Hoping and believing things will turn out for the best—that’s what optimists typically do. People who rebound from setbacks to achieve remarkable feats aren’t so passive. Instead of surrendering control of what they hope and believe will happen to outside forces, they act in ways to increase the likelihood things will indeed turn out for the best. Active optimists expect success and work to make it happen.
Based on decades of research into the mindsets and practices of successful people who’ve overcome staggering challenges, George Everly Jr., Ph.D., Douglas A. Strouse, Ph.D., and Dennis K. McCormack, Ph.D., identify active optimism as the leading factor in personal resilience—the ability to tolerate stress, see opportunities in adversity, and keep pushing forward. As they share in their new book, STRONGER: Develop the Resilience You Need to Succeed (AMACOM; August 2015), it’s a quality anyone can develop. For those eager to build and benefit from active optimism, the authors offer these prescriptions:
- Harness the power of optimism and the self-fulfilling prophecy. Optimism increases with each experience of success. So, program yourself to be successful. To put success within easier reach, break down large tasks into smaller and more manageable parts. When a task is too big to handle alone, be strong enough to ask for help. Anticipate major challenges and rehearse responses and solutions.
- Build active optimism vicariously. Watch others be successful at what you want to achieve. Observing people in circumstances similar to yours succeed increases motivation and belief in achieving similar success. Also, become a member of a group, team, organization, or community that is successful.
- Build active optimism through the encouragement and support of others. Being connected to supportive people is a powerful determinant of resilience. To increase your degree of connectedness, find a group with shared interests. Seek out mentors. Ask if you can shadow someone professionally. Volunteer to assist in activities that exceed your current responsibilities.
- Build active optimism through self-control. Have you ever experienced an anxiety attack? Most occur because people are afraid of losing control. When you can control your thoughts, actions, and even bodily reactions, it conveys self-confidence and active optimism. Recognize the physical warning signs of distress and act to reduce them, using a relaxation or calming technique. Delay important decisions until you’ve had a chance to consider your options. Resisting temptation is also a form or self-control.
Dr. George Everly, Jr., Ph.D., is considered one of the “founding fathers” of the modern era of stress management and disaster mental health. He currently serves as Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Public Health at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Professor of Psychology at Loyola University Maryland, and Executive Director of Resiliency at UMBC Training Centers.
Douglas A. Strouse, Ph.D., is the Managing Partner of Wexley Consulting HRD, LLC, an international management and consulting firm. He is also the founder of Global Data Source LLC, a national data management and services firm, and is founder and President of the Chief Executive Officers Club (CEO) of Baltimore, a nonprofit organization that provides an educational forum for executives of small and mid-size companies.
Dennis K. McCormack, Ph.D., is one of the original Navy SEALs, and he pioneered SEAL combat doctrine and tactics in Vietnam. Serving as a supervisory psychologist for the Department of Defense (Army), he received official commendation for meritorious performance of duty for demonstrated professionalism and dedicated commitment to excellence as Chief, Department of Behavioral Medicine, Winn Army Community Hospital, Fort Stewart, Georgia.