6 tips on cultivating optimism

Topics: Productivity

I drafted this piece on the ferry to Bilbao back in late Feb 2020,  just a week before it all went crazy with COVID...

And so it has taken me a while to get into a place where i can get it out there!

It is hard to remain optimistic in the world of sustainability.

Have you ever wondered why some people can stay upbeat? I seem to be one of those people. I do have down days (and I have tools for those days)..but usually I am super positive and enthusiastic.  


My dad is the most positive person I know. He looks for the ray of light in any bad situation. Naturally, that has rubbed off on me.  I've got optimism in-built in my DNA , with the ability to look on the bright side of most bad situations.  I hope I can pass this to my kiddies too. 

This attitude has kept me going through the last 18 months during climate emergency situation, but has really come to the fore during COVID. 

If you struggle to stay optimistic I hope that this article might help.


Balanced optimism

I'm not talking about unbridled, unchained, off the scale optimism, which is not in touch with reality.

I'm talking about optimism that is balanced with the realities of life.

A balanced optimist is optimistic about the chance that they are going to succeed because they believe in themselves and they know they've got the skills to deliver.

And when things do go wrong, the optimist will be looking on the bright side and looking for the learning opportunity in the fail.

When confronted with a fail: The optimist would say

"You tried, you failed, but at least you tried. You are in a more advanced position that you were yesterday.  What can you learn from the fail to make sure it works next time? ".

To get to that state of mind I think you have to cultivate the following (not exhaustive) attributes..



For me the foundation of being optimistic is knowing how lucky we are to have lungs to breathe and a beating heart!  I know this is flavour of the month in many circles, but being gracious, showing gratitude and appreciation for the things in your life.. like your health, your food, your family, your friends and all that we have in life that make our life so joyful and fun.

By grounding yourself and understanding where you fit in that spectrum of life. You have your health. You have food on the table. You have fresh air to breathe. Giving yourself that perspective, you're instilling a mindset where there's no other state to be in other than optimistic because you have everything you need and are grateful for it so anything else is a bonus!

The practise of gratitude, for me, really grounds me every day and it's a constant and it keeps me in check, and that helps me remain optimistic.


Nourish, nourish, nourish...

Positive news do not get likes and shares and do not appear on the front pages and do not get gossipped about.

I think you've got to nourish that optimism as well. There's a definite link to how optimistic you feel, depending on what you read and who you listen to and who you engage with.

If you find yourself being negative then start hanging out with positive people, hang out online in positive places. It's very easy in this day and age to fall down a rabbit hole on Twitter or YouTube where it's all negative and you lose track of the positives.... I've been there.

I've spent whole nights, where I've watched videos about ecocide and by the end of that I am not in a good place and no use to anyone in that state!

If you're watching negative stuff and you hang around with negative people and you're following negative people on Twitter and it's all negativity, guess what? You're going to feel negative and really struggle to rebirth that optimism.

Be very aware of people who are fear mongering. And be careful not to do that yourself. This is not a good look. 

Luckily the opposite is true. If you hang around with optimistic people, the people who see the good in things, then that will raise up your optimism as well.


The liberation of acceptance and sitting with it 

You have to accept there will be ups and downs. NOBODY is always positive. So you have to recognise there will be days when you can't get out of bed or you can't get your work done.  Or the thing that you care about is not making any progress. You also have to accept that things will go wrong and you wont make as much progress as you thought.

Part of being an optimist is having an acceptance that it's doesn't always smell of roses!

That negative or uncomfortable emotion that is coming up is a signal that something needs attention. So accept it and sit with it. 

The power of acceptance is that it actually liberates the feeling of negativity and it unchains the shame or frustration you might feel.

By saying

" I accept that this has happened."


" I accept that I feel this way and won't be able to do anything today"


By releasing that negativity, it allows you to move onto the next stage and you don't hold any regret.  Subsequently it feels like that process then frees up part of your brain to then decide what to do next. 

"What decisions do I need to make around this issue now? Now that I'm free of the shame and the guilt and the sadness that has gone wrong, what shall I do now? "

The answer is usually nothing, just rest easy. 

You end up making way better decisions as a result of that acceptance.

Remember, somedays are a right off. If you ever find yourself at the edge feeling no optimism at all and you are struggling to find any hope. Thats when to call it a day or two and indulge in self care. Forget about the mission. Sleep on it.  Sleep on it twice. 



If you are feeling low on optimism then take a look back on how far you have come.

As the saying goes:

"Always focus on how far you've come, not how far you have to go."


Remember to note and see how far the things you care about have come over the last month week year decade etc. Look back over all the mini wins you have had. Focus on them. I actually wrote about this before.  Why recording your mini wins is the path to success.


Just turn up

If you are feeling like you have no optimism sometimes it can help just to go onto autopilot . Adopt your usual habits to help you run on autopilot.  Forget about the mission. Just get stuck into a spreadsheet or a load of email and work through that feeling. 

It's not a long term fix but if it is just to get you through the day at work it is fine. 


Remember your big vision

Remember  you are a change maker, a person who's working towards positive impact, you're actually in service to other people on the planet. You are in service. You are helping other people. You are helping the planet. You're creating a positive impact.

You're already on the side of the optimist because you believe you can help, you believe you can improve things. You've already got that optimism.

And when you couple that with the fact that you're using your unique talents, which are born of passion, which no one else has in this world, which you've developed from your unique experience and development through life with the activities you've done and the relationships you've had, your delivering your unique experience in a way to bring positivity to other people's lives.

Do not forget that.

That should be a daily reminder and that will help you remain optimistic.

What attributes would you say help to cultivate optimism? Please let me. know as I need all the tools available for the next 10 years where we transition to a sustainable society. 




Daniel O'Connor

Daniel O'Connor

I use my time and experience to contribute to the transition to a regenerative sustainable society for all.