You can escape the negative effects of pessimism by learning to reframe your thoughts. Reframing allows you to break out of single, pessimistic interpretations of events by training yourself to look for more optimistic possibilities.
The effects of constant negativity – the way your mind always seems to want to predict a negative outcome – are well known. Pervasive negativity is linked to our explanatory style, and also can be a predictor of depression.
One way to shift pessimistic thinking and open up new, more optimistic horizons is to use reframing. A reframe is a new interpretation of an experience; to view it from a different perspective. In this case (of training yourself towards optimism), from a single, negative interpretation, to a set of more optimistic possibilities.
Who among us has not found themselves struggling with some difficulty, unable to see a way out of it because we are caught in the trap of our own making: we only have one way of interpreting an event and that interpretation hurts or upsets us.
For example, pessimistically, someone might think:
“I’ve left Sanjit two voicemails but he hasn’t called me back. I won’t both again, he obviously doesn’t think I’m important.”
This self-limiting thought has two parts to it. The first describes an ‘event’, the second, “…he doesn’t think I’m important”, is an interpretation of the event. It is this part that could be usefully be reframed to offer a few less demoralising, alternative interpretations. For example:
“He might be busy.”
“He could have lost his ‘phone.”
“Perhaps he missed the message.”
Any one of these will be less upsetting than the single interpretation “…he doesn’t think I’m important”.
When retraining your mind out of the habit of always looking for the downside, the important thing is to realise that there are other, equally valid, explanations. So reframing is about encouraging yourself into the habit of challenging those automatic, negative expectations with equally feasible explanations which are less damaging. As you become more proficient at this way of controlling your thoughts, you’ll begin to see that those alternatives can also offer new possibilities. For example:
“He didn’t call me back, maybe he missed it, I’ll call again”, or “I expect he was busy, I’ll text a reminder and ask him to call when he has time”.
Reframing offers the chance to break up rigid patterns of thinking. It allows you to shift from a demoralising negative perspective to a more positive, forward-looking one which also provides possibilities for action.
Reframing creates alternatives, which helps you to see new possibilities. To begin to practice the skill of reframing – and to retrain your mind to think more optimistically – spend a few minutes each day doing the following:
Think of a situation or an event that you viewed pessimistically. Maybe it made you feel a little helpless or hopeless, and your certainly didn’t feel optimistic about where it would lead.
Then ask yourself three questions:
- “What are some other possible explanations for why this could have happened?”
- “Is there a different way to look at this situation?”
- How could I reframe this (situation) as a challenge?”
Experiment with these questions to escape the negative effects of pessimism. Retraining your thinking needs repetition, so do this regularly. Note how you feel as you do it. You should feel a little more optimistic with each new possibility.
Have fun with it! The important thing about reframing is to understand that other perspectives exist. You don’t necessarily have to accept them as the ‘right’ explanation. They are possibilities, that is all.
If, at first, this seems hard to challenge your pessimism like this, remember, that the explanations produced by your old, pessimistic style of thinking were no more substantial. They were simply flights of fancy dreamt up by a negative thinking style. When you reframe, you learn that there are other valid explanations to choose from which offer more possibilities.