Training Your Brain to Expect the Good

Whether you naturally lean toward optimism or pessimism, you can train your brain to zoom in on the good and expect more of it in life.


Announcements & Listener Feedback

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Training Your Brain to Expect the Good

In this episode, we’re following up on Episode 15: Choosing Optimism, with tips on how to train your brain for optimism – even if it doesn’t come naturally to you.

Melia has been thinking about this lately because Avery’s sleep problems have made her sleep-deprived, which can trigger depression, and she’s been getting stuck in negative thought patterns like, “This is my life now. I’m going to walk through it like a zombie.” It’s really hard to rally a can-do attitude and call up coping strategies when you’re physically depleted!

Darren sent her an article by training specialist Rich Brandt about training your staff to have an optimistic mindset, which can contribute to a more positive culture and better performance.

Brandt writes: “I’m convinced that most people think they’re an optimist simply because they have a friend or relative who’s more negative than they are.” But regardless of how you compare to others, pessimism is a general tendency to expect poor or unfavorable outcomes. Do you tend to expect that good things will happen, or worry that bad ones will? Do you tend to zoom in on the good things in your life, or magnify the bad ones?

Whether you naturally lean toward optimism or pessimism, you can start training your brain to expect the good. Here are three tips to help you train your brain to zoom in on the good and expect more of it:

1. Practice gratitude.

We’ll come back to this one again and again because it’s so crucial to building optimism. We talked in Episode 15 about taking 2 minutes a day for gratitude practice: write down three new things you’re grateful for, or text or email to praise or thank someone. Research shows that after 21 days, pessimists tested as low-level optimists.

Another key opportunity to do this is in a moment of suffering. When you start to feel triggered, like a dark cloud is moving in over your head, or you’re slipping into a shame or anxiety spiral, practice the pause and quickly name three things that you’re grateful for. With practice, you’ll be able to stop the spiral and shift your mood.

2. Savor the good.

When you experience something that you enjoy, linger a few seconds longer on it instead of rushing onto the next thing. Chew your food and sip your drink longer. When you’re out in nature, take a moment to admire the trees and flowers and sunshine around you.

Brené Brown says that joy is the most vulnerable emotion we experience, and it can be terrifying because we feel like, “Uh-oh, I’m feeling too good right now – something bad is about to happen.” She calls this “foreboding joy” and writes: “It’s as if we believe that by truly feeling happiness, we’re setting ourselves up for a sucker punch. The problem is, worrying about things that haven’t happened doesn’t protect us from pain. Ask anyone who has experienced a tragedy; they’ll tell you there is no way to prepare.”

So let yourself feel fully joyful, without worrying about when that joy will end. Brown says that building those reserves will help us be more resilient when hard things do happen.

3. Tell yourself a better story.

Practice reframing the situation more optimistically. When you react negatively to something, ask, “What is the story I’m telling myself right now?” Your mind might go to, “Bad things always happen to me.” Let your wiser self answer back with, “Suffering happens to everyone. It’s a part of life. This is hard, but this, too, shall pass.” Marie Forleo’s mantra, “Everything is figureoutable” is also helpful for when you run into challenges.

Pay attention to cognitive distortions – like mind reading, fortune telling, and disqualifying the positive – that we’ll unpack in a future episode. The words “always” and “never” are good tip-offs that you’re distorting reality.

Get It Together / Got It Together

We each share something that we’d like to work on and something that’s going well for us right now.

Melia Get It Together: Letting her To Do list balloon out of control and missing important things

Melia Got It Together: Centering on Avery’s sleep and making significant progress

Gill’s Get It Together: Not making progress on her goal of tackling one decluttering project a month

Gill’s Got It Together: Going on her first date from the 8 Dates book with Brian

Get In Touch

Tell us if you tend toward optimism or pessimism, and the hacks that help you train your brain to expect good things. Email us at podcast[at]semitogether.com, or send us a voice memo. You can also leave a comment on Facebook or Instagram.

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