view over another?

Apparently, you learn your attitude about life from your parents and become wired toward a certain direction. However, there is hope. There's a lot of learning you can do to take control of your outlook and shift the pendulum upward.

Some people try lifestyle changes, like meditation, relaxation, and yoga exercises to keep their perspective upbeat and focused on the sunnier side of the spectrum. Others seek professional help through cognitive-behavioral therapy to change their irrational negative thoughts into more logical, hopeful thinking.

I've seen many clients complain about how terrible their lives are and how they wish things would improve. But I also see how hard it is to let go of their daily drama long enough to see the world in a new perspective.

To identify where you stand, look at your habitual behaviors and notice how you explain things that happen. If you are more inclined to say things like, "Why do bad things always happen to me?" you are probably more a "glass-half-empty" kind of person. If, on the other hand, things roll off your back and you know that "it could have been worse," you are more of an optimist.

Optimism can be learned, according to Martin Seligman, Ph.D., author of "Learned Optimism." You can reprogram your brain and nervous system to be free of negative thoughts and to allow in optimism, if you so choose. Just change your explanatory style, the things you tell yourself, and you will experience more optimism and a general sense of well being. Simple comments like "this too shall pass" and "things will get better" will change your overall feeling and view on life.

You could practice using positive expressions daily as a quick "pick-me-up." If you are under a lot of stress, say, "I enjoy peace, calm and serenity all around me right now" and then feel the calmness surround your body. Close your eyes and say the words as you exhale a cleansing, relaxing breath and it will be easier to "feel" the peace engulf you.

A positive outlook should be part of your healthy regimen for improving your life. When your intention is to create your best life, the things you tell yourself will put into focus how your life will unfold. Therefore, don't let the most important things you say to others (and yourself) be mean, thoughtless, degrading or hurtful. Now is not the time to set yourself up for any more misery or gloom.

Amy Sherman is a licensed mental health counselor and trainer. She is the founder of Baby Boomers' Network, a resource designed to give baby boomers the insights, information and inspiration they need to live their best lives. To learn more, go to Sherman is also the co-author with Rosalind Sedacca of "99 Things Women Wish They Knew Before Dating After 40, 50 and Yes, 60!" Go to for more information.

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