The Science of Optimism
Get ready to change the world!
Stop being so damn optimistic!
I must admit, I’ve gotten hate for my optimism before. Apparently, it can annoy some people. Others think I’m not being realistic. These folks usually straighten their backs a bit and claim to be “realists” while eye-rolling my naiveness. Well - I’m about to eye-roll you back because get this — OPTIMISM IS HELLA IMPORTANT!
Like, save the world kind of important. And I have proof!
Yes, there’s a difference between radical optimism and toxic positivity and yes, I maaay have leaned towards the latter during periods of my life. But I’ve also come to understand that real optimism is earned and something you actually have to work hard for. As you may know, I call it being an Optimist In Action, and it basically means that if you show up for the work, you’re living the change, and the good thoughts and feelings will come through to reward you.
It’s like optimism on autopilot - you need it to get going but the work itself creates more!
As The Climate Optimist, it’s my core belief that optimism is essential in our work for a climate-positive world! But I’m all for science backing my beliefs, so do you think I was excited when I found this TIME magazine while waiting in line at my Sunday morning grocery run?
One article specifically caught my intention and I had to do a deep-down on a later solo coffee date. Here’s what Tali Sharot, professor of cognitive neuroscience at the University of London, has to say about optimism.
1) Optimism makes for better lives now
“New research with accumulating evidence shows that our brains aren’t just stamped by the past. They are constantly being shaped by the future!”
Isn’t that fascinating? That means that our current reality isn’t just affected by things that we can remember from before, but also heavily influenced by things we hope to come! Not only that, but our “future dreaming” tends to be optimistically biased (like — we expect it to be better than reality) and that’s actually not a bad thing.
Sure, we may miss the reality mark by a few pointers, but this bias makes us live better lives!
“Even if that better future is often an illusion, optimism has clear benefits in the present. Hope keeps our minds at ease, lowers stress, and improves physical health.”
For example, the article suggests that optimistic people are more likely to take their vitamins, exercise regularly, etc - which directly makes life better now. So if anything - if choosing to have an optimistic outlook on tomorrow makes us live better lives now, why wouldn’t we?
Photo: Victor Freitas
2) Optimism raises our chances for a better tomorrow
Here’s where it gets really interesting though because optimism doesn’t just make us feel better now, it actually increases our chances for those better outcomes to manifest! Not because of fairy dust and wishful thinking, but because those “better” choices we make because of our optimism actually open those doors that will lead us down a different path. As the article reveals:
“Optimists are 40% more likely than pessimists to get a work promotion within the next year.”
Now, this is an interesting finding for us climate nerds because it truly shows how important optimism is in the work we’re doing. If we don’t think a climate just future and world is possible, how will we make the choices to manifest one? And if 4 out of 10 optimists are more likely to have success than the average dooms-day-guy, then I’d make it my core mission to activate as many optimists as I can!
Oh wait, I am! ;)
“Our capacity to envision a different time and place is in fact critical to our survival.”
As the article suggests, we owe it to our frontal cortex (the most recently developed part in the front lobe of our brain) that can imagine future scenarios for our development and survival as a species. Without this ability to imagine, we simply wouldn’t be where we are today.
So… why stop now?
I’ve talked about this a lot in the past and neuroscience has only confirmed what I believe so deeply — we need to hit our dream buttons and start imagining new worlds!
Mary Annaïse Heglar just come out with an article in The Nation — “To Build a Beautiful World, You First Have to Imagine It”, suggesting an exercise described as “World Building”.
It sounds a lot like what I guide you through in my meditation, so I’ll go ahead and share that one with you again (see below.) And don’t take it lightly - I’ve had people say they ended in tears and with visions of the most beautiful of tomorrows! So plug the headphones in your ears, close your eyes for twenty minutes, and know that you’re saving us all by envisioning a better world to come.
*The visualization exercise starts at around 7:50.
3) Optimism is —truly— the only thing we have
I want to end this article by stating the obvious - if we don’t believe in a climate-positive, liveable future, what are we even doing? If the hope for a better tomorrow is the only thing that can get us to take action on pulling that future closer, why wouldn’t we give it all we’ve got?
Sure, the future we’re discussing - a future that is not only net-zero, but net-positive - might seem like a far-off target. It can honestly be a little hard to believe if you look at the world as we know it today! But as neuroscience proves to us — without imagination and belief of what’s possible for tomorrow, we will not get anywhere:
“To make progress, we need to be able to imagine alternative realities - better ones - and we need to believe that we can achieve them.”
So - are you onboard? Will you keep practicing this optimism with me?
Photo: Geran De Klerk
A Master Class on Optimism
If you need help with creating that optimism and finding ways to stay optimistic in this overwhelming and daunting work that climate action is, I nudge you to check out the Climate Optimist Master Class. In eight sessions you’ll get to learn from me and various experts how to become a curious, optimistic, and resilient climate leader!
In The Climate Optimist Master Class
Psychology + Climate 101 — Why aren’t we doing more about climate change? Learn to identify the barriers so we can work past them!
Dealing with Awareness + Growing Emotional Resilience — Healing climate anxiety and staying optimistic and grounded
Happiness Hormones + Activism - How to take care of yourself as an activist
How to be an Optimist In Action and create optimism on the daily
Succesful Climate Conversations and that Engages and Drive Action
How to Question Everything and Envision New Worlds
Find the JOY in being in the world today — because OUR WORK MATTERS!
I hope I’ve been able to convince you that your attitude matters. Now, let’s keep on it and co-create a better world!
See you next week - AT
An Optimist In Action spotted in SoHo, New York ;) Photo by Aaron Barrera