When I had a hip replacement three years ago, I was apprehensive. My first concern was the condition of my femur bone as a result of being hit by a car at age 10. I feared it would break while my hip was being disassembled and put back together again. Then there was my concern about having a limp. My vanity was full blast, but eventually the discomfort won out and I moved forward. The last thing I said to the surgeon before going under was, “I cannot have a limp.” He responded with, “I’ll do my best, but I can’t make you any promises.”
Although I shared my concern about the limp before passing out, I actually entered the hospital optimistic that I would not have a limp after surgery. My husband was concerned that I would be disappointed, but my optimism would not allow me to think otherwise. It was my optimism that reinforced my commitment to the rehab regime and that motivated me to do extensive stretching once the doctor released me to do more activity. Not only do I not have a limp, but I was also so committed to my extended rehab workouts, I actually increased my bone density.
Optimism is an indicator of one’s positive attitude and outlook on life. It involves remaining hopeful and resilient, despite occasional setbacks. Optimism studies tell us that optimistic people benefit from better mental and physical health. They suffer less anxiety; they adapt better and recover more quickly, and they live longer. Furthermore, optimistic people tend to be more productive and resilient. They accept failure as part of their learning journey to achieve their goals.
You may be thinking, I wonder if she would have remained optimistic had the outcome of the surgery been different. Resilience is one of my core values, so I would have mourned the loss of the balanced stride I once had and was looking forward to regaining, but then I would have adapted and kept it moving. A different outcome would not have changed my generally optimistic view.
Connecting this to leadership, I do not believe one can exhibit optimism as a leader if they are not optimistic as a person. We cannot compartmentalize ourselves in that way, but there are practical ways to develop and fortify your optimism.
Watch your language. How are you telling your story? Our language is key. So often, how we describe our lives can be in the form of negative or disempowered language. Dr. Deepika Chopra
In a conversation a few weeks ago, a senior leader was sharing the multitude of challenges her family had experienced over the past three years. She was clearly shaken as she recapped the chain of events but ended by sharing that everything had worked out fine. Even with that ending, her focus was on all the things that happened, and the positive outcomes were a mere footnote. After listening, I suggested she reframe her narrative. While her family had been through the ringer, they came out on the other side and were doing well. I suggested she make it a story about resilience, and highlight the positive outcome, rather than emphasizing how bad the last few years had been. The process of reframing in this case has the potential to stimulate gratitude rather than sadness.
Take time to visualize your “Best Possible Future Self” as vividly as possible. Envision yourself in a life five years from now…in a future that has turned out to be just as you had hoped. Give yourself permission to indulge. Dr. Deepika Chopra
I was talking with another leader, a professed pessimist, about her plans for the future. Even in her pessimism, she was working her way through the planning process. Just as she was about to activate her plan, she became ill. This of course put a damper on everything. She expressed disappointment in herself, even though the disruptive events were out of her control. Her self-defeating language left her spiraling. I asked her to write a letter to me dated five years from the day and to write it in present tense – as if she were living it now. Two weeks later she shared the letter with me. It was focused, positive, upbeat, and full of achievements. It also revealed several new levels of awareness she had gained simply by writing the letter. I asked her how she felt after writing and reading the letter. In a surprised tone, she said, “Hopeful and Optimistic.” There is power in visualizing what you want. It creates a future you can see.
Think about a goal you wish to achieve. Name one very small step you can take towards that goal and commit to doing that very small thing today. Small steps are the best kind of steps that take us the farthest down our path. Dr. Deepika Chopra
It is so easy to get overwhelmed by our BIG goals. Overwhelm can create anxiety, paralysis, and undue pressure. Quantum leaps are not necessary. Baby steps will do the job just as well. The neat thing about baby steps is what they reveal as we move toward our goals. There is learning and opportunity to pivot and sidestep obstacles that we may be blind to when making quantum leaps. As long as you are getting closer to your goals with every step forward, it does not matter how long your stride is. Count each step forward as a milestone.
These are just a few practical strategies to help cultivate optimism. Rate yourself on a scale from 1 (low) – 10 (high) on your level of optimism. Whether you are high, low, or somewhere in the middle, try one of these tips to elevate your feelings of optimism. Pay attention to how these simple acts can impact your optimism in general.
If you are looking for an Executive Coach, I would love to explore the possibilities with you. Feel free to direct message me or go to my website (drkymharrislee.com) to schedule a 30-minute chat.
My services include:
- One-on-one Executive Coaching
- A Mastermind for Vice Presidents and C-Suite Women of Color who want their own personal cabinet of thought partners.
- Keynote Speaking