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Jobs 2021: How to turn optimism into success at work

Yahoo Finance contributor
·Contributor
·8-min read
Group of young adults, photographed from above, on various painted tarmac surface, at sunrise.
Some psychologists and leadership experts see optimism as one of the key markers of success in work and leadership. (Source: Getty)

Optimists have a form of energy that can lift a room. Energy that allows them to see the challenge over the adversity, and to persist in the face of rejection.

Their glass – as the saying goes – is always half full. Regardless of what’s going on in the world, and there has been a lot going on in recent months, optimists find ways to see the opportunities.

It’s a mindset that can be seriously helpful in life – and studies have found proven health benefits linked to optimists, including better sleep – but it’s also one that will support anyone looking to succeed in the future of work. Especially given the future is expected to bring constant change and even more uncertainty.

Optimism is seen as a key trait for accomplishing goals. Some psychologists and leadership experts see it as one of the key markers of success in work and leadership.

Successful leaders and creators have vision, and they’re able to continuously work towards it despite the setbacks that come up along the way.

More from Jobs 2021:

Indeed, optimism could be one of 2021’s most important career tools. It’s at the heart of so much that’s expected to set leaders apart in the future: aiding communication, delegation, empathy and ultimately inspiring others to follow the path a leader lays behind them

So can you just switch optimism on? Fill up your glass just when you need it?

To an extent, yes. If you’re able to put in the work, constantly. The pessimists, and I’m one of them, may see the work as so exhausting that it eliminates the benefits optimism can bring. Still, it’s worth trying. When it comes to optimism, faking it may actually make it real.

So where do you start?

Reframe your internal dialogue

The pessimism we feel might be spurred by outside events, but ultimately it’s supported by the stories we tell ourselves: the voices in our head.

Natural optimists may have already turned down the volume of the negative voices. But for the rest of us, we need to continually reframe the narrative of what they’re saying.

Start by becoming aware of the words you’re telling yourself. Then consider how certain negative phases and words can be replaced with more optimistic ones – words that see the challenge in the situation, rather than the hopelessness. Words that find lessons in failures. And words that see opportunity in unexpected events that get in the way of your plans.

Establish clear career goals

Get some clarity on why you’re working so hard by establishing some clear goals around your career or business.

And get comfortable with the fact those goals are ‘goals‘ because reaching them inevitably comes with setbacks and challenges along the way. It’s hard, and that’s the point.

Knowing what you’re striving for is an essential first step for staying optimistic in your career, especially as your resilience is tested.

Indeed, it’s the leaders with clear visions who are often seen as the most optimistic. They‘re taking their teams on a mission, and refusing to lose sight of the end game despite the many distractions that come up.

Keep goals distant and acknowledge the fact you may need to adjust or reset them as you go.

Take the ‘Best Possible Self’ exercise

The BPS intervention offers an approach for developing an optimistic mindset, and it’s been widely studied and used by psychologists to help in immediately improving the moods and outlooks of those who use it.

The exercise involves spending a few minutes with pen and paper imagining your ‘best possible self’ in some kind of potential future, say a month, a year, five years, ten years from now, whatever works. Write down what happens when everything goes right in your relationship, in your leadership, business and career.

What happens when you achieve those goals? Keep it brief or go into detail, just make sure it includes a vision that is actually obtainable, over wild fantasy scenarios. Picture yourself in that successful future scenario, and consider how it feels.

This exercise seems far too simple to create results, but multiple studies have proven it (at least temporarily) results in optimism boosts in participants.

Keep watching the news, but get strategic

One of the simplest ways to personally move your attention from some of the difficulties going on in the world is to turn the news off. Cut the notifications on your phone. Get off Twitter and unsubscribe to all news-related publications. It’s a step that’s available, if you really need it.

But staying on top of what’s going on in your industry, your region and the world is important. Not only for your job, but also for making sense of the current climate and ensuring you’re on top of the latest health and safety information.

So don’t turn off the news but if needed, you might want to try one or all of the following:

  1. Stick to specific and trusted news sources, rather than ‘surfing’ for information;

  2. Consume news during a set window of time each day – so you get your information, absorb it and then move on;

  3. Quit going through the comments and other social media posts people are making about news events. These are mostly going to be negative and often point to worst-case scenarios;

  4. Make time and space for reading positive news stories. These stories exist, they just don’t get the attention-grabbing headlines;

  5. Subscribe to industry and business publications, where you can keep on top of news key to your work, and also aim to access and celebrate some of the wins from those in fields and work that are relevant to you.

Start journaling

Journaling is a fantastic tool for not only making sense of your thoughts and recording and documenting your progress across difficult areas, but also for taking a moment to reflect on the things you’re grateful for.

And that gratitude can do wonders to support your optimism.

Journaling doesn’t have to be a significant effort. Nor does it need to be pages and pages of writing. Rather, it can be as simple as ‘one page a day’, recording (with bullet points if it helps) key things that you want to note down, and including at least one element of gratitude.

Your journal could also be a good space to create a regular habit of the ‘Best Possible Self’ exercise, as mentioned above.

Find something you can learn

Making a tiny amount of daily progress on something you’re interested in will help with the optimism you feel about yourself.

That something could be anything from learning a language, to playing guitar, taking an online course on architectural history or otherwise aiming to acquire a skill relevant to your current job or career.

Even 5 to 15 minutes a day on learning something – through a book, via an online course or some other means – will do wonders for your mindset. It’s an opportunity to easily achieve something each day and know that you’ve progressed even in the smallest of ways, regardless of everything else that occurred.

Get to know the optimism levels of those in your life

Optimism is contagious, which is why optimists make great leaders and are known to support others in creating positive mindsets.

So the solution is easy, right? Just swap the pessimists in your life for optimists!

Except that’s not how life works. Your spouse or family members might be pessimists. Perhaps your work colleagues fall on the more glass-half-empty side.

While there might be some negative people in your life that you can aim to avoid, there are others that are your friends, family, clients and people you need and want to see.

The key is to not just banish people in order to find some more optimists in your crowd, but rather to get to know the pessimism levels of those in your life.

That way when surrounded by these pessimists, you can recognise how the ways their negative talk might be rubbing off on you, and therefore seek to internally intervene before it impacts how you’re personally perceiving things.

Angela Priestley is a Yahoo Finance contributor, writing on family finances and juggling work with kids. She is the founding editor of Women’s Agenda, co-founder of Agenda Media and a mum of three young boys.

This is part five of our Jobs 2021 series, where Yahoo Finance is exploring how to succeed in the next decade: earn more, lead better and win in the next decade of work.

Want 2021 to be your best (financial) year yet? Follow Yahoo Finance on Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram and Twitter, and subscribe to the free Fully Briefed daily newsletter here.