How to Be More Optimistic When It Just Doesn't Come Naturally For You

It’s not easy to be optimistic. The world around us is progressing, the Earth is basically throwing a temper-tantrum and college can be freaking stressful. It’s so easy to feel the weight of all your stress crushing down on you—especially during the beginning of the school year.

Though it may be tempting to lean into your pessimistic tendencies, adopting a more positive way of thinking can ultimately benefit your life.

“Research has shown that cultivating an optimistic mindset has many benefits: better control over stressors, increased problem solving, stronger coping skills, improved psychological well-being,” says Jess Hopkins, a certified millennial life coach who holds master’s degrees in counseling psychology and applied positive psychology.

How can you try and up your optimism levels? We have some tips that will hopefully put you on the path to thinking positive in no time!

1. Take care of yourself

We’ve heard so much about self-care routines that they’ve begun to seem redundant. However, self-care can ultimately help improve your overall outlook on life. If you don’t give yourself the time and permission to relax and reflect on your life, your brain may get tired and stop working at full capacity—ultimately causing you to have more negative reactions to stressors.

“My philosophy around self-care is this: if it’s not scheduled, it doesn’t exist. We’re all overbooked and overworked these days, so it’s imperative to intentionally carve out time in your calendar for things like workout classes, meditation and quiet down time,” Hopkins says.

If you carve out time to focus on yourself, you’re more likely to experience improved mental health and positive outlook.

2. Rely on a calendar to keep your life straight—not your own memory

Similar to scheduling your own self-care time, it’s important to have a schedule for the other parts of your life as well. Trying to remember everything can leave your brain feeling constantly distracted, and more susceptible to going down a negative thought spiral. 

Veronika Potylitsina, a fourth-year student at the University of Toronto, says that keeping a calendar helps clear her mind. “I feel like my pessimism comes from me being anxious and when I feel like I don't have my day planned or something similar,” she says. “So with that, I usually bullet journal my weekly tasks and the like. This gives me some ease of mind and ends up making me look forward to the week knowing I have it basically planned out.”

Though doing this won’t immediately make you more optimistic, it will help you reduce some of the reasons you may be stressed.  

3. Reflect on your attitude

One of the best ways to change your attitude is to be aware of what you want to change. If you reflect on your actions, you can pinpoint specific repetitive responses that may be contributing to the attitude you’re trying to change.

“Optimistic people compartmentalize setbacks, whereas pessimistic people assume that failure in one area of life means failure in life as a whole,” says Hopkins.

Reflecting on your positive traits and the times you’ve done something you’re proud of can help as well. If a significant amount of your negativity is directed at yourself, positive reflection will make you remember that you can conquer whatever obstacle you’re facing.

“Something that helps me when I'm feeling down or negative is thinking back to a previous occasion when I felt negatively about an experience and how I managed to overcome that experience and succeed,” says Nellie Hultman, a sophomore at the Soka University of America. “It makes me realize that I will get through this new occasion as well, and allows me to feel more optimistic about what is going on in the present.” 

Reflecting on your attitude may not always help you take on a more positive attitude when dealing with other people, but it will definitely help you be kinder and more optimistic towards yourself.

4. Make a happy list

We all love a good list, right? Good news: you can incorporate list-making into your routine to be more optimistic.

“Once you’ve noticed that you’re getting hooked by the pessimistic thinking style, ground yourself by taking a few deep breaths or practice another relaxation skill like meditation,” says Hopkins. Making a happy list, like meditation, is a great way to ground yourself into thinking about the positives of your life.

The list is essentially a compilation of everything that makes you feel happy or grateful. It can be compiled over the course of a day, a week, or even a year. Regardless, it will become an archive of reminders of moments where you were feeling happy and optimistic.

“Challenge yourself to make a list of things you’re grateful for a week. You can pick a specific number each day, like write down in your journal ‘5 Positive Things That Happened Today,’ etc. If you're feeling overwhelmed with life or like you wish you could escape it, find a good book and escape in there for a little bit,” says Emilie Trepanier, a senior at the University of Utah.

Happy lists can be reminders of positive moments in your life, and they can force you to focus on what in your life is positive. If you incorporate this into your everyday routine, you know that at least a portion of your day will be spent focusing on being more optimistic about the world around you.

5. When you start to feel overwhelmed, go to your happy place

One of the best immediate reprieves from a negative attitude happens when you go to a place you know will bring you joy. For some people, this may mean going to a bookstore and immersing themselves in the smell of old books. For others, it may mean spending time with their significant other.

“Usually I'll go down by the water to just breathe and get all of the bad vibes away,” says Katie Nealon, a junior at Stony Brook University.

Going to the place that makes you the happiest will refresh your mind and ground you. You’ll be able to take a moment away from life to relax and breathe.

It’s not easy being optimistic—it definitely takes work. But, it’s worth it! Trying to incorporate a more optimistic way of thinking will help you in the long run, as well as help your relationships with those around you.