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How to Be More Optimistic in the New Year, According to an Optimism Doctor

How to Be More Optimistic in the New Year, According to an Optimism Doctor

Be optimistic, don't you be a grumpy. When the road gets bumpy, just smile.

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The coronavirus pandemic has affected millions of Americans in a multitude of ways. From unexpected unemployment to the grief of losing loved ones, many individuals have grappled with prioritizing the sanctity of their mental health and functioning as ordinarily as possible while the world as we know it shifts.

According to a study released by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), depression is three times higher than it was before the pandemic. And as the holiday season kicks off, feelings of loneliness, stress and anxiety are rising.

Big and bright celebrations have always marked the beginning of a new year. But, considering how 2020 unfolded, staying optimistic for days to come, let alone celebrating a new year, might feel impossible. According to Dr. Deepika Chopra — a professional psychologist and co-partner on The Colgate Optimism Project best known as the Optimism Doctor — however, there is always a silver lining. 

“If there is a modicum of hope in our current circumstance, it’s that we’re also collectively experiencing a period of growth and resiliency," Chopra says. "This has the potential to push us toward a more optimistic outlook and to take optimistic action.”

We spoke with Dr. Chopra to understand what optimism might look and feel like and how to incorporate it into your everyday life to start the new year hopeful and resilient.

What to know: Optimism doesn’t look just one way

What to know: Optimism doesn’t look any one way

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Optimism, as a way of thinking, might make perfect sense, but it can be tricky to imagine what acts of optimism look like. According to Chopra, you can practice optimism in many ways. “Optimism in action can take a variety of forms — from a genuine smile to a community project,” Chopra says. “[Practicing optimism] not only helps people to feel happier and become more resilient but can ignite positive changes in the world, big and small.”

What to know: Optimism can benefit your health

What to know:  Optimism can benefit your health

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Just as negative feelings, like stress and anxiety, can affect your physical and mental health, so can positive emotions like optimism. “Clinical research has shown that optimism can have a positive impact on your mental and physical health,” Chopra says. “Therefore, optimism — more specifically, optimism in action — is vitally important, and it’s a choice we can make.”

What to know: Optimism doesn’t always equate to positivity

What to know:  Optimism doesn’t always equate to positivity

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When you're feeling burnt out, stressed or overwhelmed, finding a silver lining can feel like searching for your keys in the dark. But Chopra says it's not feelings of positivity that define optimism. It's the will to keep fighting for another day. “Many people associate optimism with positivity, and, of course, there is that, but optimism is even more so about resiliency and overcoming struggle,” Chopra says. “It’s about experiencing setbacks, being able to honor the anger, grief, sadness, worry and disappointment, but at the same time, being able to hold space for hope that something better will come, which is really important, especially now.”

What to know: Curiosity can also be a form of optimism

What to know: Curiosity can also be a form of optimism

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At some point in life, the childlike wonder that encouraged us to dive headfirst into new opportunities and explore the unknown faded as the reality of life set in. But Chopra recommends fighting to maintain that sense of curiosity to both inspire and create optimism. “Maintaining your sense of curiosity is vital,” Chopra says. “The more you look at your current and future situations through the lens of curiosity and self-compassion, this increases resiliency and enables growth.”

How to practice: Set goals every day, not just at the beginning of the year

How to practice: Set goals every day, not just at the beginning of the year

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According to the Western Connecticut Health Network, as many as 50% of Americans make New Year's resolutions. So when the new year swings around, you're not alone if you feel compelled to make a few year-long promises. But according to Chopra, a great way to practice optimism is to make daily goals rather than put your hopes and dreams on one day. “I think that sometimes we can get caught up in the pressure that the new year sort of brings on, and that pressure makes it hard to actually make a change, take action or follow through on a resolution,” Chopra says. “If creating resolutions works for you on New Year’s Day, totally go for it. If it leaves you feeling overwhelmed or under a lot of pressure, then relieve yourself from it. I love the idea of setting intentions, any time and any day.”

How to practice: Set your sights on obtainable goals

How to practice: Set your sights on obtainable goals first

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Instead of setting your sights on finally buying that new luxury car, Chopra suggests starting with small, measurable New Year's resolutions. According to Chopra, choosing obtainable goals will help you "give yourself momentum from the start."

How to practice: Make resolutions that align with your values

How to practice: Make resolutions that align with your values

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Unrealistic expectations created by social media, for example, might encourage you to set goals that align with what you “should” want in life. But according to Chopra, the first step in creating positive goals and resolutions is to examine what you value in life and go from there. “I think a great exercise at the start of the year is to figure out what you truly value, what is most important to you, and what you align with,” Chopra says. “From there, making resolutions and goals will be a lot easier if they always work towards and sit well with what you truly value.”

How to practice: Find the upsides to your day

How to practice: Find the upsides to your day

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Something as simple as a long commute to work can send a perfectly normal day into a downward spiral. As easy as it is to dwell on the imperfections of our day, finding time to pick out positive moments can inspire feelings of optimism. “Try and challenge yourself to find a point of growth — even if it is small — in less-than-ideal situations,” Chopra says. “Instead of dwelling on what went wrong, allow yourself to be disappointed, angry or sad, while additionally trying to see if you can come up with something you learned from the experience or may learn from it in the future.”

How to practice: Celebrate your personal wins

How to practice: Celebrate your personal wins

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You are your most important cheerleader. Instead of focusing on moments in life when you could have done things differently or better, Chopra recommends celebrating your wins. “We are much more prone to pointing out what we did wrong or what we must improve, and not so comfortable celebrating personal wins and strengths,” Chopra says. “Take a moment to celebrate something about yourself that makes you proud.”

How to practice: Celebrate others who make you proud

How to practice: Celebrate others who make you proud

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And once you're able to celebrate your accomplishments, Chopra suggests "calling out someone you're proud of in your life." Happiness is contagious. 

How to practice: Set boundaries around time to mindfully worry

How to practice: Set boundaries around time to mindfully worry

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Setting boundaries with friends and loved ones is a key part of cultivating healthy relationships, but you also have to learn how to establish healthy boundaries with yourself — especially when it comes to carving out time for self-care. According to Chopra, you should create boundaries to dictate when you worry during the day. “Learning how to be more optimistic isn’t just about being positive all the time,” Chopra says. “It’s also about managing your stressors. Select a brief amount of your time during each day to devote to your worries and try to stay within that time frame.”

How to practice: Set a time for mindfulness

How to practice: Set a time for mindfulness

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And if you’re having trouble establishing time for mindfulness, Chopra suggests adding it to your calendar like you would a work meeting. If you want to go a step further, she even suggests sharing your calendar with your family “so they can help give you the time for this.”

How to practice: Practice journaling your thoughts

How to practice: Practice journaling your thoughts

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Journaling is a fun method to help clear your mind. But according to Chopra, journaling can also help you swap any unhealthy or unwarranted thoughts for positive emotions. “The simple act of writing down your thoughts can give you clarity,” Chopra says. “Many of us turn to unhealthy habits because we are not facing our emotions or are uncomfortable thinking certain thoughts. Providing an outlet and releasing those thoughts is critical to understanding them and dealing with them head-on.”

How to practice: Use awe as an antidote

How to practice: Use awe as an antidote

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According to Chopra, an unlikely emotion is also directly linked to optimism: awe. “Take a look at how many times in a day or a week you are in a state of awe,” Chopra says. “Awe helps us relate to something bigger than ourselves — something that inspires us. It’s also a great tool to combat anxiety. For example, looking at art, listening to a piece of music or finding something that moves you in nature can spur a sense of awe, and thus a sense of optimism.”

How to practice: Monitor how you talk to yourself and others

How to practice: Monitor how you talk to yourself and others

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There’s an old saying about the power of our words. According to Chopra, the saying is true. Our words hold power and allowing feelings of hopelessness to dictate our vocabulary can have a dire effect. “Try to avoid hopeless language by refraining from statements such as, ‘This will always be this way,’ ‘This will never work,’ or ‘I will always be this way,’” Chopra says. 

How to practice: Create a morning ritual

How to practice: Create a morning ritual

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A skincare routine or a quick run can all count as a morning ritual. Chopra suggests adopting a daily ritual because it can have a “direct impact on your mood for the remainder of the day.”

How to practice: Volunteer

How to practice: Volunteer

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According to Chopra, becoming an active member of your community and helping others can help you feel more optimistic because you get to see the direct way acts of service can make a difference.

How to practice: Show gratitude

How to practice: Show gratitude

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From giving compliments to actively listening, there are plenty of ways to show gratitude every day. Chopra suggests integrating these activities into your everyday routine to promote a healthy, optimistic lifestyle. 

How to practice: Remember that your current experience is only temporary

How to practice: Remember that your current experience is only temporary

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As permanent as this new way of life might feel, remembering that our new way of life and any feelings of stress are only temporary are helpful ways to keep pushing through this time. “Remind yourself often that wherever you are in this exact moment mentally, physically, emotionally and so on will change,” Chopra says. 

How to practice: Be kind and compassionate with yourself

How to practice: Be kind and compassionate with yourself

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Kindness is an action we learned to practice as children, but it’s just as important as an adult. And as hard as you might try to be nice to others, remember to also be kind to yourself.  “Remember that growth takes time and to always practice self-compassion,” Chopra says. “We learn that no matter how bad the past has been, we can always choose to grow in the present. The day you plant the seed is not the day you eat the fruit. So be kind, patient and compassionate toward yourself and don’t forget that change takes work, emotional and physical work and the work part is just as rewarding as the come to fruition part.” For more helpful advice on protecting your mental health during this time, here are therapist tips on how to create healthy boundaries at home.

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