"Even if your natural tendency is to focus on the negative, you can learn to redirect pessimistic thoughts and frame them in a more optimistic light," says Caroline Adams Miller, Washington, D.C.-based professional coach and author of "Creating Your Best Life." "Optimists expect good things to happen in their lives and work toward creating positive change to make those good things come true. Pessimistic people come up with reasons why they shouldn't even try."
It takes work, but it's worth the effort. Miller points to research showing that optimists tend to be happier, living longer and healthier lives with stronger relationships.
Take-away tip: Even if you tend to focus on the negative, you can learn to redirect pessimistic thoughts and frame them in a more optimistic light.
To become a more optimistic thinker, look inward and listen to what's playing on your "internal radio station," says Karen Reivich, Ph.D., research associate at the University of Pennsylvania's Positive Psychology Center and co-author of "The Resilience Factor."
Your personal playlist sends you messages when you're running late for a meeting, deciding whether to go for a run, or struggling to get dinner on the table for your hungry family after work. Building awareness of what's playing in your head is a critical first step to learning how to become more optimistic, says Reivich. Figure out if you're sending yourself negative warnings or soothing tips that help you put things in perspective.
"One of the most important ways to promote optimism is to learn how to challenge your own negative beliefs or your tendency to catastrophize situations and give up too soon," says Reivich.
Jot it down: Channel your positivity by writing several daily hopeful thoughts, along with personal evidence of positive outcomes. Writing at least two "optimisms" daily for six weeks can make a dramatic difference in your life. By writing down optimisms, you begin to realize good things are just as likely to happen as bad things.
"The ability to find and use evidence to contradict pessimistic thoughts is what we call real-time resilience," says Karen Reivich, Ph.D., research associate at the University of Pennsylvania's Positive Psychology Center and co-author of "The Resilience Factor."
"It quiets the self and enhances a sense of confidence and competence and optimism. That's something anyone can practice," she says.
Make life lists. Write down five goals that you've achieved and that you enjoy thinking about, says Miller. Research shows that the happiest people have clear-cut life goals, take risks, and persevere. Then, on a fresh sheet of paper, write down five goals that you'd like to accomplish. Goals should be specific, measurable, meaningful, and challenging.
Silence your inner critic. Aim for a three-to-one ratio of positive to negative comments and thoughts. If you catch yourself with a negative thought, fight back by repeating a positive affirmation.
Take a time-out. Every day, set aside time -- even if it¿s just five minutes -- to appreciate the beauty around you, from your child's gleeful giggles to a full moon to the first signs of spring.
Treasure the moment. With your family, decorate a treasure box and fill it with blank index cards. Throughout the week, write down any special moments that happen and ask everyone to do the same. At dinner (or when the family gathers), take turns pulling a treasure from the box and reading it aloud. This exercise boosts optimistic thinking and encourages conversation.