amed for his wit in the 15th Century to spice up his pursuit of philosophy, Voltaire once described optimism as “the madness of insisting that all is well when we are miserable.” Despite the seemingly dower approach from the masses, the influence of optimism is now one of the worst kept secrets within the corporate environment, with the average American company increasing their investment into employee wellbeing by $200 per year, in the last three years. Interestingly, the irony of de-valuing optimism as a fruitless, disconnected state from reality actually has the opposite effect on those who see the glass-half-full; Monday blues may be a real thing but that doesn’t stop us from coming to work to smash our targets and relay new goals for bigger and better projects.
Naturally, something that is worth doing is easier said than done. Feeling great about the day, the potential it has and all the pending work is a challenge when you have five deadlines looming or share an office with a colleague who refused to pick up the slack. But our psychology is malleable by default, meaning that if we invest time in the 21 days it takes to form a habit – as we already have in working our way up the career ladder – the signs suggest that with a little effort, anyone can change their outlook and reap the benefits of positivity and optimism. Lay the foundations for your new way of thinking with these five essential points.
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The Attitude of Gratitude
The old adage says that we should be thankful for what we have, instead of focusing on what we lack and although navigating our careers on idealistic mantras is the entire recipe for success, it is possible. In a joint study between the University of Miami and University of California Davies, an inextricable link between gratitude and well-being in the workplace was highlighted, all kindled from a willingness to try. Those who kept a gratitude journal on a weekly basis felt better about their lives as a whole and would naturally be more optimistic about the forthcoming week. The study also showed that those who maintained a self-guided sense of gratitude reported higher levels of alertness, enthusiasm and energy and found it easier to focus on work when making an active effort to be more productive. A journal may be a relic of the past for most, but in cultivating a natural inclination to engage with your work – something you enjoy, as part of a career you relish – it would seem the simple, physical recording and reflection of your most appreciated moment has a domino effect on your psychology. What goes around comes around so go forth and spread the joy.
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Make ‘isness’ your business
The power of ‘being present’ isn’t something everyone is willing to try – mainly as we’re all so focused on getting the job done by default. But according to career guru and all-round positive person Marie Forleo, channelling everything we have into the ‘now’ is a key component in wielding optimism in the workplace; or in her own words, “make isness your business”. “You must bring your whole self to the table if you want to thrive in today’s world” says Forleo, stressing the importance of seeing and valuing the present as the only resource you need to make the future more fruitful. “Mental visions are exciting” she says, “but what is also important is how you go about making those exciting visions come to life”. This is not to say one should stop working towards long-term goals but in order to succeed, we need to invest in the now; changing your outlook to appreciate today’s accomplishments as well as investing in end-game goals. If you have a tedious task to do, don’t just do it, but do it to the best of your ability and believe that you know you have what it takes to thrive at something you don’t enjoy. In turn, this feeds into handling any situation -- even if it’s not ideal-- with poise, grace and now, gratitude.
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Optimism Breeds Resilience
The road to success will always be paved with pot holes and diversions making resiliency key. “An optimist understands that life can be a bumpy road, but at least it is leading somewhere. They learn from mistakes and failures, and are not afraid to fail again” says entrepreneur Harvey Mackay, founder of Macaky Mitchell Envelope Company, “it may not be your fault for being knocked down, but it is certainly your fault for not getting up.” Mackay elaborates on the power of “the business attitude” in kindling morning motivation, drawing on research from the University of Pennsylvania with investment body, Metropolitan Life. In developing a test to distinguish optimists from pessimists when hiring sale people, the results drew a clean line between them with the optimists outselling the pessimist by 20% in the first year. Evidently, the unwavering, self-motivated belief that you can pick yourself up and try again is something held in high regard in psychology, thus should be treated with equal respect in the office. “More than education, more than experience, more than training, a person’s level of resilience will determine who succeeds and who fails” Dean Becker, the president and CEO of Adaptiv Learning Systems told Harvard Business review “that’s true in the cancer ward, it’s true in the Olympics, and it’s true in the boardroom.”
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Lead by Example
Leading by example goes hand in hand with faking it until you make it. When in a position of power, one has to lead by example by default. Although an optimistic personality can be translated as false and disconnected from the nature of your work, evidence from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission proves otherwise. The banks analysed in a study were found to be more likely to lend to optimistic entrepreneurs than those who erred on the side of caution, feeding into the idea that good leaders are ones that inspire and motivate just as much as they focus on the end goal. Likewise, Karen Blackett, chairwoman of MediaComm UK, focused on the importance of keeping a clear head and realistic perspective at work, but wanted to find a balance in bring realistic whilst leading with an optimistic approach. “I get a much happier, more loyal employee if you feel I understand your life as well as your work.” We all look to our superiors for our deadlines and to instill a sense of structure in the workplace, but knowing we can take motivation and a serious morale boost from the same source makes the concept of teamwork all the more effective. Even if you aren’t in a leadership position, make an effort to see the glass half-full to kindle the same attitude in your colleagues.