The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines optimism as: an inclination to put the most favorable construction upon actions and events or to anticipate the best possible outcome.
While perhaps none of us can argue against our own hindsight bias that optimism is important to our physical and mental health. One may ask themselves, ” what if it doesn’t come naturally?”
Some people are born with personality traits that lean more toward happiness and optimism while others are born with lower happiness thresholds. However, the good news is, if positive thinking doesn’t come naturally (self included), it can be learned.
Optimism, like any other performance ability such as talent, academic achievement, or skill is strengthened through practice effects. Research demonstrates that when someone practices anything over and over again, they become an expert at it. Therefore, if you practice negativism over and over again, you will become an expert pessimist, but if you practice positive thinking over and over again, you will learn to change your brain pathways and become an expert optimist! It is extremely important to start exercising your positive thinking as pessimism can lower your immune system and make you vulnerable to disease, especially with cold and flu season just around the corner.
Learn to Change
Now it is fair to say that we all experience negative thoughts from time to time based on the effects of reality: homesickness, school stressors, roommate issues, relationship issues, etc., however, focusing on what you can change and taking steps toward creating a better tomorrow are important for gaining self-control. Now while there are some things that we cannot change, we must learn to adjust or change our attitudes by trying to see our crisis or dilemma as an opportunity to grow. After all, growth only happens in times of trial or pain, not during times of bliss. Therefore, we mentally chose either to become our own barriers or empower ourselves to become our own heroes.
When we have trouble adjusting to our situation or start thinking self-defeating thoughts, this is a sign of trouble and we may want to seek help. We must ask ourselves, “Is this way of thinking productive or unproductive?” If it is unproductive, then you are exerting energy into a void – this is a signal to start making changes.
Reframe Your Thoughts
When you catch yourself saying something negative, reframe it. Instead think – I may not be where I want to be, but every day is a chance to do something to make it better. Next, do a realistic inventory of yourself and where you are. Take steps to change something that is bothering you and then start by practicing it in your behaviors. Changing your behaviors will start to change your thoughts and your changed thoughts will start to change your emotions. Finally, you behaviors, thoughts, and emotions will start to align with each other.
So remember, practice, practice, practice! Optimism is a skill that must be practiced. Research has shown that anything that is practiced over and over again will actually change brain pathways and will create changes in the way we act, think and feel. This can be both negative and positive. So practice the positive and become addicted to that.
Seek Support through the Counseling Center
Finally, if you are having trouble getting started or just need support, the Counseling Center is always here for you. Counseling services and psychiatric services are free to Wilson students who are currently enrolled in a degree program. Counseling is done on an appointment basis, except in cases of an emergency. To make an appointment, email firstname.lastname@example.org. All counseling and medication management services are held in the strictest of confidence. If you have any questions about the counseling services at Wilson College, please do not hesitate to ask.
Remember, it is always a good idea to work on health and wellness with the support of others. Megan, Robin, Olivia, and Amanda are here for you and wish you endless happy thoughts!!!