In 2017, being a cynic was the status quo. Whether you were on Twitter, reading headline news or chatting with your cubicle mate, people bemoaned the state of the world as if dementors were clouding overhead at that very moment. As the saying goes, misery loves company.
And I get it — it’s usually way easier to be pessimistic than to be optimistic, or to moan and groan about something rather than search for a silver lining. When faced with a difficult or inconvenient situation (currently: stuck at home with the flu the day before I’m supposed to be on a plane to Florida), the first thing to come out of my mouth is a whiny complaint that (let’s face it) no one around me is really interested in hearing.
There’s a lot in this world that we don’t have any control over. But you can control how you react to situations that are less than pleasant, and an optimistic mindset can carry over throughout all of your 2018 goals and resolutions. Here’s how to enter the new year with optimism so you can set the stage for a happy, healthy 2018.
Set aside “worry time”
Sounds counterintuitive, right? I came across “worry time” when researching a piece about sleep and anxiety. In talking to a few psychiatrists, I heard them all recommend this practice.
Here’s what it is: at some point during the day, take 10-30 minutes to write out everything you’re worried about. It could be as small as when you’re going to pick up your dry cleaning, or as major as a potential promotion at work. The point is to get everything out of your brain during the day, when you’re too busy to focus on your anxieties; don’t save it for bedtime, when you have more free space in your brain to get mentally worked up.
Dr. Rachel Hershenberg, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Emory University and author of Activating Happiness, predicts that after a few weeks of worry journaling, you’ll see two themes emerge: solvable problems and total unknowns.
“Solvable problems are things you can do something about. By listing them, you can better plan and anticipate, and you’ll feel a little more in control.”
For total unknowns, Dr. Hershenberg recommends gentle validation, or acknowledging your worries and then reminding yourself what you’ve done to prepare or address those issues.
When you’re feeling negative about yourself, take the opportunity to step outside your body and pretend that you’re advising a friend who’s feeling that way.
For example, maybe you’ve taken a few weeks off from the gym over the holidays and when you look in the mirror, you don’t love how your clothes fit right now. Instead of beating yourself up, imagine that your closest friend has come to you with those exact concerns. Would you say, “Yeah, I see what you mean about your stomach – you should hit a couple of two a days next week”?
Of course not! Like any good friend, your message would be more along the lines of, “Everyone takes a few weeks off over the holidays, and it’s not a huge deal. You’ll get back to your regular routine of exercise and eating healthy soon enough! Want to sign up for a class together next week?” Flipping perspectives helps you practice healthy, optimistic self-talk.
Find optimistic friends
Yep, there’s some truth in misery loves company. If you constantly find yourself surrounded by complainers, whiners and Negative Nancys, you might consider limiting the time you spend with this happiness-suckers.
You can also verbally call out when the conversation is getting a little too negative for your liking. Try saying, “I get where you’re coming from. I’m trying to be more optimistic this year though — have you considered [this point of view]?”
It’s possible that Negative Nancy doesn’t even realize she’s complaining at times, and steering the conversation towards the sunnier side might make a small difference.
It’s no secret that our team LOVES a good gratitude journaling practice, and 2018 is your year to start too. It’s as simple as grabbing a notepad or opening an app on your phone to list three things you’re grateful for each night before you fall asleep.