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Today's Economy Demands A Critical Skill: Optimism

By Eileen McDargh

Global warming. Water shortages. Terrorism. Failing health care system. Wars around the globe. Gas prices. Severe economic downturn. Look at the headlines and it's enough to make you stay in bed. But wait! There is hope. It's not the cock-eyed optimism sung about in South Pacific, the hottest show on Broadway. Rather it's what psychologists in France are calling "intelligent optimism." Such optimism does not deny the reality of today's world, but rather seeks to LEARN how to fashion a life amid such difficulties. Martin Seligman, the psychologist who had made optimism and happiness his life's work, would agree with the French: optimism can be taught. Consider these basic steps:

  1. Focus on what you can control. Don't get carried away by circumstances you cannot change. You might not change global warming, but you can control your energy consumption. You can't stop the downsizing in your company, but you can arm yourself with marketable skills. You cannot halt the bleeding on Wall Street but you can rebalance your portfolio. You can take a hard look at expenses and determine what are necessities and what are nice-to-have items that can be dropped. At the same time, do resolve to spend some money or time on something that truly gives you pleasure and lightens your spirit. Two-for-one hamburgers at the local joint with my best friend make my heart glad and brings a smile to TWO faces.

  2. Reframe the event so that you are not a victim. There is always another way to view a situation. The flight cancellation that caused me to miss (and forfeit) a major engagement was not "planned" to "get" me. It just was. My choice is to figure out what I can do to help the current client and what I will put in place of the cancelled work. When Hurricane Katrina wiped out the home of a nurse, she told me that she focused every day on what she still had and she had her children do the same thing. Every day started with gratitude. She refused to see herself as a victim.

  3. Think "enough". When we concentrate on what we don't have, we miss all the many things we do have. The truth of the matter is that if you are reading this article, you do have enough computer power. You do have enough intelligence. You do have enough. It might not be as much as you would like but, for today, it is enough.

  4. Cultivate optimistic responses. Like a farmer tending a field, optimism will never grow unless it is watered, fed, weeded, and nourished. We all have days in which negativity can take over. And, sometimes, that is a WISE response because it keeps us grounded in reality. Just make sure it is reality and not the imagination making extraordinary leaps into conjecture. Weed out that conjecture. Ask what you can DO to see a result that gives you a sense of power. As Alexander Graham Bells stated, "Sometimes we stare so long at the closed door we fail to see the one that is opening." The 3M engineer who thought he had failed to make a glue compound that would stick discovered what we all now call post-it notes.

  5. Remember the power of generations. Children of depressed parents are more prone to depression. Children of optimists are more prone to be optimists. What do you choose to pass along? Even if your parents were negative, you can break the cycle by stopping, freeze-framing a situation, listening to the negative self-talk, and then literally giving yourself a different message. Yes, this is a practice. A hard practice. But you can make it a habit if you work it over time.

  6. Sing. When all else fails-start singing. It is impossible to feel negative when you lift your voice in song. Music allows you to formulate words, to add nuance, and to even get your toe tapping.

  7. Refuse to watch or read anything that puts a dark pall over your day. Instead of tuning into gloom, read a book that transports you to another time and a better mood. Go play with the baby next door. And if you are one of those folks who just can't stand children, take a walk with your dog, dig in the yard, or get a bucket of balls and practice your golf swing. Better that than walking around with heart and mind weighted down.

  8. Refuse to participate in a chorus of negative conversations if the only thing you will hear is whining, complaining and moaning. Tell your group that they have three minutes to throw a hissy fit but then it must stop and the next six minutes must be devoted to either finding something positive about the situation or something that they can do.

  9. Lastly, practice saying this mantra: "This too shall pass." It always has and it always will.
Copyright © 2009, McDargh Communications.
Known as a powerful presenter and facilitator, Eileen McDargh, CSP, CPAE has been creating conversations that matter and connections that count since 1980. Executive Excellence ranks her among the top 100 thought-leaders in leadership development. Her newest book, Gifts from the Mountain: Simple Truths for Life's Complexities, received the 2008 Ben Franklin book award. To hire Eileen as a speaker, coach or retreat leader visit Eileen McDargh.com.
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