Signing off 2017 with optimism

The recent snow storms blanketed my garden deeply.  All my plants were covered and I wondered if they would survive.  My experience combined with knowledge of plants and gardening told me that most would.  As the ice has melted over the week so there have been a few casualties, but most of the green and even colour has returned. There are tiny red berries on the euonymus.  Things are still growing.  Positive optimism is not denying bad things will happen or that "everything will turn out ok", rather that you can recognise and overcome beliefs that limit your thinking about how things will turn out; things will pull through if you take action and work it out; bad situations are temporary.  When you re-frame your thinking towards positive outcomes, a negative situation will never control you.

Mark Stevenson, stand up comedian and @Optimistontour, MCd the recent Meaning Conference I attended in Brighton.  He had the job of bringing many themes and topics together in the final session, and in doing so focused on successful optimism.  

Echoing Professor Meg Wheatley's earlier words, where she reminded us that right now, what ever we think the world is like "it's just our turn" and "it doesn't last forever", Mark guided us through some key pointers that can be turned into meaningful actions.  This is much better than making short lived and not often kept new year resolutions.

Here are four actions for making your life and work in 2018 optimistic that I gleaned from Mark's approach to optimism, with my own added exercises/activities to try:

1. Find something more important than you and make it happen. 

Research tells us that one of the five keys to wellbeing is to contribute to something, such as volunteer, give time to a cause, get involved in your local community.  Mental Health First Aid England recommends getting additional support and help for ourselves and others boosts mental health fitness.  Try this - commit to volunteering locally for a charity supporting peoples' health and wellbeing; give your skills and time by being on a board of trustees - this is MUCH better than just a one off donation or  "painting a community centre". Here's a living, brilliantly simple example:  Bar Bar Black Sheep is a social enterprise local to me which runs a brilliant suspended coffee scheme so if you live in MK go and have a great ethical coffee in a cosy cafe and add a suspended one for a homeless person.

2. You are what you do, not what you intend to do.

Making promises and resolutions are not my personal way for making change that sticks.  Unless you have a plan and a goal and then DO something, resolutions remain good intentions. How good are you at DOING? Commit to something you've been meaning to do that is purposeful.  Try this - take an hour of time out in a private, uninterrupted space and write down all your goals and aims for 2018 big and small.  Write them ALL as positive statements (I will), no negatives (e.g. stop doing x).  Against each one give a time or deadline.  Commit to the first action.  Tell as many as possible what it is - externalising and voicing our aims and goals and actions increase the likelihood of getting it done (i.e telling others tends to make us realise we have to do it). 

3. Play the long game

If you want to change something about your life, perhaps take on a new job role, do something new, become a more confident person, then it doesn't happen in "one hit".  So you play the "long game", focus on a goal, and take steps towards it.  Try this - a good coach will help you with this.  Or coach yourself.  Be prepared to lose.  You'll still learn.

4. Police your own cynicism. 

As humans we can be our own worst enemies.  Negative thinking bias prevents us from doing what we say we want to do and we stop ourselves from having happy, productive lives and experiences because we think negatively.  It's a thinking trap.  Thinking traps are the unconscious general rules we develop about the world and ourselves and lead us to mistaken judgmentsKaren Reivich and Andrew Shatte's book "The Resilience Factor" offers seven keys for thinking skills that support resilient thinking.  Two really useful ones are "challenging beliefs" and "putting it into perspective".  Try this - the next time you react to something that didn't go the way you wanted it to or caused you to have negative feelings, notice what your first thoughts were.  Recognise this is a belief and thinking it doesn't make it true.  Then think of three reasons why what you believe that is bad isn't true.  Some people call this disputation, i.e. you dispute to yourself that what you believe about yourself or a situation that is bad by countering it with three bits of evidence which "dispute" this. 

Looking to the future in 2018 with optimism is how I will sign off on 2017.