Beyond Blue

I interviewed psychologist Tamar Chansky awhile back on the place of optimism in recovery from depression. I very much liked her post on the Huffington Post, on how to practice safe optimism in this economy. I have published an excerpt below. To get to her original Huffington Post piece, click here.

At a time when our mental health threatens to crash along with the markets, optimism may also buffer and prevent that fall. Research in Positive Psychology, spearheaded by founder Martin Seligman, tells us that those who adopt an optimistic mindset are healthier, less prone to depression, live longer, and lead happier more satisfying lives. But it’s not because they are in massive denial. Optimism isn’t the culprit in our current economic troubles as some have suggested. Denial, greed, and short-sightedness, maybe, but not optimism.

Optimists look for opportunities for growth and positive change, but importantly stay tethered to reality. It’s not about pretending that all is well or avoiding the niggling details like the billion dollar loan coming due one day. It’s about thinking accurately, making calculated risks, and when things go wrong, seeing those setbacks as temporary, and using innovation, flexibility and resilience to learn from the fall and move forward. Optimism won’t be the reason why people lose money or lose jobs. It will be the mindset that encourages sound and practical ingenuity and shines the light on the way out.

So if you’re looking for ways to tap into some inspiration aside from replaying the Inauguration on youtube, here are some ideas to safely “go optimistic”

Strategy One: Don’t force yourself to think positively! Recession? What recession?! We might as well try Dorothy’s strategy of clicking our ruby slippers together and saying, “there’s no place like home.” Optimistic thinking is thinking accurately, it’s not about sugar coating the truth or lying to yourself, because lying gets you into trouble–even with yourself. Think of the possibilities instead. Take the situation you are in and try to see it from different perspectives–call on an imaginary panel of people you respect real or fictional–what would their take be? Borrow the collective wisdom of the world as a way of getting out of a rut.

Strategy Two: Tone down your self-talk: When we are struggling, we talk to ourselves in absolutes, which only makes everything sound and feel worse: “This is the worst situation ever, I’m so overwhelmed, this will never get better, I have no idea what to do to make it better. Nothing is working in my life.”

Strategy Three: Specificize: Control what you can: Optimists narrow down big sweeping problems into the parts of it they can control. If we focus on what we can’t control, we erroneously create feelings of helplessness–erroneous because we are blaming ourselves for failing at something that was never in our power to begin with, and in so doing, we undervalue or even ignore the aspects of the situation which we handled well when the ball was in our court.

Strategy Four: Build resilience by taking stock of your strengths: In challenging times, we often approach novel situations feeling empty-handed and underprepared; this leaves us even more vulnerable. The fact is that we face disappointment and struggle every day. Although we may be doing mental gymnastics to avoid confronting those struggles, we are tougher than we think. Our first reaction to struggle is fear, that’s normal, but we can’t stop there. This is the moment to regroup, look at our strengths–ingenuity, tenacity, resourcefulness, levity, whatever they may be–and keep those close at hand.

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