You may not like how things are going in the world right now. Or how your life is being affected by it all the shelter-in-place mandates and restrictions. These pandemic circumstances have required us to adapt and/or change our normal routines. And that’s stressful. In fact, it’s the very “definition” of stress: being knocked out of homeostatic balance. And it’s happening to us on all levels: physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Depending on how you (normally) cope with stress, in the past several weeks of “safer-at-home” you’ve probably experienced anything (or everything) from mild irritation to out-and-out panic or fear. Maybe you’ve settled into a make-do “new normal.” Maybe you’re still struggling with the forced closeness (or solitude if you’re living alone.) Either way, I think we can all agree, the way things are feels a bit out of our control.
Yet, even in a situation like this, there is at least one thing you can control: your attitude. William James said it best back at the turn of the century:
“The greatest discovery of my generation is that a human being can alter his life by altering his attitudes.” -William James
What is an “attitude”? (Just so we’re on the same page.) It’s your state of mind. Your perception. Your thoughts. Attitude is how you think about life… the world… everything.
For example, do you see the proverbial “glass” half-empty? Or do you see it half-full?
“Your living is determined not so much by what life brings to you as by the attitude you bring to life; not so much by what happens to you as by the way your mind looks at what happens.” – Khalil Gibran
The half-empty viewpoint, or attitude, brings with it an entourage of negative thoughts and feelings. And that negative mindset, in turn, fosters frustration, judgment, and other fear-based thoughts.
Fear-based thoughts keep you in survival mode or fight-flight. Living in that defensive state of mind cripples your ability to think clearly and throws your creative problem-solving abilities out the window. In a survival mindset, you react to life, people, things instead of respond. And you limit your choices to the reactive “solutions” – some form of fight, run or hide.
On the other hand, the glass-half-full mindset opens the door to possibilities. It allows room for creative insights and ideas. It offers you the opportunity to respond to people, things, events rather than react. With this outlook, you have access to your higher thinking faculties. So you’re more able to discern ways to maneuver through hard times with greater ease and flow.
It doesn’t mean that you won’t have any bad days or downtimes. It means that when you do, you’re more likely to bounce back quicker.
Studies show that optimism gives you a better outlook on life, better resources for coping, and better problem-solving abilities. Being optimistic is also linked to health benefits such as longevity in life, the ability to recover from an illness or disease, and an overall stronger immune system. It’s even an important determining factor in whether you’re likely to engage in unhealthy health behaviors, and if you do, whether you’ll quit.
And best of all, optimism can have a profound effect on your self-esteem, the quality of your relationships, and your fulfillment in life.
What’s the big deal about optimism? Winston Churchill said it best:
“I am an optimist. It does not seem too much use being anything else.”
What if you’re not naturally optimistic? No worries. Optimism is a learned skill. And like with any skill, it takes practice. Heed the words of Emporer Marcus Aurelius:
“You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.”
The next time you catch yourself in a negative frame of mind, refer back to one of these quotes and remember:
You may not have control over what’s happening, but you always have control of your attitude, your mindset, and your thoughts.
Here are a few more of my favorite quotes:
“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” – Viktor E. Frankl
And just for fun…
“A positive attitude may not solve all your problems, but it will annoy enough people to make it worth the effort.” – Herm Albright, quoted in Reader’s Digest, June 1995