Active Optimism

5 things to do when everything goes wrong


It’s easy to be optimistic when things are going well. But what about when things go wrong?

Here are five ways to practice active optimism in the face of life’s let-downs.

1. Get perspective. When things go wrong, it’s easy to feel like catastrophe has struck. So the first thing to do is take the long view. Is this setback going to matter in week, a month, a year? Remind yourself of the many times you’ve proven how resilient you are, and that you’ll bounce back from this too.

2. Get creative. Dream up an unexpected way that the situation you’re in could lead to something wonderful. Is the friend who helped you get through your divorce moving out of state? Maybe when you visit her, she’ll introduce you to her new also-divorced neighbor who will turn out to be the person you’ve been waiting to meet all of your life! It doesn’t matter if the story seems far-fetched. The point is to remember that life is unpredictable. Most of the best things in your life would never have happened if things had gone according to plan.

3. Get specific. Think about what went wrong and why. Say you just made a failed pitch to a prospective client. If you’re feeling pessimistic, your first response may be that you lost the pitch because you’re incompetent. That thinking is self-defeating, so get more specific.

Did you have all of the information you needed about the client’s needs before you prepared the pitch? If not, was there some way you could have better understood what she was looking for? Getting specific can help you to find ways to turn the current situation around and put you in a position to do better next time.

4. Get going. Now it’s time to figure out where you want to go from here. Are there insights from the setback that you can use to make your life better than it would have been if things had gone as you’d hoped?

And finally, what is the most positive outcome you can envision, and what would it take to make it a reality? Once you’re clear about that, you’re ready to take action—even if that action is deciding to just let the disappointment go.

5. Get involved. Okay, you’ve decided what you want to do and you’re doing it. Now it’s time to get your mind off yourself. The fact is, whatever has gone wrong in your life, there still are people who could use your help. So help somebody out. Giving support to someone who needs it is one of the most reliable and lasting ways to feel good and recover from a setback.

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