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The skeptic’s guide to becoming an optimist


OptimismThe prevailing wisdom generally holds that people come into this world either glass-half-full types, brimming with hope and confidence, or members of the glass-half-empty camp. (Womp womp.)

But according to action-based therapist Leigh Weinraub (who’s been known to lend an ear to the Kardashian clan), optimism is absolutely something that anyone can cultivate, and should.

Leigh“Choosing an optimistic way of thinking is simply a smarter way to live your life, because it increases your odds of thriving,” she says, citing professional athletes, who have to believe “relentlessly, unequivocally, ‘I’m going to win.'” And indeed, positive thinking has been linked to everything from increased lifespan to better odds of getting approved for a loan.

Here Weinraub—who is renowned for her coaching work at Arizona’s Miraval Resort and is the founder of M by Mind in Motion apparel—offers tips on cultivating optimism, even if it seems just so totally not you:

Accept your natural negativity. Good news for skeptics: “We all have a tendency toward negative thinking,” Weinraub says. “There’s not a person in the world who doesn’t have distorted, irrational thinking.” It’s partly an evolutionary survival mechanism, she says—as in, you’re more likely to fare well if you’re always on the lookout for tigers or some other potential catastrophe. So don’t waste time feeling ashamed if you naturally come from a somewhat negative place.

optimism_happilyTame your inner Rottweiler. Just because you acknowledge your natural negativity, doesn’t mean you have to embrace it. You’ve got to change your thinking, and imagery can help.

Weinraub urges clients to imagine their brain has two dogs in it—a small, relatively quiet Maltese and a snarling, nasty Rottweiler. “Right now, your negative thoughts are the Rottweiler, they’re big and loud, but the Maltese is in there yipping and saying, ‘Yes, you can start fresh today,'” Weinraub says. To become more optimistic, you have to “swap the barks” you hear, and consciously calling up that image can help.

Find someone to argue with you. Equally important, according to Weinraub, are outside “disputers” who will help call out your negative thinking. But they have to really get you.

“You can give me 10 people to dispute my negative thinking and nine out of those 10 might suck for me, but then there’s that one person who says, ‘Leigh, are you crazy?’ and it clicks,” she says. “When you find that person who disputes you with love, it’s precious. Hold onto it.”

optimism_smilePractice, practice, practice. Reading an article on cultivating optimism is a good first step, but it’s only the very beginning. You’re developing a new competency, Weinraub says, and in order to succeed, you have to sit down and call out your thoughts, or call up your disputer, daily, hourly, even minute-by-minute.

“In the span of several months, you’re going to see that you’re honing that competency,” she says. “Then, long down the road, you will be unconsciously competent.” Even then, she says it’s important to work at it: “You have to love the fact that it’s a lifelong journey.”

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(Photos: Flickr; Leigh Weinraub)