Optimism: How an Outlook Can Change Your Success Rate

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Month of Little Steps to Health FitessJanuary is BlogHer's Month of Little Steps to Health & Fitness, and we want you to share your favorite easy health tip! Click here to see how to play along. And check out all the tips so far in the Month of Little Steps to Health & Fitness series.

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Could a little thing like practicing optimism help you with your nutrition and fitness goals in the New Year?

It certainly can.

Being optimistic about your healthy living goals for 2011 could actually be the catapult you need to reach success. You see, if you make a New Year's resolution to eat healthy in 2011, but you feel certain it will only last for a few weeks before you go back to old habits, then that is exactly what will happen. That's why optimism is so important when (at anytime during the year) you decide to make a commitment to a healthier lifestyle.

Whether you want to change bad eating habits, lose weight, or start a fitness program, choosing optimism needs to be your first step. And the best part about optimism is that it's really a choice you make, and anyone can choose to do it. It does come easier to some than for others, but if we look for it, we can all find our inner-optimist. Yes, you can too.

Are you optimistic? Do you see your glass as half full? The truth is, most of us can only say we "try" to be optimistic, it's not something we can ever really be an expert at. The good news is that we don't have to be an expert optimist to reap the benefits of optimism, and there are many benefits.

This is from the Mayo Clinic, they know all about the benefits of optimism on health.

  • Increased life span
  • Lower rates of depression
  • Lower levels of distress
  • Greater resistance to the common cold
  • Better psychological and physical well-being
  • Reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease
  • Better coping skills during hardships and times of stress

It's unclear why people who engage in positive thinking experience these health benefits. One theory is that having a positive outlook enables you to cope better with stressful situations, which reduces the harmful health effects of stress on your body. It's also thought that positive and optimistic people live healthier lifestyles — they get more physical activity, follow a healthier diet, and have reduced rates of smoking and alcohol consumption.

From TIME -- Study: Optimistic Women Live Longer.

It's also worth noting that the current report identifies only an association between optimism and longevity; it does not actually establish whether optimism can directly cause a longer life. Additional research will have to be done in order to answer that question. But if a sunnier disposition helps promote healthy behaviors like eating well and exercising regularly, then there's no reason not to view the glass as half full.

Okay, are you thinking to yourself that this all sounds great, but my life is such a downer and no amount of optimism can make it better? I thought some of you might be thinking that, and in case you haven't recognized it yet, that makes you a bit pessimistic. But don't worry, you too can be an optimist. I think optimism is a lot like a snow-ball, even if it starts off small, it has the potential to grow (just as big as you want it to). So why not start today and pick just one thing to be truly optimistic about? You may just surprise yourself.

Getting to your health and wellness goals with the help of optimism

The first step to living healthy is finding and using your inner-optimism. And since having goals, plans, hopes, and dreams are the fabric of optimism, start by setting "realistic" healthy-living goals for yourself.

Here are a few examples of long and short term goals for someone who wants to start eating healthier in the New Year. Remember, these are just examples, the key to success is to make goals that will best work for you:

1. Within three months I will be drinking little or no soda.

2. Within six months I will be eating at least 50% better than I am today.

3. By the end of the year my eating habits will have changed so much (for the better) that it's no longer something I have to think about, it's something I just do.

*And even long term goals can be adjusted and tweaked; remember to always keep them within your reach.

Now here are several examples of short-term goals that can help you reach your long-term goals of eating healthier:

1. Each day I will cut down (even if just a little) on the amount of soda I drink.

2. Each week I will cook at least two healthy meals for myself.

3. When I go out to eat, I will make a conscious effort to choose healthier meals than I normally do.

4. If I need to go to a fast food restaurant, I will order smaller sizes or less than what I normally would order.

5. I will start a list of the number of times I was tempted to go to a fast food restaurant but resisted, and watching that number grow will provide incentive to continue.

6. I will begin each day with an optimistic attitude about my goals, and never degrade myself when I stumble from them.

Number six is the most important (and that's why I put it in bold). There is not one of us who is perfect, so you have to assume that there will be times that you stray from your goals. The important thing is to recognize it, forgive yourself, and move on. Each day is a new opportunity to stick to your goals and have an optimistic attitude towards them.

*Don't forget that your short-term goals will need to be readjusted often to keep them in line with your long-term goals.

I'm willing to bet that if you begin to see how optimism is helping you with your healthy living goals that in no time at all, you will be putting optimism to work in other areas of your life as well.

You see, when you let optimism into your life, each day brings a new chance for something wonderful to happen, and the opportunity to make things better. So, if you can wake up each morning feeling optimistic about the day, you are more likely to attract, contribute to, and recognize the good that comes your way.

Here are some quick and easy steps to help you be more optimistic in 2011.

1. Choose to be optimistic about your future -- Set plans and goals for yourself (long and short term), and put them in writing. I know, if you're a pessimistic person, goals can be very scary because you see them as an opportunity to fail. But how hard could it be to take one step towards optimism? I know you can do it!

2. Plan ahead for the times that negativity rears its ugly head -- By finding something that helps you prevent a downward spiral into pessimistic-land. Maybe you like to meditate, exercise, go for a walk, read, or talk to a friend? Whatever it is, plan to reach for it at the first sign of trouble.

3. Begin to recognize the "learning experiences" that almost always come along from negative life situations. What have you learned? What could you do in the future to make a similar situation a little better? Try to see the good that is often entangled in the bad.

4. Make an effort each day to find something to smile about, and be truly happy. Before you even get out of bed, focus your thoughts on the things you plan to be optimistic about through your day. Forget about how it may have gone wrong yesterday, and see all the ways you can make it right today.

5. Always remember -- Sometimes we need the bad days to help us recognize how good we really have it. How many of us take advantage of the good times (maybe even the best times) because we fail to stop long enough and see how wonderful (and fleeting) they are? Instead, take the time to be optimistic this year, and take the time to recognize the good it brings into your life.

So, you might be saying to yourself -- This optimism thing seems like a lot of work. But look at the steps closer; they are really just little tweaks we can all make in our thoughts and perception, that in the end have the power to bring big changes to our life.

Here is my formula for a little step towards better health:

little tweaks + optimism = big changes

Happy New Year! How do you feel about optimism and healthy living? Will you be more optimistic in 2011? Let us know your thoughts in comments.

Contributing Editor Catherine Morgan
Also at Catherine-Morgan.com

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