For most of my life I’ve thought of myself as a realist. When I say realist, I mean that I easily get caught up in the details and can be skeptical. In fact, if we were talking 10 years ago, I would have told you that my default thinking is negative.
10 years ago I was working as an administrative assistant, spending a lot of my time surfing the internet and not finding much fulfillment in my day-to-day. I knew I had to make a change and to do that I knew I needed to start with my own thinking.
I recently learned that the tens of thousands of thoughts we have on a daily basis are up to 80% negative! Wow! In a podcast episode of Oprah’s SuperSoul conversations with Oprah and Positive Psychologist, Shawn Achor, Oprah shared that she is not a naturally happy person. My jaw just about dropped to the floor. Oprah, a woman who has created a massive empire, met amazing people, studied meditation, and even has a chime go off at her house to tell her when to meditate readily admitted that she is not a naturally happy person. What this reinforced for me is, again, I am not alone in this journey and many of us are exploring how we can make the best use of our thoughts for ourselves and the world we choose to create.
Over the years, I have made many changes in how I approach my thoughts. One change that I have committed to is redefining optimism for myself. I used to believe that, as a realist, optimism was not an option for me. I believed that I could never be an optimist as a realist. I also believed that optimists had their head in the clouds and were not grounded in reality.
I am choosing to redefine optimism for myself in three different ways.
1. Optimists are Powerful
Powerful can mean a variety of different things, depending on the context. The way I am using powerful in this example is inner strength. To help clarify this, think of someone in your life that is an optimist. What happens when they walk into a room? In my experience, they exude an inner strength that screams power.
2. Optimists are Charismatic and Magnetic
My late Uncle Tom, who lived to be 90 years-old, was an optimist. He was the guy that always had a smile on his face and radiated gratitude. Tom grew up in Iowa and moved to Southern California where he worked as a dentist. He looked for the best in people and had a strong desire to learn more. He was heavily involved in his community and took daily walks through his neighborhood in Laguna Beach. Tom was charismatic.
Optimistic leaders are magnetic. I, personally, think of former President Barack Obama. No matter what your political beliefs are, we can agree that President Obama faced strong disagreement in Congress, death and despair, and racism during his two terms. And, yet, through it all President Obama continually spoke about hope and optimism for the American people.
Another person from history that was a magnetic and optimistic leader was Eleanor Roosevelt. Her husband, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, was elected to the Presidency in 1932. Before Eleanor was first lady, the woman in this role was traditionally someone who would entertain at the White House and take a back seat to the President. Eleanor Roosevelt used her role as first lady for social activism. She worked for the rights of women and African Americans. A famous quote from Eleanor Roosevelt is, “A stumbling block to the pessimist is a stepping stone to the optimist.”
3. Optimists are able to create the changes they want to experience in their lives
Through my own experience and what I’ve learned from others is that optimism is a catalyst for change. When we stay in our negative beliefs, we keep ourselves in the same story over and over again. When we switch our thoughts to positive, optimistic ones, our fear falls away and we’re able to create change.
The definition of redefine is “give new meaning to”. That is incredibly simple, isn’t it? Redefinition is not always simple in this sense. And, yet, by redefining something for ourselves, we can make a dramatic, positive change.
The 10-Day Mental Challenge
I took on a big challenge, for me, at the beginning of the new year. I learned about something called “The 10-Day Mental Challenge” from Tony Robbins’ book called, Awaken the Giant Within : How to Take Immediate Control of Your Mental, Emotional, Physical and Financial Destiny!
Tony came across a pamphlet by Emmet Fox, that was written in 1935. In the pamphlet Emmet “expounded upon the value of spending seven days without ever holding a negative thought.” Tony expanded on the original idea in the pamphlet and upped the commitment to 10 days.
Below are four rules for doing the challenge:
- “In the next 10 consecutive days, refuse to dwell on any unresourceful thoughts or feelings.”
- “When you catch yourself beginning to focus on the negative… redirect your focus toward a better emotional state.”
- Focus on the solutions and not on problems.
- If you indulge or dwell on an unresourceful thought or feeling for longer than one minute, start the ten day process over, from the beginning.
In reading through the rules, I didn’t think I’d make it through the first go-round. Miraculously, I did. It was amazing how when a negative thought came up that I believed had validity to it, I immediately took action to either change the thought by questioning it’s validity or by asking someone involved in the thought if it was true.
In doing this exercise, I recognized the empowerment of creating solutions for my negative thoughts. I faced anxiety, worry, and challenging thoughts with questioning and action. I found it to be so helpful that I’ve committed to taking on this challenge once every quarter.
By sharing my experiences with you, my intention is to provide you with new ways of approaching a)thoughts about yourself and your identity that may be holding you back and b)giving you a real-life example of taking on a challenge to focus in on what’s truly going on in your mind.
These are methods and processes that have worked for me. If you have a different method or process, please feel free to share them in the comments of the post. What works for me may work great for another, whereas one of your ideas may work even better for someone else.