Hugh van Cuylenburg from our partners in optimism, The Resilience Project, shares the power and benefits of living a more optimistic life and gives us three simple tips to start today to become more of an optimist.
In 2008, I was fortunate enough to spend a few months living and volunteering in the far north of India. In this desert community, there was no running water, no electricity and no beds; everyone slept on the floor of their desert hut. Despite the fact these people had very little to call their own, I was continually blown away by how happy they were. It was this experience, and subsequent post graduate studies, that have led me to some pretty simple conclusions about the things that we need to be doing here in Australia if we want to be happier. Amongst that list is the relatively basic instruction; we need to choose to be more optimistic. That’s right, being optimistic is a choice. And the great news is, there are three simple things that we can do everyday to make us more optimistic.
But before we jump into the tips, let’s quickly touch on why optimism is so important. The science behind optimism has been researched all over the globe, and it turns out it has significant benefits to both our mental and physical health.
Amazingly, someone who is more likely to view the glass as half full as opposed to half empty, has far greater physical health outcomes. Most notably, an optimist is less likely to die from infection, cancer, heart disease, stroke and respiratory disease. (American Journal of Epidemiololgy)
Beyond the physical benefits, the links to mental health are also well documented. In short, optimists are significantly more successful than pessimists in aversive events and when important life-goals are impaired by unforeseen events (Clinical Practice and Epidemiology in Mental Health).
So, how do we become more optimistic? Like anything in life, if we want to be good at something, we need to practice. Here are three strategies that I learnt from the community I lived with in the far north of India. Three strategies that it turns out, are heavily backed by science.
Write down three things every night that went well for you during the day. It could be in a note pad, in the notes section of your phone or even on the shower screen door. This teaches your brain to scan the world for the positive, which is particularly important when dealing with challenging situations.
Mindfulness is a buzz word at the moment, and for good reason. Mindfulness teaches us to shut off disruptive thoughts so that we can enjoy the present moment. It teaches us to remove judgment from our daily experiences and interactions. So, put aside 10 minutes every day to be still and present. There are many wonderful apps out there to help you become more mindful; Calm, buddhify and headspace, just to name a few.
Surround yourself with optimists
This is an important one. Make sure you spend time with people who make you feel good about yourself and your experiences. Self esteem is an important contributing factor to an optimistic mindset. You know the people who make you feel good about yourself, and you know those people who tend to bring you down. Your time is precious, so spend it with the people who make you a better version of yourself.
Hugh van Cuylenburg
Hugh has been working in education for over 13 years. Starting out as a primary school teacher, he then moved into a position working in a secondary setting with disengaged adolescents. The highlight of his teaching career was the year he spent in the far north of India volunteering and living at an underprivileged school in the Himalayas. It was here that he discovered resilience in its purest form.
Inspired by this experience Hugh returned to Melbourne and commenced working on his own programs for schools. ‘The Resilience Project’ was born. Having completed his post grad. studies into mental health and resilience, Hugh has developed and facilitated programs for over 300 schools Australia wide. In 2015, the National Rugby League asked Hugh to design and implement a program for every club in the competition. Off the back of the success of the NRL program, Cricket Australia were quick to follow for all their professional sides. Hugh has also worked closely with the Australian Netball team and 11 of the AFL sides.
Hugh is now working closely with corporate and non for profit organisations to help promote positive mental health strategies in the work place.