How to I fake it until I make it?
July 17, 2019 9:32 PM   Subscribe

How do I cultivate a persona of optimism and positivity so I can become more successful in both my professional and personal lives? I'm feeling down right now but know nobody wants to see that.

I'm in a position where I need to act/feel positive and optimistic more often in order for my life to get back on track. How do you pretend to act positive/optimistic when you're actually depressed and feeling hopeless much of the time? I'm a single almost 35F who is moving back home due to losing a job and being unable to get a new one yet. The last few years also caused burnout (death of parent, going back to school) and I think I'm still recovering from that.
While I can fake optimism and confidence for a short time (for something like a job interview or first date), I would like to be able to do this for longer periods of time. Are there certain thought processes one can use to fool myself into acting happy/positive when I'm in public or someone else at least? I've been told I should be more grateful for things, but it's personally hard when my personal and professional life have both stalled.
I also would like to cultivate a better persona because I want to get serious about dating, which in the past has only made me feel worse about myself. It's hard being rejected, but I need to build myself up to handle that. I also know no one wants to date someone who isn't positive.
I don't have money for talk therapy now but have appreciated it in the past. Also, I don't think I can fool myself enough to become more positive in private, it feels too exhausting right now and just want to get over the hump .
posted by greatalleycat to Human Relations (7 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
I think gratitude is a really loaded word, but you find some real benefits in making a habit of writing down each day three things that you are glad (or at least somewhat pleased) happened in that day. Set your standards really low here - a friendly and fast clerk at the store, a funny cloud spotted on your drive home, the taste of your favorite cup of coffee. One advantage of this is that it can help you remember that not every single thing was awful that day (even most were depressing, at least these three small things did happen so it wasn't 100%). Also, it will give you something to talk about when people ask how you are and you don't want to answer with the full truth. I don't remember the exact details but there was some research that said that doing this for a month or so, made people less depressed and doing it for 90 (?) days made them actually happier. Furthermore if you could keep up the habit for six months, the better mood lasted for many months after you stop keeping the journal.
posted by metahawk at 10:00 PM on July 17, 2019 [11 favorites]

Here's a whole book on how to do this: Learned Optimism by Martin Seligman. I read this many years ago and while it didn't magically change my life, I helped me hear some of the patterns of pessimistic thought in the way I talked about things and started a habit of trying to reframe into the more optimstic version to the extent I could believe it.
posted by metahawk at 10:02 PM on July 17, 2019 [3 favorites]

For work just pretend to be positive if that's what your work requires. You don't have to start trying to cultivate gratitude, just don't show what you are feeling on the inside. Many people in customer facing positions do this at work. Try to develop some healthy coping strategies for relaxing on your time off.

For dating though, that is no way to create an authentic relationship with someone. Even if you aren't feeling very positive you can still notice little things (like metahawk mentions above) and make the choice to talk about those things some of the time. For relationships, most people don't so much want a positive person as someone who doesn't talk about nothing but negative things. Find some other things to talk about.
posted by yohko at 11:16 PM on July 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

I'm going to take optimism and positivity out of the equation here for a moment and instead address whether your life is bereft of things that aren't giving you grief. It sounds like you've had a lot of difficult circumstances on your plate recently, which makes me wonder, what else is going on for you?

This can be challenging if you're low on funds and/or time, but finding something, anything where you can get a quick self-efficacy win helps a lot. It doesn't have to be work-related, it doesn't even have to be social, it just needs to be personally fulfilling. Heck, even something as simple as finding a new podcast for your commute or starting up an exercise routine can be really helpful in this respect.

This is often a controversial suggestion, especially among women our age, but maybe it's a good idea to take a break from dating? In the long run, yes, it's important to cultivate comfort with being authentic with people when you're not feeling your best. Yohko is right in that most people aren't looking for unending positivity so much as they are for a balance (as well as emotional self-regulation, which is a big part of that). If you're not in a place where you can readily find that balance, it's okay to sit a round or two out. Knowing that you can easily invest in being good company to the people around you creates a feedback loop where you have more positive interactions with others and end up feeling better as a result. I don't think that people should wait until their lives are "perfect" to start dating, but it's advisable to wait until you feel that even just parts of your life are inviting to at least yourself.

Find some other things to talk about.

This is good advice. Something that helped me when I was going through a rough period but needed to be, well, likable at a new job was to make the following deal with myself: if there's something in my life that sucks that I either can't or won't work towards changing right now, it's not a topic for social conversation. To be fair, that can take a lot of things off the table! In the long run, though, that's not always a bad thing. This is an exercise that can dramatically prove to you that you need to figure out a way to build more things into your life that can give you some respite from your challenges. If gratitude journals are your thing, even finding that you're being repetitive or coming up short for entries can really open your eyes to a pressing need to add more fulfilling elements to your life.

Maybe I've got the causal relationship wrong here, but it seems that people dealing with really bad stuff in their lives find that coping in an emotionally and socially healthy way is a total non-starter unless they also stay committed to things that give them some respite that they can feel positive about. It gives them stuff to look forward to, and stuff to talk about that lends to a more balanced way of connecting with others.
posted by blerghamot at 1:49 AM on July 18, 2019 [4 favorites]

I've been told I should be more grateful for things, but it's personally hard when my personal and professional life have both stalled.
Upward Comparison Theory can provide some insight into a way to circumvent this cycle. Particularly at low points, "upward comparisons" make us feel down and "downward comparisons" in some contexts can boost mood. Not to deny that you're circumstances sound rough, but is there anything you can cut down on your exposure to, to make you feel less pervasively down and out personally and professionally? Dramatically cut down on social media, any media exposure about other people's "perfect lives", any toxic friends that leave you feeling worse. Is there anything you could do more of or could start doing that for you leaves you feeling a little bit spontaneously grateful? More coffee dates with the hopeless but totally non-judgey friend who always has a drama she creates but survives, using the BFF side of the Bumble app to be frank about being in a crap situation and finding one of those kind of friends without the pressure of dating, shopping on the crap side of town not the impossibly fancy side of town, doing a pretty easy class in something you enjoy but are already pretty decent at, watching the kind of comedian who does confessionals about how truly bleak their life is but in a "shrug" kind of way.
Best of luck with it all - I hope things start looking up.
posted by hotcoroner at 5:16 AM on July 18, 2019 [2 favorites]

Also, I don't think I can fool myself enough to become more positive in private, it feels too exhausting right now and just want to get over the hump .

I fake it until I make it. A big thing has been to never, ever say anything negative about myself aloud. This is really challenging! I'm used to using self-deprecating humor so now I lean on self-aggrandizing humor instead. You don't need to actually believe these things, but saying them, and hearing them said (even by yourself) does help general outlook, I've found.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:13 AM on July 18, 2019 [3 favorites]

I'm known as a happy-go-lucky kind of guy. When I went through a divorce (she cheated and married my good friend) I suddenly had to do everything in my power to not cry every day.

What helps me get out of my funk is to re-frame my point of view. Instead of trying to fake being happy and focusing on what my day is like, I take every interaction with other people - co-workers, a high-powered lawyer at a lunch meeting, the guy handing me fried stuff at Popeye's chicken - as a chance to make *someone else's* day happy.

This usually results in genuine good feelings for both me and the other person. And it makes me feel like life is going to be okay.
posted by tacodave at 4:07 PM on July 18, 2019 [7 favorites]

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