Optimistic thinking is more than the common perception of seeing the glass as half full. How you think has a direct impact on how you perform, so thinking optimistically can positively impact your well-being, readiness, and resilience. In addition, optimistic thinkers tend to perform better in the field, athletics, and their relationships.
While an important aspect of optimism is to focus on the good and expect good things to happen in the future, this alone isn’t going to get you the mental toughness you need to excel. Optimistic thinkers ask themselves the following 4 key questions that have a powerful impact on performance.
1. Where do I have control?
The primary concern of optimistic thinkers isn’t whether the glass is half full or half empty. Instead, they focus their energy where they have control to make a situation better. If the liquid in the glass is poison, optimistic thinkers don’t just look at the bright side and say, “Well, at least it’s only half filled with poison,” and drink it up! Instead, they recognize what’s not working and then focus their energy on how to remove the poison and fill the glass with something good. And even if the glass is half filled with good stuff, optimistic thinkers focus on where they have control to make the situation better: to get more good stuff in the glass!
When you’re stuck in a tough situation, one of the most productive ways to get started is to list all the factors you have some control over. It’s important to include those where you might not have complete control but do have some level of influence. For example, simple things such as a conversation or an email can bring major rewards. If you’re having trouble, ask a friend, family member, or battle buddy to help you identify where you have some level of control or influence.
2. What must I accept?
Unfortunately, there are often things you have no control or influence over. Sometimes bad decisions are made, deadlines get moved up, people make mistakes, and you have no ability to change them. Negative thinkers tend to spend their time and energy focusing on and complaining about things they can’t control. Optimistic thinkers know it’s a waste of time and energy to focus on such things. Instead, they recognize and accept what they can’t control, so they can take action where they can make an impact.
But sometimes acceptance is easier said than done. Even when you want to move on, it’s easy to keep looking back on things you can’t control. HPRC’s “Steer your mind to improve your performance” provides some strategies to help you focus your thoughts.
3. How can I take action now?
If you always wait to begin, you’ll never get started! Optimistic thinkers know they need to take purposeful action to create the good outcomes they want in life. They recognize the importance of beginning today rather than waiting until tomorrow too. So, after you separate the things you can control or influence from those you need to accept, it’s time to list a few ways you can take action to address things you have some control over. Start with stuff you can do in the next 24 hours. Next, list things you can act on later, including when you plan to do them.
4. How can I keep one issue from affecting other parts of my life?
You have many roles, relationships, responsibilities, hobbies, and performances. When you experience heartbreak, failure, or frustration in one area, it often tends to bleed into other areas of your life and affect your ability to perform overall. Optimistic thinkers are deliberate in not letting one bad situation pollute the other aspects of their life. They recognize life involves more than one mission at a time. They also take a deliberate approach to reset and refocus when changing missions.
After a rough day at work, try mindfulness meditation for a few minutes on your commute home to let go of frustrations and refocus your attention on your family or friends.
Some people are born more optimistic than others, but you can improve your ability to think optimistically by asking yourself these 4 questions:
- Where do I have control?
- What must I accept?
- How can I take action now?
- How can I keep one issue from affecting other parts of my life?
Your answers can help you optimize your time and energy to enhance your performance. Visit HPRC’s Performance Psychology section for worksheets, breathing exercises, and other tips to help you stay mission-ready and resilient.
Kubzansky, L. D., Sparrow, D., Vokonas, P., & Kawachi, I. (2001). Is the glass half empty or half full? A prospective study of optimism and coronary heart disease in the normative aging study. Psychosomatic Medicine, 63(6), 910–916. doi:10.1097/00006842-200111000-00009
Levenson, R. W., & Gottman, J. M. (1985). Physiological and affective predictors of change in relationship satisfaction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 49(1), 85–94. doi:10.1037/0022-35188.8.131.52
Seligman, M. E., & Schulman, P. (1986). Explanatory style as a predictor of productivity and quitting among life insurance sales agents. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 50(4), 832–838. doi:10.1037/0022-35184.108.40.2062
Seligman, M. E. P., Nolen-Hoeksema, S., Thornton, N., & Thornton, K. M. (2017). Explanatory style as a mechanism of disappointing athletic performance. Psychological Science, 1(2), 143–146. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9280.1990.tb00084.x
Srivastava, S., McGonigal, K. M., Richards, J. M., Butler, E. A., & Gross, J. J. (2006). Optimism in close relationships: How seeing things in a positive light makes them so. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 91(1), 143–153. doi:10.1037/0022-35220.127.116.11