Why Positivity Pays Dividends for Your Stress Response
I am just off the heels of another blog post that I did about negativity. I spoke to a few people about it and it was really intriguing because we got into a conversation about optimism and pessimism and how negativity or being pessimistic can absolutely reframe your brain and your responses to stress. And when you're negative all the time, it does a lot to boost your stress level. And frankly, who wants that? That's why it's important to focus on being optimistic. Our brains are actually geared to be pessimistic. We are geared to focus on the negative things. That's why we are drawn to things like the news which tends to focus on terrible things because our brain is wired to focus on that. So what does that mean? It means we're always looking out for dangerous things that can hurt us. That's how we're hardwired as humans.
So what's the solution? You've got to focus on being optimistic. I'm not talking about Pollyanna optimism, where everything is viewed through rose colored glasses. I am talking about real optimism - being real in the moment.
Think of a problem that comes up. If you are a pessimistic person, you most likely think that problem is huge, like, "This sucks. Life sucks. This problem is going to stay with me forever." That's what a pessimist does. A pessimist will reframe that problem, and call it a good thing and think about all of the creative ways to solve that problem. And then look out into the future as if that problem is already solved. Just because a problem comes up, it does not mean you're in danger or it's going to ruin your life. When you can take a step back, think about how to solve that problem, actually do the steps to solve that problem, and then project into the future of how great things are because the problem is solved, that's what being positive and optimistic looks like.
So you might be thinking, I was born pessimistic, skeptical, untrustworthy. Guess what? You can change. I promise you. Do you know how I know? Because I did it. I transformed the way that I thought about everything and turn into an optimist. Now, granted it drives some people crazy because this is not the old Sam they used to know. My background...I'm a 9/11 first responder. I lived through the worst terrorist attack on US soil. I received a diagnosis of post traumatic stress, but suffered for over a year before receiving it. Talk about being cynical. Talk about being untrustworthy. I didn't trust anything because nothing that I was trying to do to cure myself was working. It was also a natural part of being in law enforcement. I was wired not to be trustworthy because I had to be hypervigilant. I didn't know when the next danger was going to come and I tried to stay in front of it. So you could certainly say that I was wired to be more of a pessimist. But after going through what I did, I realized there was so much more that I could give and I needed to change the way that I was thinking about things when problems or frustrations came my way, I couldn't go back and continue to live negatively because it was impacting my health.
In fact, brain scans show if you are a pessimist or if you always focus on the negative, your brain actually functions differently than an optimists brain. I'm not a scientist. I read a lot, and that's what the studies say. You can read the books and studies too. I made the choice to transform my life, to go from being a pessimistic person, to being more optimistic. So if I can do it. I challenge you to do it.
So how do we do it? The number one thing is you've got to be purposeful with your action. Nobody said that transformation and trying to put an optimistic outlook on a terrible, maybe psychological damaging situation is easy. It's not easy, but is it worth it, if you take purposeful action towards making that transformation for yourself. Let's take that everyday problem that comes up. "Hey problem. Hmm. I'm not going to go negative. I'm going to go positive with this." Maybe you have a frustration that comes up. Chances are it's probably the same frustration that you had come up a million times. This time choose to respond differently. Choose to respond as a optimist in reality. Again, I'm not talking about responding with rose colored glasses, as if everything is happy, happy. No. Call the frustration what it is, but get present with it. Really look at it. Believe that if you take that real optimist approach, it will bolster your outlook on life. And a a result you will build resilience.
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