Tap into your Optimism

Tap into your optimism. Image with 4 thumbs up of varying ethnicities.
Written by: Avril Kidd
Tags: Optimism
Optimism is one of the most important competencies directly impacting our success outcomes of decision-making, relationships, effectiveness, and mental and physical wellbeing. Use these 3 questions to help you tap into your optimism and bigger purpose.

In this article I’m going to share some key insights from the world’s largest emotional intelligence study which looks at how the pandemic has affected people’s Emotional Intelligence (EI), and how we can reignite our optimism.

What it shows is that between 2017 and 2019 there was a steady increase in Emotional Intelligence. Sadly, 2020 put an end to this trend and Emotional intelligence (EQ) declined (almost) across the board. As the author Michael Miller says …

“In a year dominated by stress, loneliness and fear, this doesn’t exactly come as a surprise. But a closer look at the data reveals some fascinating nuances for how the pandemic impacted specific age groups and demographics – and why it’s absolutely essential that we reinvest in some of the emotional intelligence skills that we’ve collectively lost this past year”.

Looking at the competency that declined the most, it’s no surprise that this was Optimism. With this 5% decline, came a 10% drop in related skills such as collaboration, imagination and risk-taking.  (See 2021 State of the Heart study).

 This decline makes sense as, when we feel stress, we are biologically programmed to be less creative, less compassionate, and less visionary. The body literally shuts down these systems as it narrows its focus, conserves energy, and focuses on nothing but the threat at hand. This is also called ‘the Emotional hijack’ which results in the Fight, Freeze or Flee reaction.

 This response is to protect us from real dangers like being attacked, or some other form of imminent but temporary danger. The problem is when we stay in this constant state of high stress for months on end (as we did during the pandemic), it leads to exhaustion and burnout. Burnout has been one of the most common issues emerging over the past year. I have personally seen many of my clients battling with this.

 As I’ve mentioned before, Optimism is one of the most important competencies directly impacting our success outcomes of decision-making, relationships, effectiveness, and mental and physical wellbeing.

Sadly, the age group most affected with a drop in optimism was our youth. The Under 35s showed an 11% drop. 

Optimism losses hit younger people the hardest

 Joshua Freedman, one of the researchers who leads the study, hypothesized that the reason the pandemic would have impacted the youth more could be due to adults’ higher levels of structural stability. He says that while the work setting changed, work continued. While family responsibilities changed, parents still took care of kids. Older adults have more of these ‘anchors’, while younger people had their lives more thoroughly upended and experienced more chaos.

My 16-year-old son explained it to me like this: “Mom, Covid broke me; it took away my sport and my social life”. This has been so sad for me to witness. What was due to be one of the most exciting stages of his life, as he approaches Matric, has been a time filled with loss, disappointment and missed opportunities. Sadly, this is a time these youngsters will never get back. How do we reignite their enthusiasm and motivation?

Before we consider what we can do, let’s look at what the single outlier of the 8 EQ competencies was that increased while the others declined. This was applying consequential thinking.

Consequential Thinking is the ability to evaluate the costs and benefits of choices.

 It makes sense that we all got plenty of practice strengthening these muscles during isolation. We were continually asking ourselves: Is it safe to go to the shops? What are the risks of seeing my family and friends? Etc.

During this pandemic, we became conditioned to continually weigh the pros and cons of things we used to take for granted and, hopefully, in doing so it helped keep us and our loved ones safe. Whilst a heightened sense of caution is valuable in a crisis, over time it will limit innovation and creativity. This competency steers us away from risk to safety, which often means retreating. Playing it safe has its advantages in a pandemic, but also definitely comes at a cost.

As Josh Freedman states …

“We have to readjust to being open to possibilities and the unknown, as opposed to just playing it safe all the time,”

 We need to start looking towards the future with renewed optimism. We need to make intentional choices about how we want to live. We need to be creative in finding new ways of collaborating, working and building or rebuilding relationships. We need to start imagining a future, that won’t always look like 2020.

We have to emerge from this pandemic, stronger, more creative and innovative.

Practical 3-step process

A starting point is to use the 3-step process derived for the Six Seconds EQ in Action model of EI where you ask yourself 3 questions to help you tap into your optimism and bigger purpose: 

1. What am I feeling? 
We need to acknowledge our emotions and what they are telling us. 

2. What options do I have?
We may feel that we have lost so much freedom of choice, but we always have options. Now, more than ever, we need to look at what these are and how we can expand them and look forward to the future. We need to adopt the optimistic approach where we know that this situation, albeit protracted, will pass and will change but, while we’re in it, we can still choose to adopt a more positive perspective and outlook and find the opportunities that are available. Focus on what we can do and achieve. 

3. What do I truly want?
When we have a clear focus and personal purpose, it gives us more drive, direction and energy.

Remember, exercising optimism can help you avoid burnout as burnout is often when we feel like we don’t have a choice. Let’s focus on what we can do, what options and choices we have, and find or focus on our overriding purpose.

Keep close to the youth in your life as their mental health is so critical. Engage in conversations with them and support them to take a positive perspective with hope and possibility for the future. Don’t forget that we need to model optimism ourselves! Trust me, it is a good look for everyone!!

As Mary Angelou says, “Nothing can dim the light that shines within” If anyone doubts this please also look at my article on Nightbirde whose ethos is “You can’t wait until life isn’t hard anymore before you decide to be happy”.