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Are You an Optimist?

Hello Gold Star Revolution Squad! Welcome to #tuneuptuesday!

Today's topic on this Tune Up Tuesday is optimism. This trait can absolutely assist us when it comes to awarding gold stars! If we are optimistic, we tend to assume the best intentions in people. And when we are optimistic, we might also be more inclined to notice gold star behavior in both ourselves and others.

I think it’s actually difficult for anyone to be an optimist because we are biologically wired to notice negativity (we will be exploring this topic in depth in future posts). Yet, despite this negativity bias, some people still seem naturally inclined to look on the bright side of life.

Even animals appear to have a built-in disposition. Tom and I always joke that our cat Tiki is the president of our in-home Optimist Club. She is always hopeful that someone might feed her outside of her set meal times. And she's a non-stop purr machine!

I think that we all have a certain baseline hardwired into us when it comes to optimism. But is that initial set point permanently affixed in stone, or can it be moved, as if it were on a spectrum?

I believe that just about anything can be changed if you commit to paying attention to the issue and if you also commit to doing the necessary work to bring about the desired result. In fact, I believe that I have successfully upped my optimism set point over the years.

I think that I was naturally inclined to be pessimistic from birth. I also think that going to law school further amplified my innate pessimistic tendencies. Lawyers are trained to look for everything has gone wrong or could ever go wrong with any given situation.

I remember the very first time that I became aware of my level of pessimism. A little over 20 years ago, just a few years after I graduated from law school, I was living in Massachusetts and was out with two of my lawyer friends. We had planned to take a day cruise to a nearby island off the Massachusetts coast, and we were running late. There was a decent chance that we were literally going to miss the boat.

When we finally got there, the parking lot was extremely full, and we didn't know if we would be able to find somewhere to park. Even though I didn’t realize I was doing it, I apparently kept saying that we weren’t going to make it in time, that the boat was going to leave without us.

Well, we did eventually manage to secure a parking spot, and we made it onto the boat on time. The ship did not set sail without us!

Once things had settled down, one of my friends proceeded to tell me that I was an extremely negative person and offered up my behavior just a few minutes earlier as proof, along with other examples. My other friend agreed wholeheartedly with this assessment.

I can still vividly recall how I reacted when I heard this. I remember feeling extremely defensive. I felt like my friends were ganging up on me and that they weren’t being fair. I had merely been voicing my worries about not getting there on time.

Later on, I told some of my other friends what happened that day, and I asked if they thought I was negative. Of course, since I was the one who brought up the subject, they told me what I wanted to hear – that I wasn’t a negative person and that I didn’t need friends who would say things like that to me.

But deep down, a part of me knew that my friends were telling me the truth on the day of the cruise. It took me awhile to admit it, and it took even longer to decide that I would actively attempt to raise my level of optimism. It was one of the very first times that I could remember wondering if our basic personality traits are fixed or whether we could change them.

Over time, I came to discover that I have a growth mindset, not a fixed one. I do believe that people can change fundamental aspects of themselves if they are committed to doing so. This belief led me to eventually start working on becoming more optimistic.

I made a concerted effort to start paying attention to what I was saying in my mind about potential outcomes in a given situation. If I found myself thinking something would end badly, I would question that thought and investigate whether there was actual evidence to support that conclusion.

Over time, I learned that I can almost always discount my initial negative thoughts about how things will turn out. I am now inclined to assess situations a little more realistically instead of sticking with the negative conclusion that my mind automatically generates.

I still think that I have pessimistic tendencies at my core. But as I have worked on being more optimistic, I do think that I have achieved a certain measure of success. If you ask my newest friends, the ones I have made in the last few years, I think they would be surprised to hear me describe myself as a pessimist. At least I hope that’s the case!

What about you, dear readers? Are you an optimist or a pessimist? Does it depend on the situation you are in? Have you ever intentionally tried to change your set point? If so, what was the result?

If you are looking for a book to help increase your level of optimism, I highly recommend Chasing the Bright Side by Jess Ekstrom!

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