“I can’t take this pressure anymore.”
Have you said this recently? Have you counted how many times you thought that last month?
This block statement didn’t come to your mind suddenly; it was “built” by a set of negative stones one over one. So, the idea is to be aware of your thoughts at any moment, seeing where they guide you, especially in stressful situations. Negative thoughts, such as pessimistic ideas, should be caught on the spot and in real-time! Thinking about your thoughts is a skill, and it is as simple as asking yourself a question: are these ideas helping you? Or they are just harmful.
Being optimistic is not about putting a happy face in bad circumstances and telling you to look at the birds in the clear sky and feel cool while you have been betrayed by someone, failed an exam, done a bad interview, or facing a health issue. It definitely doesn’t make sense.
We are talking about developing self-awareness and adopting healthy optimism, which means being able to assess the situation wisely, separate between facts and feelings, and see the facts from another perspective, a reasonable one.
“I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.”
― Mark Twain
For instance, failing in an exam may give you the idea that you are going to fail in all future exams, failing in a relationship may make you think you are not a good friend/partner, and doing a lousy interview might make you think you will never make it better in the future.
“I’m not eligible to do this job interview. I failed in the previous one, and I will never make it.”
To have a reasonable view of any problem, monitor your thoughts and see in which direction they are taking you, and check whether your thoughts are:
Internal or External: Are you seeing that the problem exists in yourself and it cannot be changed, or do you think there are some factors that if you adjust, you may perform better?
Stable or Unstable: This issue can’t be solved, and it will stay forever in your life, or it is a temporary issue, and you can change its situation or replace it with a better replacement.
Global or Specific: Are you generalizing the problem to affect all aspects of your life? Or is its effect contained in that one event?
“I got an FF on the computer exam; I’m not good at technology at all; I will never graduate, and I will never find a job!”
Failing in one subject, thinking it is a mental problem, will stay forever, and will affect your entire life and future career is a pessimistic way of thinking. In contrast, for the same event, searching for a better way of studying, seeing it as a single exam that many people have succeeded on before, and knowing that it makes up just a small portion of the final grade, is rather an optimistic, reasonable, and productive way of thinking.
One of the major reasons for pessimism is that some people think that their lives will become miserable if they lose one thing or even if everything is not running as they wish, while the fact is that life is not perfect and it will never be. However, flourishing people are so because they are used to viewing the problem at its normal size, as well as differentiating between what they can control and what they must accept; as a result, their energy is not wasted on unbeneficial thinking processes.
What can optimism do?
It’s an important question to ask, why should one be optimistic? And how does this factor, if it exists in someone’s thinking strategies, lead to a better outcome? The answer is in the behaviours that are produced as the outcome of the optimism thinking strategies, and some of these behaviours are:
- Better ability to identify problems: No withdrawal or giving up as a result of seeing problems as larger than their actual size. For instance, most failed students had a moment when their thoughts led them to give up at some point.
- Seeing the problem as a challenge, not a threat: For example, to have a certain illness but to decide to challenge it and following the correct sequence of medicine and regulations will let the person face it instead of thinking as a victim and failing to face it.
- Identify what you can control: When the problem is observed in its actual size, and the person realizes their abilities, they know what they can do to have an impact and how to do it.
 Seligman, M. E., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2014). Positive psychology: An introduction. In Flow and the foundations of positive psychology (pp. 279-298). Springer, Dordrecht.
 Coursera: Positive Psychology: Resilience Skills, by University of Pennsylvania. Taught by: Karen Reivich, Ph.D. https://www.coursera.org/learn/positive-psychology-resilience/home/info