“Chin up! Everything will be OK.”
“You just need to be more positive!”
“Don’t worry so much!”
When you’re feeling overwhelmed and depressed about a major life change, the last thing you want to hear are cliches promoting positivity. It may seem impossible and even insulting to have friends and family encourage you to pull yourself up by your bootstraps, as the old saying goes.
Just because you’re feeling negative about the prospects for your life after divorce, custody changes or other significant transitions, that doesn’t automatically make you a pessimist. It’s normal to struggle with self esteem issues and defeatist thoughts.
Even people who would describe themselves as optimists fight these negative feelings during tough times. It’s often these people who are most adeptly able to pull themselves out of a pessimistic place and gather the gumption to move forward with a growing sense of positivity.
Here’s the secret — in order to remain optimistic, people work on their optimism consistently. Certainly, there must be a handful of lucky people out there whose optimism never wanes. For most of us, though, optimism is a process to be built upon, rather than a ever-present characteristic.
Simple optimism tip #1: Leave the door open.
Whether you feel like you’ll never find love again, be alone forever or never rebuild a relationship, this absolutist thinking is the enemy of your optimism. If you continuously set up barriers around your future, it can be nearly impossible to be optimistic.
As Dr. Alex Lickerman explains at PsychologyToday.com, we perpetuate this cycle of pessimistic thoughts when we assign negative, self-blaming explanations to the events that happen in our lives. Lickerman describes how we can replace absolutist thinking with broader narratives that alleviate us of at least some of the responsibility for the event.
For example, you may find yourself thinking, “It’s my fault that our marriage fell apart.” When this happens, try to think of alternative causes for the event. “I may have contributed to the breakdown of our marriage, but there were also many problems and stressors that caused its eventual end.”
The first thought puts the onus and blame squarely on you, leading to the notion that you’re all bad or all wrong and you’ll never do things right — i.e. maintain a relationship, be a good parent — again. The second line of thought opens a door of opportunity in your mind to understand that while you may have made mistakes, you can work to make things better in a new situation.
Simple optimism tip #2:
Surround yourself with optimism.Your mom was right all along: You are who your friends are. It’s only natural to be influenced by those with whom we choose to associate, and we’re especially impressionable when we’re already feeling down. Misery loves company, right?
If you find your friends or family members feed into your pessimistic outlook, reinforcing your negative thought, try to alter that behavior. Most people close to you won’t even realize they’re having a negative effect. They might even assume their words are what you need, that agreeing with your negative thoughts is a way to be “on your side.”
Ask them not to be your cheerleader, but instead to help you check your pessimism, find alternative explanations for events that don’t fall on you, and help you recognize the potential of good things to come.
Of course, if someone in your life is being downright pessimistic and dragging you down, it might be time to take a break from being in their company until you’re on the upswing.
Bob Miglani, an author who writes about “getting unstuck” in life, suggests finding optimism heroes in your life. These are people who you know have faced adversity and rebuilt their lives in a new way. Ask them for advice and allow them to be an inspiration in your darkest moments.
Simple optimism tip #3:
Fiercely fight fear of the futureMake this your mantra! Fears of what your future will look like after your life transition can hold you back from ever getting anywhere. Fear is a major driver of negative thought — if something is too difficult or scary, it’s probably not worth doing. You probably can’t do it anyway, right? It’s astounding how quickly fear transforms into a pessimistic attitude.
Well known speaker and alternative medicine practitioner Deepak Chopra says that when we suffer a loss, we experience an internal vacuum. There’s an empty space that was once filled with hope and contentment. Now that those things have evaporated, it’s normal to fill that space with the the opposite emotions of despair and unease.
As we assign blame to ourselves for the ills of the past, simultaneously in our minds we set ourselves up for future failure. Remind yourself of the simple fact that you will move on in some way, somehow. No, it won’t be the life you once envisioned, but that doesn’t mean you can’t write a new reality for yourself filled with possibilities.
Resist the urge to compare what your new future might look like compared to what you once hoped it would be. You influence how you move forward and there is a whole new life out there waiting for you. Take your time, practice positivity and you’ll find it.