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4 Ways Optimism Benefits Your Health

Shift your mindset to notice the good—and make good on your fitness goals.

Photo: Austin Schmid / Unsplash

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Getting ahead in life doesn’t just come down to hard work. Your attitude also plays a huge role, and with optimism on your side, you can achieve more than someone with a half-empty attitude. Of course, that’s easier said than done: Positivity might not be your default setting, but with a little effort, you can infuse more optimism into your life. “Our brains have plasticity, which means they’re easily shaped and molded so you can always learn new behavior patterns,” says Colleen D. Cira, Psy.D., founder and executive director of the Cira Center for Behavioral Health in Chicago and Oak Park, Illinois.

Everyone can benefit from becoming more positive in terms of overall health and well-being, but for an athlete, switching your brain to recognize the good in a seemingly bad situation also can make or break your performance and your progress. Here’s why.

You May Reach Your Goals Faster

When you notice the good, you expect positive things to happen, which in turn affects your behavior. “If you’re thinking positively, you’re more likely to act in accordance with that mindset,” Cira says. For instance, if you believe that by putting in the work you’ll be able to run a marathon, you’re more likely to make it happen by creating a plan and sticking to a running schedule.

You May Sleep Better and Recover Faster

When you sleep, your body does the majority of its repairs and recovering, and according to a study published in Behavioral Medicine, optimistic individuals tend to sleep longer and better. Researchers hypothesize that optimists may interpret stressful events in more positive ways and are more likely to use problem-focused coping strategies, helping reduce their worries when trying to sleep.

You May Rebound Faster From Setbacks

“When optimistic people encounter negative events, they tend to view the causes of those events as temporary and external rather than personal, which can help them cope more effectively,” says Lewina O. Lee, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine. For example, if you fall short of an exercise goal, you’ll be less likely to blame yourself and will have an easier time getting back on track without dwelling on your failures.

You May Live Longer

In a study from the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers found that optimism could extend your life span by 11 to 15 percent. Optimists also had a greater chance of living to age 85 or beyond largely because they were more likely to engage in healthier habits. This gives you more time to tick off those items on your active bucket list.

1, 2, 3—Optimism!

Even if you’re working hard to see the good, not every day will be unicorns and rainbows. When those pessimistic moments start to creep in, shift back into a positive gear with these three steps:

  1. Notice your thoughts. How often are you focusing on the good versus the bad? “By noticing this, you can become more deliberate about where and how you focus your energy,” Cira says.
  2. Move from thinking to feeling. Once you notice that you’re feeling sad, angry, disappointed, or frustrated, allow yourself to feel those emotions. Often writing, yelling or crying about it can help you accept your feelings, and they will cease to be on an endless mental replay.
  3. Take a step back. In most cases when you’re spiraling, you’re not being rational. “By forcing yourself to be objective, you’re likely to find that the situation isn’t as dire as you thought,” Cira says. Giving yourself a little perspective also allows you to assess and possibly even correct the issue without being overly emotional and reactive.

All that being said, becoming an optimist does not mean that you can’t feel sad, angry, frustrated or disappointed. Nor should you try to force yourself to be positive about absolutely everything because it can minimize how you feel. “It’s not the end-all-be-all solution for every problem, but being optimistic is a tool for living a more meaningful life,” Cira says.

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