Six powerful ways to activate optimism

Image courtesy of Matt Ridley on Unsplash

An economy is a fascinating construct. These engines of growth, opportunity and wealth creation are comprised of numerous interdependent and interconnected moving parts. All of these parts must operate in unison, in order for the economy to deliver at peak output. One factor that is crucial to stimulating and sustaining economic performance is optimism. At a fundamental level, optimism is a combination of positivity, hopefulness and expectation. But even more than that, a state of optimism provides a dynamic thought-space for decision-making and action.

When there is optimism, consumers are more confident. Confident consumers spend money and with money being spent, employers can recruit more staff. With more staff in employment, more tax is generated for the exchequer and with more tax being generated, governments can borrow less. If governments borrow less, then deficits can be reduced or eliminated and surpluses can be generated. Yes, optimism is a virtuous cycle, with the momentum to stir an entire economy into action and deliver growth and prosperity along the way. With the scene now set, the sub headings below describe seven powerful ways to activate optimism.

1. Create a stimulus for action

As it is for the macro-economy, so it is for our own personal economy. Optimism and the confidence that flows from it, are a stimulus for action. Things happen when people are optimistic; they are forward leaning and do things that they might otherwise not have considered. They anticipate change, are open to new ideas, take risks and seize opportunities. That’s not all, our optimism can also inspire, embolden and galvanise those around us. This capacity to influence the thought patterns, attitudes and behaviour of others, empowers us to build a critical mass for transformational change.

2. Make investments

Find a constructive and enriching activity that stimulates you and invest as much time in it as you can. The idea here is not to engage in some form of escapism; rather it is to occupy yourself with something practical and meaningful that will help inject positive emotional stimulation and balance to your everyday routine. For some people this might involve going for daily runs, working out at the gym, reading, volunteering, attending an adult education class or something else. The point being made is that sensible investments are more likely to generate healthy returns. Therefore, the careful investment of time, effort and energy in activities that are stimulating will give you a reason to see progress, experience success and express optimism.

3. Reduce your deficits

In the context of activating optimism, ‘deficits’ aren’t just the unresolved issues that you may be facing, they are also a ‘metaphor’ for the posture, stance and bearing that you adopt when you are addressing those issues. As such, ‘deficits’ are not just challenges, obstacles and barriers; they are also the negative thoughts and perspectives that dominate your thinking space, occupy your time and control your conversations. Let’s be clear, this is not to say that there is anything wrong with addressing negative issues. On the contrary, the point being made here is that even negative issues can be addressed from a positive perspective. Taking action to ‘reduce your deficits’ is therefore geared towards giving you back control of your situation. The more control that you exert, the more positive you will feel and the less inclined you will be to allow potential solutions to be crowded out by negative thoughts.

4. Create demand

Want is always the trigger for demand. The more we want, the more we demand and when our demands are met, the more we expect and the cycle continues. In the context of activating optimism, the same principle applies. This is because when we ‘want’ we are expressing a ‘desire’ for something that we do not yet possess as well as the hope that our ‘want’ will be satisfied. Likewise, when we ‘demand’, it is predicated on the assumption and ‘anticipation’ that our ‘demand’ will be met. ‘Desire’ and ‘anticipation’ are absolutely critical elements of optimism. No-one expresses optimism without having a ‘desire’ or feels optimistic without ‘anticipation’. Therefore, the routine and rhythm of ‘want’ and ‘demand’ are motivators in our daily lives.

5. Change your ‘interest rate’

The everyday definition of ‘interest’ is applied here; specifically the extent to which your choices and preferences determine what you spend your time on, what you read, what you listen to, who you spend your time with and what you ultimately believe. If the aggregate of your interests feed negativity into your thought-space, then do not be surprised if your outlook on life turns out to be pessimistic. In fact, it would be shocking if it were otherwise. By contrast, if you want to have a more solution-focused and optimistic outlook on life, then change your interests. Read things that will be more enlightening, listen to people with alternative points of view and widen your circle of learning. These steps alone will provide you with the tools to challenge and contest whatever the ‘conventional’ wisdom is regarding your situation of circumstance.

6. Monitor your growth patterns

In simple terms, growth is a metric of improvement and progress. The key thing about growth is that, because it is measurable, it provides tangible evidence of progress being made and therefore a reason to be positive about your situation or circumstance. However, before you can celebrate growth, you have to identify and monitor it. Circling back to #2 in this blog (‘make investments’) as you engage in stimulating pursuits, you should actively seek to monitor the impact that those pursuits are having in your life. If you start working out in a gym, you may for example start losing weight or if you are volunteering, you might make new friends. Likewise if you are attending an adult education class, you are likely to learn new things and pass exams. Growth enhances our confidence, it makes us feel good about ourselves and when we feel good, we are also likely to feel both positive and optimistic.

To conclude therefore, in stark contrast to pessimism which is inert, unconfident and risk averse; optimism is positive, empowering and enabling. For the avoidance of doubt, optimism is to economic growth what pessimism is to economic decline. That said, optimism, like excellence or mediocrity, is a personal choice. To be optimistic is to make a conscious decision to focus on what we can do rather than what we cannot do. It is to identify with aspiration over anxiety and to draw inspiration from the rubble of our failures. An optimist is not a fantasist nor a pragmatist; rather, he or she is a realist, a shaper and an influencer — able to see the opportunity in every difficulty. The mere fact that people can survive and overcome the most adverse of conditions, suggests that circumstances do not dictate optimism — people do.

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Paul Aladenika

Believer, host of the 11th Thing podcast, blogger, mentor, student of leadership, social economist & thinker. Creator of www.believernomics.com .