I was recently chatting with a friend on Zoom about what plans they had for the coming year. They looked at me and said, “I used to be an optimistic person but then came 2020.”
Here we are again in that time of year when we begin to make lots of plans and certainly think about the year ahead. For me, this normally entails the prerequisite promise to exercise more and eat healthier. It also includes thinking about my business and of course, my passion for travel and what places I’ll visit in the coming year.
Some of us do better than others in checking off this list of plans. When we dissect what went wrong, many of us turn to our friend, Mr. Will Power, who we blame for just was not there when we needed him.
I want to suggest checking a vital element of emotional intelligence before making any plans as this can have a huge impact when making them – optimism. Why optimism? Well, the research is very clear on the connection between optimism and resilience and the ability to follow through and stick with a plan
There’s more as optimism is also linked to better mental and physical health, higher satisfaction in our careers and at home and better problem-solving abilities. So, what’s not to like?
I can hear some of you saying, “Well that sucks because I’m a glass-half-full person.” However, there is great news. Optimism is not fixed. Just like other aspects of emotional intelligence, its level can be changed.
Let me suggest two activities that you might want to experiment within the coming weeks.
1. Visualize Your Best Outcome
This exercise is simply looking at a year or two years ahead and looking back visualizing what has happened during this time. The key to this task is to have fun and dwell on thinking of the possibilities that might occur if everything went right. So often we have dreams and then immediately go to what could go wrong.
What if everything worked out? What if all the success you’ve dreamed about came true. What about if opportunities came to you that you’d never imagine, what would your life look like? Actively visualize that happening.
If you want to raise the exercise a notch, then do it with a friend. Take turns to talk for one minute. When you speak, imagine it being one year in the future and you’ve both achieved everything you wanted, and you are looking back describing the experience of the year. You will be amazing at how it makes you feel. The first time will definitely feel awkward, but I suggest doing it a few times and with each time, something new will come up and you will begin to feel more comfortable.
2. Optimism Audit
My mother loved the expression “Misery loves company.” She had the wisdom to know that if she surrounded herself with negative people then she herself would become more negative. Years later we can definitely say that the expression is scientific fact. One of the central discoveries of emotional intelligence is that emotions are contagious. We literally catch emotions. After 2020 and the coronavirus, catching something invisible has a whole new meaning for us.
It’s vital therefore that we ask two questions:
Who do we spend the most time with?
What emotions are we catching from them?
Our levels of optimism are impacted by the people we hang out with.
If we’re constantly in the lives of people who are negative, who really don’t see potential in the future, then that is going to rub off on us. It is important to note that this applies to Zoom as well. While you cannot catch the coronavirus from someone on Zoom you can catch their emotions. We can also catch the positive emotions of others. If we hang out with people who are upbeat and positive, we can also find ourselves feeling more positive.
I developed an exercise to help look at this phenomenon a little closer. I called it the optimism audit. Write down a list of the key relationships and people you spend the most time with at work, at home, and socially. Now grade them at a level of 1-10 for their level of optimism. At the end, add up all the scores and divide by the number of people to get your average optimism level. If it is 4 or less, then think about how you might add some optimistic people to your circle. While there may be certain relationships that we cannot take out of our circle, we can certainly widen our circle to include more optimistic people.
This year before making any plans trying taking your optimism to the gym and work on expanding it. I promise it will impact not just your plans but every part of your life.
You can download a copy of both exercises here
You might also be interested is one of my latest You Tube Videos which explores, “How To Become A More Optimistic Person”.