We all know the value of good nutrition and exercise to improve and sustain physical health. But a surprising psychological trait is vital as well: optimism. The trait is often misunderstood. It is not simply a happy, hopeful, smiling approach to life. Optimism is how we approach adversity. Optimists actually plan for the future, anticipate and prepare for challenges, and when health or relationship or work problems arise, they assume there are solutions no matter how overwhelming and daunting the circumstances. They persist and ask others to help.
What is surprising is how powerfully optimism impacts our success in life. Optimism has been found to increase long-term health and improve recovery time from surgery and heart attacks. One study found that it reduced the risk of developing Alzheimer's. Optimists are more successful in dieting since they assume they will eventually succeed. There is some evidence that optimism has a genetic component, but it is also been proven that optimism can be learned.
Two strategies have been found to be successful in developing optimism. One is to write out what your life will look like in the future including all the steps you imagine having taken to achieve this ideal future. Do this for 15 or 20 minutes four days in a row. The second strategy is to use a technique called "mind sculpture." For a minute, close your eyes and imagine yourself taking one of the daily steps you would take to achieve the successful future you have envisioned. Do this daily. Your optimism will help you on your path and be an inspiration to others.
Robert Maurer is a Spokane psychologist, consultant and author of One Small Step Can Change Your Life.