Rethink Negative Experiences To Develop A More Optimistic Outlook

Waking up on the wrong side of the bed can ruin your day — but it might help to think back on how you woke up from a different perspective. A little change in mindset can have a big impact on your outlook, and that includes your mindset toward memories.

Photo by Prince Lang

Reframing your negative memories can be helpful. Some therapists refer to it as “retrospective judgement”. At Barking Up The Wrong Tree, writer Eric Barker explains that this is a tactic psychotherapists use to help unhappy patients see things from a more positive perspective. As Barker puts it, it “literally gives them a story they can live with”.

Basically, you re-evaluate events from a place of optimism. I’ll admit, it does sound vaguely like not being honest with yourself, but it’s not about that. It’s about extracting something positive from something that makes you feel unpleasant.

Think about a breakup. It’s easy to think back on all the negativity — the fighting, tears, mourning the relationship — but this usually leaves you in an unhealthy place. You’re resentful, bitter, and angry. You might even take that into a new relationship, and it can really make your life miserable for a while.

But as you heal, and find yourself in a better place, you usually have a healthier, more optimistic outlook on the breakup — it sucked, but you learned a lot about yourself. You grew, and you now have a better idea of what you want in a relationship. That attitude is healthier for your overall well-being.

Retrospective judgement seems to work in the same way. It’s not about changing the facts. It’s about changing how you choose to perceive them. It’s not about ignoring what happened. It’s about fully considering it from all angles. It sounds cheesy, but in doing this, it helps to simply consider the silver lining. But go beyond that — make that silver lining the focus of what you remember about the experience.

It’s harder to do this with some experiences, and some experiences will still be tough to think about. But it could be a useful option if you want to shed some of the pessimism. For more detail, check out Barker’s full post.

What two techniques can we learn from naturally happy people? [Barking Up the Wrong Tree]

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