The most of last year, well, all of 2020 for some, was tiring and awful. Glad as we are to welcome a new year, at least the beginning of 2021 looks a bit grim. and seems like it will be so for a few more months till we get to a sense of normalcy. We speak to optimism doctor (really!) Dr Deepika Chopra, who holds a doctorate in clinical health psychology to tell us how we can be more positive in 2021. Here is what Chopra, who is based in California had to say.
2020 was particularly hard for everyone. What are the first few things you would say, one can do to begin the new year on a positive note?
I think we are often so pressured to start the new year in some perfect, balanced, overly productive, positive way. And the truth is most people do not carry through on resolutions they make because they are either too lofty, out of reach or a source of pressure and often shame. I often like to start the new year off more so reflecting on the past year and all that I have overcome, the big stuff and the little stuff, reminding myself and my clients that we have overcome all 365 days of the past year, the good ones, neutral ones and the oh so hard ones. So, I guess I’d say, focus on your strengths, resiliency and self-gratitude.
Social media constantly has us feeling that we have to have perfect thoughts, perfect feelings, positive outlook towards life, perfect beauty etc. How to stay positive in the face of all this?
Perfection is not real, it is a misguided perception and is well… a trap. And as an Optimism Doctor, I know it sounds strange to hear me say this but, positivity has become so intertwined with the misguided perception of perfection that it becomes toxic. Somewhere along the line, we started pressuring ourselves and others to be “positive” all the time… besides being humanely impossible it is also a notion that can be entirely detrimental. Humans are made to experience the full range of emotions and it is damaging to have our authentic feelings suppressed, especially because emotions such as anger, shame, anxiety, sadness are part of all of our daily lives.
Negative headlines-- more so in the past year has dampened our spirits-- how do we avoid getting sucked into a rabbit hole of negativity?
I don’t believe in “turning off the news” or “ignorance is bliss”. I believe that knowledge is power and knowing what is happening can lead to one person having a solution and so on. However, I believe in boundaries… being mindful about how and when you consume your news and spend your valuable energy. If you know that you can sleep if you’ve watched the news, then setting a boundary of not consuming media or upsetting headlines a couple of hours before bedtime is key… or, if you feel overwhelmed by the number of articles you are exposed to throughout the day, then setting boundaries to limit yourself to only reading two a day or whatever the number that feels good for you.
You say, your process is not about positive manifestation-- eg. put your heart into it and it will happen-- please elaborate.
It’s not that my process or practice is not about positive manifestation, it is, it’s just that I very strongly remind people that it takes hard work, real mindset shift, lifestyle changes and mental fitness to make whatever it is you want to happen. I think it can be dangerous to promote that if you just want something it will magically appear in your lap, It can be dangerous because it can leave people feeling a sense of failure when it doesn’t happen and worse, they may start to think that something horrible that had nothing to do with them, they single-handedly caused a death in a family, a fatal diagnosis etc. For me, it is of course important to know what you want, but it is more important to examine what you are truly expecting to happen. The expectation holds more potency than the want.
Please define ‘being optimistic’.
I think the word “optimism” can often be misunderstood. People generally amount optimism to positivity, it’s much more complex than that. Optimism is about resiliency, curiosity and hope. It is not about disregarding the truth and being devoid of reality. True optimism is someone very aware of the setbacks, roadblocks and less than ideal situations … the caveat is that they see these setbacks as temporary and something that they have the power to overcome, even if they don’t know exactly how or when. An optimist is someone who recognises and validates their negative feelings but at the very same time can hold hope for something better.
Reality check— what is your take on self-help books-- are they worth it?
Well, it depends on which ones! There are some very valuable books out there! I always ask my podcast guests on my show ‘Looking up With Deepika Chopra’ if there has been a book that has changed the way they live their life. And it’s always fascinating to me to gather the titles! I generally don’t tend to gravitate to the ones that start with “21 days to…” it is a myth that it takes 21 days to form a new habit or even break a bad one down. The real number is actually on average in the 60s.