Don’t Worry…Be Happy! This song, by Bobby McFerrin, came out in 1988. It paints a picture that if you worry your troubles will double…so don’t worry, just be happy!
Is it realistic to think that we are not going to worry about anything?
Well 2020 certainly has challenged that concept and given us lots of things to worry about!
On a team call the other day with some of my amazing colleagues at Epiphany Coaches, we were discussing the difference between positivity and optimism. And then we started exploring how optimism and wellness are related. Most of the leaders we are working with are struggling with these themes right now.
- How do we keep people’s spirits up with all the uncertainty?
- How do we encourage people to take care of their mental and physical health when there is so much heaviness right now?
- How do we take care of ourselves, as leaders, and try to portray an optimistic outlook to our teams when we, ourselves, are having a down day?
- Do I have to show up everyday with a smile on my face even if that is not how I am feeling? It feels so fake!
One leader shared his struggles with doing some fiscal planning with his team. “Generally, I’m really clear on our long-term plan and as a team we are able to work together to break our year’s goals into concrete actions per quarter. Right now, I’m struggling with how to approach that and keep positive in front of my team.”
I asked the questions, “Is your mission and vision still applicable?” “Are you still operating with the same set of values?” “Are you still aiming for the same goals, perhaps with a different delivery method?”
The answer to all these questions was a resounding, “YES!”
As our discussion ensued, we landed on a few different options he could action with his team. His main struggle was his desire to ‘not being falsely positive’. He wants to continue to lead authentically and with optimism and, also be honest and realistic with his team.
Can I be Honest about Struggles and Optimistic at the same time?
I really ruminated on this leader’s dilemma. Can he be honest and true to how he is feeling on his less than positive days and, also be optimistic at the same time?
As luck would have it the following clip by Simon Sinek (one of my all-time favorite people although we have never met in person, only on youtube and in his books!) showed up in my inbox last week.
I love this quote from Simon’s message (yes we are on a first name basis now, at least in my own head!), “Optimism allows for darkness to exist, optimism allows for reality to be there, optimism allows for us to have good days and bad days, optimism allows us to have setbacks.”
He goes on to share that distinguishing between positivity and optimism in the world is different. “…optimism is about being in a dark tunnel and seeing the light, and you’re not focused on the tunnel you’re focused on the light. Optimism is not the denial of the current state, it’s the belief that if we keep moving, we’ll hit the light.”
Optimism and Your Wellbeing
There is study after study that finds a connection between optimism and wellness. This one shares this conclusion, ”There is evidence that optimistic people present a higher quality of life compared to those with low levels of optimism or even pessimists. Optimism may significantly influence mental and physical well-being by the promotion of a healthy lifestyle as well as by adaptive behaviours and cognitive responses, associated with greater flexibility, problem-solving capacity and a more efficient elaboration of negative information.”
Studies also show that optimism can be learned. I often hear people say, “I am just a glass half empty kind of person.” That may be true in the past, however, with practice, that same person has the opportunity to become a “glass half full” person!
Just think about it…if someone told you that you could positively impact your immune system by practicing optimism would you jump at that opportunity?
This study finds that “Optimism has been proven to improve the immune system, prevent chronic disease, and help people cope with unfortunate news. Gratitude is associated with optimism and has been determined that grateful people are happier, receive more social support, are less stressed, and are less depressed. Recent research indicates that optimists and pessimists approach problems differently, and their ability to cope successfully with adversity differs as a result.”
Tips for Moving Toward the Light
"A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty." ~ Winston Churchill
Here are a few small ways to practice optimism…
- Gratitude – I can hear some of you groaning now! But really…it is amazing how installing a small gratitude practice in your day can increase your optimism and make you feel good. Find something to be grateful for every day…make this a practice with your team, your family, yourself.
- Fulfillment – Do something that makes you feel fulfilled. Volunteering to help others is a great way to get outside yourself. By doing acts of kindness for others you actually boost your own immune system.
The article below shares this tip: “Kindness doesn’t require a monetary outlay, especially if money is tight. Pass on a poem that touched you deeply to someone. Comment on a friend’s LinkedIn or Facebook post. Send a snail-mail note of appreciation to someone in your family. Think of those who could benefit from your thoughtfulness and generosity, and then come up with an appropriate gesture.”
- Listen without judgment and solutions - Most of us, when we are listening to someone talk about some problems they are experiencing, with all good intentions want to help them solve their problem or make things better for them in some way. Or we might be pushing someone to talk about something we think is bothering them. Some people are not even at a place where they can talk about their pain. Perhaps they are still in a state of shock. For some, things are so big and so profound that they need time to process, time to grieve. Grieving does not just happen due to the loss of a loved one. The grieving process can kick in for any loss, loss of a job, loss of freedom, loss of a friendship, loss of a role, etc. Don’t move over ‘the grief’ or the problem too fast with the person. Sometimes just being with someone to listen without needing to problem solve is the best support you can give. Also, for yourself, don’t be afraid to ask of someone, “I don’t need solutions right now, I just need someone to listen.”
- Be transparent – It’s okay for your team and family to see you vulnerable, it makes you human. One leader told the story of how her husband was having a pretty serious surgery and she wasn’t planning on telling her team as she didn’t want them to think it would affect her ability to support them. She finally decided to share the situation and her team rallied around her and provided her with the support she really needed in the moment. Basically, they told her “We got this! You go be where you are most needed right now.” Many months later she shared, “I was so worried about appearing weak. What I didn’t anticipate was that this moment of transparency actually resulted in building more strength within our whole team.” By opening up, and letting her team know how they could support her, she equaled the playing field with the team…we all need each other. Everyone on the team at times is the leader and the strength and at times is in need of the team’s support. She did a beautiful job of modelling transparency and the result was strength, not weakness!
- Focus on what you can control – so often we stress about things that are outside our control. This kind of stress impacts our overall health and wellbeing. Many studies have shown a connection between a person's sense of control and health. Find the things you can control and keep your focus on them. Ask yourself, “Is this within my control to change?” If not, find something about that situation that is within your control and focus on changing that.
Ask yourself…are you focused on the tunnel or are you focused on the light?
Are you seeing the difficulties or the opportunities in the difficulties?
What can you control that will lead to your increased health and wellbeing?
What will be the ripple effect on your family and team if you refocus on the light and ramp up your optimism practice?
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