Guest article by Kristen Truempy
There’s a missing link in lots of articles about optimism: they often tell us what we shouldn’t do. Don’t take things personally, compare yourself to others who are better off, or pay attention to negative news or people.
All of this is true and valuable, but the brain does not like space. Once we make some headspace by clearing out the negativity, it needs to fill in the gaps.
So it’s not enough to stop doing something. For everything that you stop or avoid, it’s best if you replace that activity with something that is truly interesting or fun to you. Otherwise, as you sit miserably by yourself instead of joining in the gossip at work, you won’t last for long. If you just stop watching TV but then stare at the pile of dirty dishes, chances are the TV will be on again soon.
Instead, we have to fill up our brain with the equivalent of healthy veggies and fruits. Here are some suggestions:
1. Set your homepage to something inspirational so that you get to see positive articles at least once a day without having to think about it. Chances are you will get interested and start reading more positive articles and fewer negative ones.
2. Customize your Facebook or Twitter stream. If one of your acquaintances is constantly posting the slogans of the political party you hate and it bums you out every time you see it, why not do something about it? Remove them or at least adjust the settings so you don’t have to see their updates all the time.
Maybe someone is always posting memorable quotes or images that lift you up? Make sure to configure your settings so you see most of that person’s updates. You only have to do this a couple of times and from then on, your feed will automatically become a more positive place to hang out. Also make sure to connect with more like-minded people. Joining Facebook groups or setting up Twitter lists is a great way to do this.
These two strategies require very little effort and will put positivity right in front of your nose. The next two strategies are for those of you who would like to spend even more time thinking about things you find interesting and enjoy.
3. Try audiobooks and podcasts. Are you still listening to the radio even though you don’t really like what’s on it? You just prefer to listen to something instead of silence? Switch to audiobooks or podcasts instead. Podcasts are audio files you can download and subscribe to for free and listen to anywhere on your phone. They are a great way to be entertained or educated about something that is interesting to you. This can be your substitute for the negativity, that something to fill your headspace – and make you much less tempted to fall back into old habits.
4. Develop a skill you enjoy. Learning something interesting gives your brain a healthy obsession. It will also automatically change the way you perceive the world. You will become a connoisseur instead of just a judge, who boxes everything into “like” and “don’t like.” Once you learn to pay attention to how websites are designed or really good pictures are taken, for example, you will appreciate the efforts of others, even if you don’t always resonate with the topics they cover or their passions.
The suggestions above sound simple and maybe small. But every moment you spend thinking about something interesting or positive is a moment you are not thinking pessimistically. And from emotion research, we know that positive emotions don’t just feel nice; they build resources for the future as well. As you add more and more small positive moments to your day, the good feelings they create, the knowledge you gain, and the relationships you build and deepen will all contribute to a more friendly climate in your brain.
Photo by Flickr user Ali Karimian
Kristen Truempy accidentally discovered the strengths approach when she was 11 years old and captain of a girl’s soccer team. She used her skills of keen observation to discover each player’s talent, structured the practices accordingly, and a year later the team won the cup. In 2012, she had to admit to herself that this experience would not suffice to convince companies to pay her to set the strengths of their employees free, so she embarked on the adventure that is obtaining a Master of Science in Applied Positive Psychology (and recently passed). She can be found at http://strengthsphoenix.com/listen.