Although most people don’t feel very optimistic starting recovery, developing a more optimistic attitude greatly improves your chances of long-term success. Optimism reduces stress, improves health, fosters perseverance, and most importantly, makes people believe they can stay sober if they try. Of course, it’s one thing to say you should be more optimistic and quite another to actually be optimistic when you’re looking down a bumpy road. How do you become more optimistic in the face of a difficult situation like trying to get sober?
Look for the good; use a microscope if necessary.
One trap pessimists often fall into is over-generalizing. If something bad happens on a trip, the trip is ruined. If someone is rude on the bus, people are awful. They let one bad incident consume their attention. Curiously, they rarely do this with good incidents. If you catch yourself over-generalizing, you can challenge that thinking. You can say to yourself, ‘Really? Everything about the trip was terrible? Wasn’t there something good about it?’ If this is too much to ask, try something else instead. Say to yourself, ‘Ok, this is awful in every way, but if I had to find something good about it, it would be this‘. If you do this enough, you will eventually get in the habit of noticing good things. Writing down the good things that happen every day will reinforce this habit.
Spend time with optimistic people.
If you are around negative people all the time, it will rub off. On the other hand, if you spend more time around positive people you will become more positive too. We are all susceptible to social pressure, whether we are aware of it or not. When you are in a positive group, you start to feel self conscious about moaning and complaining and that negative sort of thinking gradually diminishes. This is one reason a sober network is so important, and why negativity is a warning sign in AA.
Watch your language.
And your thinking. Most people don’t actually realise how negative they are until they consciously try to refrain from criticizing and complaining. You may find that if you stop yourself from criticizing and complaining, you don’t have much to say. This forces you to look for something more positive to say, which changes your frame of reference.
A lot of our negative thinking runs on without our noticing. Practicing mindfulness meditation can help you notice your negative thinking. The point is not to beat yourself up over it or even to try to stop it. You simply want to be aware of it. You don’t control your thoughts, but you can control your words. If you say more positive things, your thinking will become more positive too.
Don’t discount your wins.
Optimists assume by default that if something good happens to them, it’s because they deserve it, while pessimists assume it was just a fluke. If you’re feeling rotten about yourself and a friend tries to point out all the things you’ve done well, you will likely have a ‘yes, but’ for every one. Someone may say, ‘I’m proud of you for getting help’, and you may respond, ‘Yes, but it’s not like I had a choice. I would have died had I kept drinking’. In fact, you did have a choice. Many people never get help and some of them die. Take the wins and build on them.
Castle Craig is one of the most established and respected addiction rehab centres in the UK. Castle Craig provides consulting psychiatrists who diagnose associated mental illnesses like anxiety states, depression, ADD, PTSD, eating disorders, compulsive gambling, and compulsive relationships. For information, call our 24 hour free confidential phone-line: 0808 256 3732. From outside the UK please call: +44 1721 788 006 (normal charges apply).
Page last reviewed and medically fact-checked | January 29, 2020