3 Steps To Navigating Uncertainty With Optimism

3 Steps To Navigating Uncertainty With Optimism

Apr 13, 2020 01:04 PM

3 Steps To Navigating Uncertainty With Optimism

Life is not meant to be easy. Or is it?

“Hard choices, easy life. Easy choices, hard life.”

It’s ok, not to be ok – but is it ok to remain in that frame without action? When we feel down and at a low point our choices are:

  1. We choose to remain in that low ebb, negative frame

  2. We choose to do something to make ourselves feel better

The primary reasons stopping us from being our best is.

  1. The lack of optimism we have in ourselves and from others

  2. Our emotional intelligence — specifically, our ability to understand and manage our emotions, what psychologists call emotional regulation

Unless we have a basic frame of optimism in our lives we will never be content or happy. Many of us chase the rabbit wheel of happiness, running for it every day but never going anywhere.

I will be happy when ....  becomes the mantra. I will be happy when I find true love, I will be happy when I get a new job. I will be happy when my work day is finished. I will be happy when the current crisis is over. Then what?

“Happiness is not a destination it’s a state of being.”

 And thankfully we can put ourselves in that state more frequently by learning optimism.

What is optimism? let us first nail down what it is not, optimism is not sticking your head in the sand and being oblivious to the challenges of life, or pretending that there are no challenges when their quite clearly are.

Optimistic people actually identify problems quicker than others, once they identify the problem then they ACT. They find solutions quickly and move on. If they’re not feeling ok they ask themselves why? If they don’t have the answers they ask others why? Then they act to identify the solution.

“Man does not simply exist but always decides what his existence will be, what he will become the next moment. By the same token, every human being has the freedom to change at any instant.”

Viktor Frankl

Our power is in our action, approaching the problem and identifying a solution. The obstacle - to whatever it is that is making us feel less than our best, below our norm, ‘not ok’, is the way.

“He says the best way out is always through, And I agree to that, or in so far as I can see no way out but through.”

Robert Frost

Sadly, many of us have been living a lie. We have lived in the safety net of life with fear of expressing who we truly are. The fear that our truthful self-expression - may lead to judgment, ridicule and even laughter. If were ‘not ok’, well that’s ‘ok’ we will move through another day in a societal fog. Where the day is run by emails, by social media, by capitalism, by others and by our own inner thoughts of worthlessness and pessimism.

Safety is overrated. There is another way. The power to create that other way lies dormant within many. Waiting for the spark that ignites the flame to break free and be who you are. To be, ‘happy in ourselves’ despite what is happening around us. To be, ‘ok’.  

“Our deepest fear is not that we are weak. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world ... As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Nelson Mandela

It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us . . .

If we are willing to do the hard work on the interior of our lives now, there are absolutely no limits to our growth and our potential.

But what if I’m just not optimistic? Thankfully it can be learned. And its quite simple to understand. Psychology now shows the hard science behind optimism and proves unequivocally its proven benefits. Optimism effects outcomes in relationships, optimists have a greater quality of life, greater emotional wellbeing and are happier, they stay on in high stress jobs more than their less optimistic peers, they sell more, and they live longer! Optimistic athletes have also been proven to perform better in high stress situations.

If we want to see the light, its time we stepped up and into the actions that will take us there. It’s time we faced down our fears. It’ time we liberated ourselves and others from the shackles of darkness.

Well, ‘How’?

Part 1

Personalization: How personal do we take the setbacks or the challenges in our lives. Do we interpret them as something personal, just part of who we are or was the setback or challenge more external.

Optimists can identify the factors outside themselves that have caused a setback or a challenge. They understand that cause of the setback can be attributed to other factors and lifes challenges are not a representation of who they are.

Say you lose a tennis match. A pessimistic player will interpret the cause as personal (‘I failed’).  This contrasts with an optimist who allows for non-personal factors (‘grass just isn’t my surface’).

Part 2

Permanence: How permanent do we believe our challenges are? If I am ‘not ok’ is that going to be forever? Or just for a period of time? The difference between perceiving an event as permanent or temporary can be life altering.

Pessimists interpret setbacks as permanent (‘I’ll never succeed at this level’).  In contrast, an optimist sees the setback as only temporary (‘I didn’t prepare well this time/I had a cold’).

Part 3

Pervasiveness: Do we see our setbacks as all encompassing? Representing all of our life or maybe we see them as confined to a specific area.

Pessimists see setbacks as all-pervasive (‘nothing works out for me’).  In contrast, the optimist sees the setback as narrowly contained or confined to one area of life (‘I still have a life outside of playing tennis’).

Optimism is external, unstable and specific. Our challenges in life do not define us, our emotions do not define us, our REACTIONS do. If we are not ok it doesn’t mean we will have this feeling forever.  It does not mean it represents everything in our lives. The human body and mind has the power and resources to bounce back from almost anything. There is always another way. In fact that feeling, that emotion might be the very thing we needed to regain control over our lives, commit to action, approach our challenges and go through them.

“Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain't all sunshine and rainbows. It's a very mean and nasty place and I don't care how tough you are it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain't about how hard ya hit. It's about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That's how winning is done!” 

Sylvester Stallone

Optimism is not a magic bullet, it’s a belief system.

Optimists do not think the world is all sunshine and rainbows, optimists are better than pessimists at actually identifying problems. Therefore they can effect the change and/or outcome of a situation.

They see situations as challenges and not a threat.

They identify whats in their control to influence or leverage. The optimist says this piece of this problem I can do something about it whilst the pessimist focuses on the aspects of the problem she can do nothing about.

It's not just control that the optimist focuses on. The optimist is more likely to accept the aspects of the situation that he or she can't control. So rather than focusing on parts of the situation that I can't change anyway, the optimist focuses on the parts that he or she can change, and accepts the parts that he or she can't. Think about what that means for our energy. If our energy is going toward changing what's changeable.

Optimists approach the problem whilst pessimists withdraw. Optimists are more likely to seek more information. The optimist is more likely to ask for help. Optimists even use humor as a coping strategy.

If you're identifying problems, seeing challenge not threats, focusing on what you can control, taking purposeful action, and not sweating the stuff you can't do anything about. If you're asking for help, and making plans, and taking action, and using humor, if you think about that constellation of ingredients of an optimist, you can see how those thoughts and behaviors, lead to the life changes we've talked about.

Simply, optimism leads to really important behavioral differences, and those behavioral differences affect our health, our relationships and our mortality!

Here are some questions to get us thinking:

Who are you really?

What are your values?

What is important now?

How are you really feeling about your life right now?

Do you approach or withdraw from problems?

Do you fear being ‘powerful beyond measure’?

Are you afraid of the light?

Do you identify factors outside yourself to explain setbacks and challenges?

Do you see setbacks as temporary?

Do you see setbacks as an isolated area of your life?

Do you see the solution?

Do you see a better way?

Are you getting the most out of your life?

What will you do now?

If you want to continue to take your thinking to the next level,

Inspiring Excellence delivers bespoke corporate training programs on Navigating Uncertainty. The programs are based on positive psychology and the resilience required to take you and your organization to the next level. Programs are all based on the revolutionary work of the ‘father of modern psychology’, Professor Martin Seligman.

These events equip employees with a set of practical skills that can be applied in everyday life to strengthen their ability to overcome adversity, challenges, manage stress, and thrive in their personal and professional life.


Decades of empirical studies indicate that positive psychology:

  • Increases well-being and optimism

  • Reduces and prevents depression, anxiety, and conduct problems

  • Improves physical health

  • Improves work productivity

  • Decreases absenteeism


For more information check out www.inspiringexcellence.ie , contact perform@inspiringexcellence.ie or learn your own positive character strengths like 5 million others at http://www.viacharacter.org/www/Character-Strengths-Survey

“We are not what happens to us, we are what we choose to become.”