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Thomas Alva Edison.
Thomas Alva Edison. (Check with Baltimore Sun Photo)

Thomas Edison once quipped, “I failed my way to success.” Well known for his tenacious pursuit of perfecting the light bulb, we can only wonder what our lives would be like today if Edison had been a pessimist.

Rather than benefiting from his single-minded determination to illuminate the world, we all might be languishing in darkness had he allowed himself to feel frustrated and hopeless.

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Optimism is a key positive psychology principle. It’s how people who achieve success and satisfaction think about life. There are two dimensions in which optimism has been found to make a difference in your life. One is your ability to dream, particularly by helping you to convert your deepest desires into a series of achievable goals.

The second way in which optimism helps is by making it easier to deal with the inevitable setbacks and struggles that you’ll encounter while striving to achieve positive outcomes.

Optimists have a strong belief that their goals can be accomplished somehow. Studies show that optimists spend much more time thinking about the specific steps they need to take to reach their goals than their pessimistic counterparts. Some people (pessimists?) believe that optimists are naive Pollyanna’s. No so, say scientists. Studies show that using optimistic thinking is essential for feeling hopeful, empowered, capable, and energetic.

Why? Optimists are able to attribute the setbacks that they experience to causes that are temporary, specific to the situation, and external to themselves. Pessimists, on the other hand, tend to tell themselves that failures are permanent, pervasive, and personal. While we all hate the feelings of frustration that we feel when we fail, optimists are able to heal their hurt, sometimes almost instantly. Pessimists, on the other hand, hold onto their hurt, often allowing it to congeal into a grudge against other people or a loss of confidence in themselves.

Learn to be more optimistic by visualizing your best possible future. Start taking time to contemplate your most important values and deeply held desires. Recall when you were at your best when achieving a goal in the past. Then picture your best possible self using those same approaches to achieve a current ambition. That will stimulate the passion you’ll need for working long and hard until you realize your dream.

The most effective method for increasing optimism is to write about your goals and what you believe it will take to reach them. Writing helps you to integrate your dreams into reality. It forces you into a systematic and structured approach by organizing and analyzing your thoughts.

Writing gives you an opportunity to reflect on what aspects of your past makes your goals personally meaningful. Writing allows you to think through what it will take to achieve your dreams. It helps you understand how you’ll need to grow by cultivating planning capabilities, learning new skills, and developing relationships with people who can support you.

Once you’ve created a long-term vision, you’re in a position to write about accomplishing the small steps that you will need to take in the present to keep yourself moving forward. You can also write about the obstacles and conflicts that you may encounter, which allows you to think through contingency plans for contending with challenges.

To cope well with stress, I’d strongly suggest that you continue your writing exercises. Carefully scrutinize your writing about coping with potential barriers. Look for pessimistic thoughts that would serve to stymie your progress. Write about what you have learned regarding overcoming obstacles in the past that will serve you well going forward.

Optimistic thinking enables you to be more confident in your ability to achieve your goals, which means that you will likely make more of an effort to reach those positive outcomes. Optimists are more engaged and perseverant in pursuing their goals, which is why study after study has shown that they’re more successful in both the personal and professional dimensions of life.

Optimists have been found to have a much higher level of satisfaction with their life because they are much more resilient when dealing with stress. They don’t deny the difficulties they face in situations but are much more accepting of the fact that challenges are a part of what it takes to achieve a successful result.

This allows them to maintain a more positive mood and stronger collaboration with others. Maintaining a high level of positivity opens people up to possibility thinking, enables them to focus on strengths, and gives them feelings of being able to control their destiny.

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