4 Common Roadblocks on the Path to Optimism, and How to Overcome Them

Image by Shermeee (license).

[hana-code-insert name='social w twitt face' /]“For myself I am an optimist – it does not seem to be much use being anything else”
Winston Churchill

If you are reading this then there is good chance that you agree with me that optimism is pretty awesome. But it is not always easy to adopt a more optimistic attitude and there are roadblocks. So today I’d like to share a few of them that I have bumped into and how I have overcome them.

You are swimming in a sea of negativity.

If you are trying to change your attitude then it’s not very helpful to live in a world where forces try to drag you back to your old mindset each day. It makes it very hard to change.

What you allow into your mind will have a big effect on you. So be selective. If you’re hanging out with negative people all the time then that can really drag you down. It’s not easy to stay optimistic when pessimism is the default mode in your world.

Another part of this is getting hooked on the news and prophecies of the sky falling. The sky is probably not falling.

Consider spending less time with negative voices. Cut back on – or cut out – seeing negative people. Cut back on watching the news or even more spectacularly negative TV-shows. But don’t forget to replace that old stuff you cut out with something more positive instead. If you have a vacuum in your life then you are more likely to revert back to your old habits.

You can for instance replace reading the newspaper in the morning with listening to personal development CDs, watching something fun or just having a good conversation with someone that positive, funny or enthusiastic.

You get stuck in thinking that you have to be an optimist 100 percent of the time.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that when you adopt a optimistic attitude then it’s just on. Like when you flick a light switch. And that would be nice and simple, wouldn’t it?

But in my experience you improve gradually with a few bigger leaps from time to time. For example, today I stay constructive and optimistic for about 80 percent of the time. Five years ago or so, I was probably positive for about 30 percent of the time.

So I have made big improvements in this area. But it has taken years and lots of exploring and work to have a more consistently optimistic attitude. And the work continues. Mental fitness is like physical fitness. If you let things slide then you get out of shape and then you can’t do the things you used to do.

I think it is very important to be aware that nothing will ever be perfect. Striving for perfection can be pretty dangerous. Because you will never feel like you are good enough.

Even though you may be optimistic 90 percent of the time you still feel deep inside like you aren’t OK. No matter what you do. You have set the bar at an inhuman level. And so your self esteem stays low and your optimism sinks even though your results may be very good.

So I think it’s better to just focus on gradually being more consistent instead trying to be perfect.

You get stuck because of the benefits of your current attitude.

At some point you have to make up your mind. Will you go for the benefits of adopting more optimistic attitude? Or will you stay with benefits of a negative attitude?

Because there are benefits to both of them. It’s not like a negative attitude is something that is just stupid and something people do without any reason. A negative attitude can for example give you this:

  • Attention and validation. You can always get good feelings from other people as they are concerned about you and try to help you out.
  • No risks. When you are negative you can find explanations for why nothing will work. And so you don’t have to take action and have to risk for example rejection or failure.
  • A feeling of being smarter and right. A common attitude of very negative people seems to be – and it was in my case – that you think you are smarter than other people. They do, fumble and fail. While you can judge and analyse life and them from a safe distance. It’s not hard to feel smarter than most people when you are always on the sidelines. But it’s not clever. In the end it’s just sad.

So there are a few benefits and quite a bit of pleasurable feelings to be drawn from a negative attitude. But I have found that a optimistic attitude – although it may sometimes be harder to keep up – is more helpful and just makes life a lot more exciting and fresh.

To be able to have a more consistently optimistic attitude you have to let go of the negative attitude and those benefits or you’ll get stuck at a certain level.

You miss the physical part of the picture.

One good way to become a more optimistic person is to ask questions that empower you instead of making you feel like a victim. If you are in negative situation you can for instance ask yourself: what is the hidden opportunity in this situation?

So one part of an optimistic attitude is about learning to think in more helpful way.

But it’s not just about your thoughts.

I have found that one of the best ways to turn around a negative mood or just to remain positive and strong is to work out. After you are done it sometimes feels like you are a different person. Doubt and worries just seem to fall away or at least become a lot smaller.

This nice thing about this is that it works kinda automatically.

Because sometimes you just can’t pump up your own enthusiasm or motivation. Or see things from an optimistic perspective. When working out you don’t have to think or push through such inner resistance. You go and you work out. And most of the time it works like pushing a stress and tension release button in yourself.

Being in pretty good shape and working out a couple of times a week is to me one of the most fundamental and effective things you can do to improve your attitude and life.

You may discover that if you improve this area of your life then some of the tips for how to think in a more optimistic way become a bit superfluous.

If you found this article helpful, then please share it with someone else by using the buttons below. Thank you! =)

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About the Author

Henrik Edberg is the creator of the Positivity Blog and has written weekly articles here since 2006. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Gothenburg and has been featured on Lifehack, The Huffington Post and Paulo Coelho’s blog. Click here to learn more…

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Hi Henrik,
    What a inspiring and useful post on optimism!
    Best regards
    Classier Corn

  • Charlie Bailey

    Your blog was a great find for me earlier this year. I came into 2011 with a bad attitude which was not the norm for me. Your writings and ideas really helped get me back on track in many ways and I feel better than ever. I’ve recommended your blog to others. Thank you!


  • I find myself being optimistic only for maximum 50%. It seems that every time when I am optimistic about one specific area of my life, I have the idea that another area of my life is going doing. I can not help it and it is not improving in time like you explain. It stays 50%/S0%/ It seems to be illusion to grow more optimistic :-(

    • Thoughts like that pop up for me from time to time too. I may think that there will be some kind of balance in life so when something goes well something else will go worse.

      What has helped me to reduce such thought patterns is to be aware of them and when such a thought pops up I remind myself of what has happened in the past and I realize that such fears have very seldom become reality. That helps me to let go of that negative thought and focus on being constructive and optimistic again.

      It also has helped me greatly to focus more on doing what I think is the the right thing and appreciating myself more each week. By doing so my self-esteem has gone up and I feel more deserving of the success I want. And as I feel more deserving of it I tend to have less pessimistic thoughts about the future.

  • Ant

    Wow, nice blog. Zone out the negative people! Its hard to stray happy if the people that are close to you just cant see the lighter side of things.

  • Hey Henrik, totally agree with you here – especially about the victimization part. I see SO MANY people blame everything but themselves for why their lives are so miserable. In many ways, negativity helps us to justify why we don’t take responsibility for ourselves. And there are plenty of smart people who can justify their negativity really well – but in the end – it’s not healthy.

    Thanks for writing this.

  • Great tips here, as usual. I particularly love the advice to exercise. Sometimes, when I find myself being pessimistic, I ask myself when was the last time I worked out? A good, hard run nearly always makes me feel better.

  • These are so true! Especially the 100% of the time one..that was my biggest initial obstacle with optimism. Great post..

  • Diego

    Wow! What a great post! Thank you! :D

  • Just discovered your blog this evening and so glad I did! Will be coming back for more inspiring reading again soon. Nicely done.

  • A very good post on being positive, realistic and powerful. Pessimism does not help anyone to achieve.

  • Thank you all for your kind words and for sharing your own thoughts on optimism! :)

  • Instead of giving up your daily news, try supplementing it with the Good News Network! A daily dose helps balance the negative media reports.

    Also, Henrik, will you give me permission to reprint this on my website (goodnewsnetwork.org), in the Opinion section? We could include a short bio at the end of the article, in which we can add links to your services… Let me know!

  • Stumbled across your website, and very excited as living simple has been my life path. Right now what I am doing is caretaking a huge house on the Salmon River in Idaho. What’s great about this is that hardly anything in the house belongs to me, so I am living beautifully with very few possessions. It’s a great way to go.

  • I think the worst part of being pessimistic is being unwilling to take risks. Which leads to accomplishing nothing.

  • Happiness can certainly be more difficult to come by, especially when—as you say—there are “benefits of your current attitude”. One of the things I’ve been able to do to increase my own level of positivity is by developing a guideline of Be Attitudes to live by (which I’ve written about at http://aishaquinece.com/2011/08/living-a-happy-life/). One of my favorite ways to overcome roadblocks and negative attitudes are by being authentic to who I really am. It’s taken me awhile to figure that out, but I’m glad I finally have.