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How to Move Beyond Pessimism to Achieve Happiness

Take a look at yourself and determine if you’re a pessimist. To achieve happiness a pessimist, you are going to need to move beyond that negative perspective. Here are some recommendations for doing just that:

  • Don’t fight it — change it. You have to begin by accepting, not resisting, the reality that you always start out with negative thoughts. Resistance is a waste of energy. The more you resist something, the more it persists — try not thinking about the word elephant and see what happens. All you can think about now are elephants! The key here is to change the way you think.

  • Turn your thoughts around so that you never end with a negative. For example, instead of thinking, “I can do this, but it’s going to be difficult,” say to yourself, “It’s going to be difficult, but I can do this.” You want the last thing your brain hears to be positive.

  • Put yourself in the company of optimistic people. Attitudes are contagious. Who do you know who sees the glass as half-full? That’s the person you want to hang with!

  • Develop a personal action plan for reconstructing your attitude. You’re stuck in your negative thinking and you need to get unstuck. Here’s a method for doing just that:

    1. Identify some important or valued goal — something you want to achieve but have put on hold or been afraid to tackle.

      Start with something small — something that will take a minimum of effort, but have a big payoff. It’s important to think in terms of evolution — slow, progressive change — not revolution.

      For example, you might say, “I want to take a trip to Wisconsin to see my sister.”

    2. Identify the incentives of reaching that goal.

      This is the reason behind the goal. For example, why do you want to go to Wisconsin to see your sister? You might say, “I want to feel the joy of reconnecting with family. I want a change of scenery. I want to escape the day-to-day routine back home.”

    3. Ask yourself, on a scale of 0 to 10, how committed you are to achieving this goal.

    4. List three things that you would need to do to accomplish this goal.

      For example, if your goal is to visit your sister in Wisconsin, maybe you need to map out the route you’ll take, call your sister and set a definite date to arrive, and rent a reliable, comfortable vehicle.

    5. Ask yourself whether you see any obstacles to accomplishing your goal.

    6. Ask yourself how confident you are you that you can achieve this goal.

      You can be committed to something but not necessarily confident that you’ll win out. Commitment has more to do with making the effort, confidence more with your belief in yourself.

    7. Start the ball rolling by doing the first thing you listed in Step 4 that you need to do to achieve your goal.

      After you’ve completed the first step, reward yourself with a literal or figurative pat on the back.

    8. Do the second thing you listed in Step 4. And then move on to the third thing you listed in Step 4.

      Don’t forget to reward yourself after each step — that keeps you moving forward.

What you’re trying to do here is change your pessimistic attitude by changing your behavior first. Normally, people think of attitudes as something that leads behavior — like a horse pulling a wagon. Turn that around and think of a change in attitude as something that follows behavior — in effect, putting the cart in front of the horse!

This “cart-before-the-horse” approach is the essence of what has come to be called behavioral medicine, a new approach to health and well-being, where you literally behave your way into, in this case, happiness.

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