Some people think optimism is just looking at the bright side of everything. That no matter what life throws your way, you should look for the reason or benefit. But that isn’t the full picture of optimism. Optimism is being hopeful about the future and having the confidence of a successful outcome.
The opposite of optimism is pessimism. The pessimistic student watches and waits for something to go wrong. For example, the student might assume the worst when they turn in their dissertation draft, imagining all the negative feedback they will likely get. After all, the purpose of the draft is to have the faculty member point out areas for improvement. One of the problems with this strategy is that you live in a well of negativity that doesn’t feel very good. It zaps your motivation and makes your academic journey more difficult than it needs to be.
Looking for the bright side of challenges is a helpful strategy. You can train your brain to assume the best about any situation, instead of automatically defaulting to assume the worst. Conditioning positivity can reduce the time spent in the well of negativity. An even more useful strategy is to take it a step further by becoming optimistic.
How to cultivate optimism
If you default to pessimism, here’s how you can cultivate optimism, even when life keeps throwing you curveballs. The next time you are dreading something about the future, or are faced with an undesirable situation, like a lot of corrections from your chair, remind yourself to stay in the present and focus on the solution and not the problem. Ask yourself, what is one thing you could do that is likely to make the situation better. Just one thing. Right now. That will be an improvement. Put your trust into that one thing to make things a little better. Perhaps the thing that could make the situation better is to stop being hard on yourself and reflect on what you have accomplished so far. Taking one small action with hope creates forward momentum and possibility.
Wash, rinse, and repeat
Building a habit of optimism takes time. It also takes a willingness to believe in yourself, and that you have agency over your future. Practicing optimism calms your soul and makes your future look brighter. Optimism creates peace in the present.
If you struggle to be optimistic about your doctoral journey, a coach can help you build trust in your capacity to handle whatever the future brings. I’d like to be your coach. Click here to coach with me.