Staying Optimistic and Hopeful in Down Times

Many of us believe that if we are good, good things will happen to us. Be kind, be honest and life will work out. But hard work doesn’t always lead to prosperity, and bad behavior isn’t always punished. Great and kind people can get ignored. Lousy and mean people can get ahead.

This is not a discussion of why not to be good, kind and honest, but rather how to stay hopeful and optimistic in a world that doesn’t always seem fair or go according to plan.

As we look to rebuild a new year in a better and more successful way, I find the greatest wisdom comes from the Chinese Confucian philosopher Mencius (Mengzi). He shared: though we would like the world to be stable and predictable, we find it is actually in perpetual disorder and needs constant work.

Don’t be upset by this. Rather, therein is our solution. A world that is capricious and unpredictable creates the continual ability to make things better. This empowers us to look at this moment in time and ask ourselves, what can I do to make this better – and feel empowered that there is always something new, good and exciting on the horizon. This is the key to shifting from despair and anger to optimism and hope – to build things better out of the ashes.

So, if it is your habit to feel defeated when things aren’t working right or when things are not going to according to your definition of “good,” how do you shift to see the good? How do you focus on what is possible and stay hopeful for change when things around you are dark, heavy and seemingly out of control?

Try these two ideas:

1. Take an inventory. I encourage my coaching clients to get clear about what is contributing to your current feelings by creating a visual display of what’s working and what’s not. On a page of paper, title the left side, “What’s Going Right” and on the right side, give it the title, “What’s Taking Me Down.” Here is the rule. For every item you add to the “Things Taking Me Down” column, you must provide at least one item in the “What’s Going Right” column. So if you have 10 items listed on the “What’s Taking me Down” column, you must provide at least 10 items on the “What’s Going Right” column.

See, many times we just have a partial view of how things really are, and in down times, we seem to focus on fears and concerns – the negative. Find a quiet moment and challenge yourself to see the other side of your life. Notice your relationships, the holidays, your health, your new habits, your blessings. It’s only when you can see a balanced and accurate picture that you can start to get control over your thoughts about this moment. Remember Mencius’s wisdom: because life is messy, the mess provides places for us to get excited and committed to making things better. So, regardless of how many things are in your right column, they provide the daily opportunity of learning, growing and getting better. This is truly something to be hopeful and optimistic about.

2. Start small, but start. From the clearer view you now have around what is affecting you, where is there something small that you could improve? It could be making one change about something you eat/don’t eat, spending 10 minutes each morning with a gratitude journal, making a call to a friend, turning off the news reminds you of what is not working in your world, or spending 10 minutes out in nature. It is your choice.

Don’t try to change everything; simply focus on one small thing. In it you see that you have influence and impact. You don’t wear yourself out or fuel a greater disappointment. We know the world is messy and complicated. So make small, little improvements. In the aggregate, not only do they add up and make a larger change, but they fuel your sense of hope and optimism as you see your ability to make improvements to things that matter.

Life is as it is. Mostly, it is complicated, messy and unpredictable. If we think it should be orderly and stable, we will be constantly disappointed and down. Instead, see the trouble spots and challenges as opportunities to improve things. Let that get you excited, optimistic and hopeful.

As you reflect on 2020 and prepare to launch into 2021, remind yourself that things won’t change overnight. But also understand that as you stay upbeat, positive and hopeful, and use those energies to see and make improvements, you will be part of the greater effort to improve our days and our world.

Take Action
Take your inventory and ensure it is balanced. Start small but start right away. Notice what you can improve and go do it. Encourage others to do the same. As we start a groundswell of hope and optimism, we give ourselves the energy to show up to our messy world, committed to always making it better.

By Jay Forte

Consider reading The Key to Really Good Relationships (When Winter Brings You Back Inside)

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