“Choose to be optimistic, it feels better.” Dalai Lama
Candles in the dark. Hope for the best. Looking on the bright side of things. Walking on the sunny side of the street. Whatever image and words we use to capture this quality, it still can seem elusive — hard to hang onto and cultivate.
Wise as he is, the Dalai Lama offers us help. “Choose to be optimistic,” he advises. He didn’t say “try” to be optimistic or “hope” to be optimistic. The word “choose” holds a world of meaning. It signals to us that optimism is a mindset, an attitude, a way of being that’s in our power to summon and sustain — and that’s exciting.
But how can we choose to be upbeat even when things aren’t going well? The answer’s simple says my friend and mentor Dr. Rob Gilbert:* We can act as if. “Actions create attitudes. Motions create emotions,” says Rob, borrowing a leaf from the pioneering psychologist William James, who once said, “The greatest discovery is that human beings can alter their lives by altering their attitude…. Act, look, feel successful, conduct yourself accordingly, and you will be amazed at the positive results.”
So, how do we act our way into feeling optimistic? A few ideas:
Light a candle: I have small candle holders scattered around my house near my desk and my favorite chair. Before I write, I light one to remind me that inspiration is always burning, always available to me, if I call on it.
Turn to inspiring words: Reading uplifting quotes or short passages can create a touchstone for our day. I like to write quotes that I love on small, colored index cards, so I can turn to them from time to time to energize me.
Listen to music: Many writers find that listening to certain music energizes and emboldens them: It may be classical or jazz, or be drawn from the time period they’re writing about.
Celebrate little victories: So often progress comes to us in little steps. Writing can feel overwhelming and revision can seem to be endless. But if we can allow ourselves a pat n the back when we come up with a fruitful idea or create a better sentence flow in a paragraph or even come up with a juicier, more evocative word or phrase — it uplifts us.
We can move: Movement can shake the cobwebs from our brains and loosen up a logjam.
If we’re stuck, instead of getting discouraged and falling into a downward spiral, if we take a walk outside or even just take a small mental health break, it can brighten our mood.
What techniques do you use to stay upbeat while you’re working? I’d love to hear your strategies for being a bright sider. Write on!
*Check out Rob’s wonderful Success Hotline: 973.743.4690