How to Be Optimistic When Recovery Is Hard
Optimism is a good quality to have in addiction recovery and in life. Studies have shown that more optimistic people have better relationships, earn more money, and enjoy better health. If you’re recovering from a substance use disorder, a bit of optimism in challenging times can make the difference between pushing through and throwing up your hands and pouring a drink.
Unfortunately, optimism doesn’t come naturally to everyone, especially to anyone who is at a low point in life. There is even some evidence that optimism has a genetic element. Even if you’re not a naturally optimistic person, you can learn to be more optimistic. Try the following if you want a more positive outlook.
Imagine the Best Outcome
Most of us spend a lot of time thinking about what we don’t want. We don’t want to be in pain, we don’t want to be poor, we don’t want to be unhappy, and so on. However, when we fixate on what we don’t want, our focus is essentially negative. Not only are we preoccupied with the fear of a certain outcome, we unconsciously move toward it. For example, you have probably had the experience while driving, riding a bike, or even walking of being distracted by something by the side of the road and then realized you veered in that direction without even noticing. The same can happen with more abstract things.
Instead, focus on what you do want. Don’t try to avoid getting dumped; focus on making your relationship good. This leads to better outcomes and makes you more optimistic. There are a number of ways you can do this. One is to wake up in the morning and ask yourself, “What would this day look like if everything went perfectly?” That will make it much easier to get out of bed. A more in-depth exercise is to spend a few minutes once a week writing about what your ideal life would look like in five or 10 years.
Record the Positives
Whereas imagining the best outcome looks to the future, writing down the positives looks to the past. We are mostly hardwired to notice threats and other unpleasant things because that helps keep us alive. Unfortunately, it also makes us unnecessarily gloomy. One way to push back against that tendency is to write down good things that happened during the day or week.
There are two similar exercises that can help with this. The first is the “three good things” exercise. Each night, before you go to bed, write down three things that went well and why they went well. The other exercise is the gratitude journal. Write down some things you were grateful for that day, either grateful to someone in particular or just in general. They can be big or small. Doing this regularly will make you more attuned to the good things in your life and the people who support you.
Look for the Silver Lining
In a sense, all of optimism is about finding the good in any situation. This is often challenging, especially if you’re prone to depression or anxiety and especially if you are under stress. One trick you can use is to tell yourself, “This situation is completely terrible, but if I had to find something good in it, it would be this.”
For example, most of us are currently in lockdown to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Thousands of people have already died from it, many more have lost their jobs, and all of our lives have been disrupted. This situation is completely terrible, but if you had to find something good about it, you might say that it gives you time to work on some projects you’ve been putting off for a while, it gives you more time to spend with your family, it helps to clarify your priorities, it brings out the best in people trying to help, and so on. This is not an exercise in ignoring the bad; it’s acknowledging the good as well.
Notice Your Thinking Style
Much of our pessimism is caused by faulty thinking. For example, you may think you know for sure that something will have a bad outcome, when in fact, no one really knows what will happen. Or you might think that since you failed at something in the past, then you will fail at it in the future when, in reality, most of us get better with practice and increase our chances of succeeding in the future.
Research on optimism has discovered a common thinking pattern among more optimistic people: they tend to believe their failures are temporary and based on external circumstances while believing their successes are permanent and based on their intrinsic qualities. Pessimists tend to believe the opposite.
In reality, all of our successes and failures are partly down to our own talents and partly down to external circumstances but since we can never know for sure to what extent each of those contribute, it’s more useful to assume that your failures are circumstantial and your successes are because of you.
Make Friends with Positive People
Finally, make friends with positive people. We tend to pick up on the habits of the people we spend the most time with. If your friends are optimistic, you will likely become more optimistic. That’s not to say you should ostracize anyone who complains. We all have bad days. However, if you have a friend who always complains, plays the victim, and expects the worst possible outcome, this might be a good time to socially distance yourself from that person.
It’s important to remember that optimism isn’t the naive belief that everything is great; it’s the awareness that even when things are really bad, they are almost never comprehensively bad and it’s possible, and even likely, they will get better. A pessimist will give up right away but an optimist will try. Even if they don’t achieve a perfect outcome, they will often achieve a better outcome. At The Foundry, we believe that true recovery from addiction is about living a happier, more fulfilling life. We use evidence-based methods to give our clients the skills they need for a long recovery. To learn more, call us today at (844) 955-1066.