Friday, 10 June 2016

The other Big O that matters: Optimism!

Optimism (of the meaningful kind) contributes to our well-being at several levels. Not the over-indulgent variety that throws caution to the wind! Rather, the kind of optimism that is nicely blended with awareness and discernment. The latter is vital to our quest for success, excellence and fulfillment in life. Optimistic and result oriented people are also often perceived as the right folks to connect with, both in personal and professional areas of life!

Research in neuroscience has hinted that excess optimism may in fact be a brain defect due to issues with the frontal lobes. Well, not that staying optimistic comes easily these days.

Watch out for the optimism suppressors in your own life. Your own habits, thinking patterns, life experiences, people in your life and their actions and words, negative triggers and messages in society, the world of news, politics, business, advertising, mass media and entertainment… There is so much that is vying for your attention, and one of the easiest ways to get your attention is to overemphasize the negatives. There are so many industries that thrive on this model after all!

Scan them closely, and you’ll soon identify many triggers that have a way of directly and indirectly gnawing away at hope, confidence, positivity, and cheerful anticipation. So much of it happens at a subliminal level, and a “perspective crisis” is only making it tougher to stay meaningfully optimistic. Little wonder that what often passes for optimism is the wild and biased near-day-dreaming variety incubated in those “faulty” frontal lobes!

How can you safeguard yourself and your optimism from these triggers? & Stay on Course too?

Safeguard your State of MIND

Let’s take a closer look at some situations that can dramatically sap your sense of optimism.

A Suffocating Environment:

Have you felt suffocated by manipulative people who don't allow you to express your ideas or opinions, or even reach for your potential? They get an almost vicarious thrill in hurting your ego with their machinations hidden beneath carping criticism and nitpicking. They misuse their power to stifle diverse opinions, and brook no disagreement. You’ll meet such people at workplaces, homes and beyond too! It is undoubtedly tough to remain optimistic in the face of such sustained onslaught. 

First of all, it is important to scan criticism and other behaviors to weed out the noise/drama from the valid. The valid part is potentially beneficial, and may include valid criticism or suggestions that can be taken on board. The rest needs to be trashed for your own good.

Deliberate indifference

Deliberate indifference can be a good strategy towards the drama and noise component. Even if you don't show it, make sure that you choose to stay mentally and secretly “indifferent” to the negativity that’s thrown at you. This is not to suggest that you suffer in silence or tolerate bullying that borders on the illegal. Not everything may fall neatly into this category. If it does, then that’s a fight you must take on. For the rest, indifference could just be the safety valve to protect your state of mind.   

Although, you might like the idea of moving out of the situation altogether, that may not be easy. Safeguarding your state of mind becomes absolutely important now, as we are entering coping territory. You don't want to give them the power to control your mind. This toxicity cannot be allowed to seep in to your system. It may not make sense to counter them openly.

Is there a way to avoid a head-on collision and still keep the focus on outcomes? And how do we get to sustainable optimism from there?

Define a platter of benefits:

Even in very trying situations, look out for opportunities that can work to your advantage in the long run. Maybe your superior or colleague is a true pain in the neck! How about looking at it as a great chance to gain some critical survival skills that may become useful in more challenging situations? Like, training your mind to look at the entire experience as a learning opportunity, to handle unpleasant people without losing your sense of equanimity.

Maybe you can use this opportunity to examine your career goals and aspirations, and plan for significant changes in the medium to long run. The drive for power, affiliation, and achievement are three strong forces of human motivation. Play with this mix as you define clear outcomes that can give you these and more. Check out the reflective questions given in later paragraphs. 

You may also want to get better known in the wider organization/fraternity for your special talents and strengths, as you move forward. Connect up with others with a positive outlook at work and in general. There maybe other victims of the bully too. Even if you do connect up with them, watch out and ensure you don't end up spending an awful lot of time in sharing sob-stories.

Perhaps you wouldn't have thought on these lines in less trying/painful times!

Reflect on these questions 
  • When you emerge out of this situation, what new skills, talents and strengths would you like to add to your personality?
  • What new opportunities would you like to explore?
  • Two years from now, how would you like to see your life change?
    • How can you use this adversity as a catalyst to make that happen?
  • What outcomes can make you feel strong and empowered in a big way?
  • What kind of appreciation/acknowledgement/praise would you like to get, and from whom?
  • What more would you like to have?
  • What needs to change?

Do you agree that some of these benefits are coming your way only due to the pressures of the current situation? Take actions on this platter, so that it is no longer a totally raw deal.

Nurture Equanimity & a Powerful Sense of Purpose:

What we’re doing here is to cultivate the power of discrimination and discernment, to take things in perspective. Defining long term benefits and outcomes can help to shift your energy, and see these troubles as part of a work in progress. 
There are nine steps involved here:

1. Presence Again!
2. Connecting to a Higher Ideal:
3. Harnessing the Special YOU!
4. Mental Endurance:
5. Have some fun too!
6. Kick-ass Momentum!
7. Surprise Yourself!
8. Language of Possibilities
9. Relax

Presence Again!

I strongly recommend creative visualization and mindfulness practices. These will help you to train and rewire your brain with a more empowering narrative. That will be easier now with the clarity on your benefits platter.

It will also help if you can calm down and connect to a centred state of being. And in turn it helps your brain experience subtler vibrations to reflect and see the bigger picture. This will further help you to look at the positive side. And also keep you aware of the damaging potential of caving in thoughts-wise.

Connecting to a Higher Ideal:

Now, you may also consider going a few steps beyond the benefits platter. Many possibilities can open up when you connect yourself to a higher ideal, something that's beyond you, and has impact on others (local communities or at a global level). When you look at your long term journey and evolution, where are you heading towards? It could be your contribution to society or to the wider world. What is there in that big picture that gives you the goosebumps? Don’t worry if the answers aren't so obvious. Keep searching till you get that special feeling that feels just right. You’ll know! 

From here on, it is a messianic zeal that seems to drive your thoughts, feelings and actions. At least for many of you that’s how it’ll be.

Coolly taking small steps consistently that add to this big picture will be good enough. Now, you’ve tapped in to a realization of self-worth, and you realize you are much bigger than the present crises, the opinions of others and setbacks or failures. This is what perspective does. Those frontal lobes of the brain are doing okay!

Wait, don’t stop now! 

Think about what makes you unique and special. Maybe you’ve considered it already. Never mind, do it again now, in light of the clarity on your higher ideals. 

Harnessing the Special YOU!

How can you bring this uniqueness into your actions? And at the same time not get feverishly excited in an over-the-top manner? Because, at this stage, the latter is a distinct possibility. Take it easy, as you’re now in it for the long haul, right? Don't intimidate yourself and others so soon! What matters most is to keep moving, even if it only means minor shifts. They will add up over a period of time! Don't forget where we started from.

Connect up with mentors who can let you in on some of their success tips. Observe others who may have been through similar challenges, and turned the situation to their advantage. Each step in this direction will release you from the feelings of helplessness and near victimhood.

Mental Endurance:

This is also the right time to further build mental endurance. That thick skin of deliberate indifference will come in handy again. You might also want to check if you’ve got the right beliefs, attitudes, and values in place. Meaningful optimism is what you wanted, after all!

Have some fun too!

Over-exertion can also be dangerous, as the sheer exhaustion can make you lose some of the optimism. Build in routines that will make you enjoy the process thoroughly. Fun, laughter, learning, sharing.. pick what works for you. Find out outlets to express yourself, your ideas and opinions in multiple ways. Remember what we said earlier. Optimistic folks are people magnets, and now you know why! 

Kick-ass Momentum!

Exercise choices and make decisions, even if they are small. Get into the habit of moving and acting to shift the stifling nature of inertia and stagnation even before they raise their ugly heads. Take actions that shift your energy towards one of hope and freedom. It could be an email, a phone conversation, a meeting, or any such activity that gives you a sense of forward movement, defiance (at least in your mind) of not conforming to a suffocating order/scheme of things. Any action that utilizes some of your strengths, unique capabilities, and creates a positive momentum will be great.

Whenever there is doubt, reflect on these questions! 
  • What action can I take to experience a positive momentum within the next 3 hours?
  • Which is the earliest available opportunity?
  • Which strengths of mine can I utilize to make it happen?"

This is a benefits driven model, and not wishful thinking dressed up as optimism.

Surprise Yourself!

Occasionally, vary some of your steps, make room for surprises and changes to avoid too much familiarity and boredom! Stretch and test your limits once in a while, so that you're enjoying the change and the challenge too. Acknowledge and celebrate in small and big ways when possible. We have a primal desire to experience the joy of achievement and satisfaction. That high you experience whenever an action point is ticked off after completion is real. So, reward yourself handsomely.

Language of Possibilities:

Consciously get into the habit of using the language of possibilities, options, openness, positive ideas, a can-do spirit. Welcome criticism that comes your way, in a forward oriented manner by scanning and brainstorming for constructive suggestions and ideas. Focus on identifying what resources and changed strategies can lead to better outcomes. Post-mortem of failures can also be reframed so that the focus is on radically transforming outcomes. Signal a powerful attitude of pursuing positive change with the words you choose. Every time you are tempted to describe what isn't working, stop, think and reframe with a new set of words and ideas. Speak instead about what needs to be done in order to radically change course. Speak and declare your intention to take action. Talk about what you have done today to make that change happen in due course of time. Each time you do this, you are winning against the destructive power of negative language. Talk about what is possible, even if it doesn't appear to be significantly better. 

If the change is tougher, don't worry. Keep talking about every action that will change the situation, bit by bit. For every obstacle, for every destructive pattern and risk, talk about ideas for mitigation, contingency and recovery. Take it as a personal challenge and see how it feels as you make this a habit

There are still some issues that elude solution. Some of these are beyond your zone of influence. This may undoubtedly lead to frustration. But describing the frustration over and over again to yourself or others isn't helping in anyway. Instead, formulate them as exploratory questions or option-identification statements that you can feed into your mind, or even talk about to others.

  • This can only change/get fixed if…
  • The best way to get around the issue will be…
  • If there are no constraints at all, this is what we should be doing…

Even if the answers aren't leading you to immediate solutions, that’s okay. You have made a dent and more on the wall of obstruction. Also, you have avoided the temptation to keep repeating helpless and hopeless thoughts to yourself, that are only sapping all your creative energy.

And While you’re at it!

Give rest to the tired nerves and over-worked muscles. Take out time for quick breaks through the day to get some mental, emotional and physical relaxation. It is a signal to your body that your priorities are well sorted. Your mind, body and soul are all coming together, that too on an optimistic note! Play the cards right, and you’ll see your self-esteem skyrocket.

The Big O is here to stay!

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