Optimism is a superpower we can all cultivate to improve work and life: Tina Catling

Scroll through the news headlines and global doom and gloom have never been so accessible - and all before breakfast. There are countless studies saying being exposed to negativity is bad for your health.

Negativity can be common in workplaces. People are more likely to blame another person for something that goes wrong, than give them credit when it goes right. Toxic workplace culture can create unhappy, burned-out, and depressed people, impacting on productivity and success.

Humans have a negativity bias. We pay attention to the bad news. Algorithmic structures on social media can magnify our negativity bias. Facebook gave angry posts more weight after its algorithms found angry people fuelled more engagement.

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Acknowledging algorithms and news headlines are biased to focus on the bad, it’s no wonder these ultra-processed emotions will eventually make us sick.

Here’s the good news: I believe we’re on the brink of an optimism zeitgeist.

Optimism is a superpower. It safeguards our outlook, and brings colour back to the world – as a relatively safe, wonderful, warm, fun, welcoming, interesting, inspiring place to be.

According to studies, optimistic individuals tend to engage in healthier behaviours, cope more effectively with stress, and experience enhanced immune function.

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As an Innovation Director at ThinkOTB based in Leeds and corporate psychologist, I’ve seen how the right outlook can make the seemingly impossible, possible.

Optimism can serve as a catalyst for change. In the midst of daunting global issues, individuals who maintain a hopeful perspective are more likely to act, inspire others, and drive positive transformations.

And the even better news? Optimism can be cultivated.

I am currently running a new leadership programme, incorporating optimism at its core, for Sellafield’s nuclear decommissioning team. By its nature, nuclear decommissioning involves scaling a mountain, littered with obstacles and risk. It needs positive leaders, guiding the way.

My approach is inspired by the work done at the US nuclear weapons plant, Rocky Flats, in Colorado. They achieved an incredible feat.

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In 1989 following years of complaints from workers, unions and environmental regulators, the FBI raided the Rocky Flats nuclear facility and shut it down.

The Department of Energy concluded that its cleanup and closure would require effort on a scale that had never been attempted in United States history.

What was once considered one of the most contaminated and environmentally dangerous locations on earth, was reopened to the public as a pristine wildlife refuge - in one-sixth the time, and less than one-sixth the cost, of original clean-up estimates.

In tangible terms, a project initially forecast to span 70 years and cost taxpayers $36 billion was completed 60 years ahead of schedule and $29 billion dollars under budget…a feat the government’s own General Accounting office declared unlikely, if not impossible.

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It was nothing short of altering awful to astonishing. How did they do it?

Strong leadership and optimism.

This equates to more than the ability to plan, organise, set a direction, establish a strategy, and execute it meticulously. It means you also need to empower and inspire those around you to leave the world better than when you first found it.

By embracing a realistic optimism grounded in evidence-based solutions and proactive action, individuals can navigate the complexities of the modern world with resilience and determination.

Optimistic leadership is holding hope for a better future. Who’s with me?

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