For many of us, these are among the most challenging times we have encountered in our careers. Beliefs and issues that used to be taken for granted are now called into question. Accusations are made without basis in fact or experience. Kindness and grace seem to be in short supply. Rudeness and negativity seem to rule the day.
Yet, these are not the first times we have faced confusion and controversy and we are not the first people to confront difficult challenges. In fact, we can draw much from our experiences and learn from those who came before us about how to navigate and succeed in the face of trying times. We can allow what we are experiencing to try our patience, sap our enthusiasm, and drain our energy, or we can make another choice. We can rise above what seeks to pull us down and walk a brighter, more satisfying path. Here are six secrets we can tap to lift our spirits and maintain a positive outlook.
Choose to smile. This secret at first may seem too simple. Yet, research shows that the act of smiling, even when it is not completely genuine, releases chemicals in our brain that make us feel better. Additionally, when we choose to smile, people we encounter are more likely to respond positively to us and further improve our outlook. It happens that attitudes are contagious. When we choose to smile, we can “infect” others in positive ways.
Associate with positive people. Our outlook also tends to be influenced by the people with whom we choose to spend time. We can choose to spend time with optimistic, caring people. In the same way that our attitudes influence others, their moods and outlook can have an impact on ours. The more time we spend with positive people, the better we tend to feel. The opposite also is true.
Look for what is good. A fact of life is that what we look for is what we are most likely to find. If our attitude has us looking for what is wrong, we are likely to notice something negative in each encounter. Our words and interactions may become laced with negativity, and we can even become needlessly embroiled in arguments and controversy. On the other hand, when we look for what is good, notice what is right, and focus on things that are positive, we tend to see and experience more that reinforces our positive outlook.
Own our choices. We cannot always control what happens, but we can choose how we will interpret what happens and how we will respond. We may interpret someone neglecting to respond to our question as ignoring us, or we may conclude that they did not hear us. We may interpret a sharp comment as a judgement toward us, or we may reflect on the pressures and stress the person is experiencing. We may become frustrated when our efforts are overlooked, or we may take pride in knowing what we have accomplished. Importantly, our outlook is influenced as much by how we interpret and respond to what we experience as the experience itself.
Adopt a bias toward action. When we see something that needs to be addressed, experience events that are hurtful, or hear words that are untrue, we can choose to become involved. Doing nothing can have the same impact as not being able to do something. When we choose to become involved in what is important to us, we move from feeling helpless to empowered.
Tap the power of “yet.” We coach students to think “not yet” rather than “cannot” when initial attempts with a learning task are not successful. We can tap the same optimism and energy when our efforts are not initially successful. Trying a new instructional practice, testing a new routine, or addressing a difficult challenge may require reflection, iteration, and persistence. Rather than give up, we can shift our focus toward what to do next. Not everything always works perfectly. The questions to ask are, what can I improve or correct, and what other strategies and approaches should I consider?
Life has a way of challenging us at every stage. Yet, it is in the challenges we face that we grow and learn. What we experience may not always be pleasant, but every experience offers a lesson. What is important is that we remain ready to learn and open to what life has to offer.