Fake it Til You Make It: Hacking Optimism to Help You Pay Off Debt

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I’m going to let you in on little bit of a (non) secret: I’m a total cheeseball. Give me a good “bad joke” and I’ll be on the floor laughing. Why did the scarecrow win an award? That’s my small talk of choice. It’s because he was outstanding in his field, by the way.

For the most part, I find great pleasure in very small things. Call it optimism, call it idealism, call it over-eagerness, call it obnoxious – I tend to default towards the happier side of the spectrum. My co-worker Shannon says that if I were an animal I would be a Quokka – aka the happiest animal in the world. And while I’m pretty pleased to come across as such a happy gal, it’s certainly not the case all of the time. I have my grumpy days. Plenty of “woe is me” days. And when I’m late to work, I’m the first to throw out a few choice words. So while I may be a fairly happy-go-lucky person, there’s no doubt about it: maintaining an optimistic outlook takes work. A lot of work.

The thing is, optimism is easy to talk about and/or to advise on but it isn’t always an easy thing to harness and implement. When you’re up against a mountain of challenges (for instance, debt, late fees, unexpected car expenses) it’s incredibly tough to retain a positive frame of mind. But the trick isn’t in finding the secret to happiness but instead in understanding that the greater goal isn’t to be optimistic or confident in your future all the time. Rather, the goal is to develop the tools that help you to bounce back when you do meet an obstacle.

So let’s take a look at how you can go about building a solid foundation to sustainably pair optimism with your goals and harness your inner-quokka:

There’s no “secret” to optimism

First things first. There is no single secret to hacking optimism. Building up confidence comes as a result of hard work and taking on the peaks and dips of life. That being said, optimism and confidence often breed more optimism and confidence. When you feel good about your choices and your situation, you’re more likely to make choices that foster growth or push you to the next level. On the flip side, feeling timid or unsure can limit the chances you’re willing to take or make you feel paralyzed rather than proactive. So instead of focusing on how to find the easy hack, focus on what you would like to restructure or reframe. That includes highlighting your goals, your frustrations, etc. so that you’re in touch with what you want to change and can pinpoint exactly where you would like to instill more optimism or confidence into your habits.

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Optimism is only an extension of who you are right now

Any emotional change or growth comes from within. I know that can come across as an overdone inspirational quote… but hey, it’s true! When you restructure your outlook or thinking, you’ve done so by tapping into a part of your brain that was there all along.

Everything that goes through your mind is a product of your mind. The good thoughts, the bad thoughts, the wildly intelligent thoughts. These are all you – and let’s be honest, that’s quite an awesome source to draw from. So when I use the term “fake it til you make it” I’m not telling you to abandon yourself in favor of “being someone else.” When you’re “faking it,” you’re simply being a specific version of yourself. Same body, same mind, same circumstances. But you have changed the environment/climate of your thoughts into something more positive and supportive.

Imagine yourself without debt:

  • What does it look like?
  • What does it feel like?
  • Are you more confident? More relaxed?

When you have a vision in your head you already have all the tools to make it happen. Be that version of yourself. Put energy into assuming those qualities that you aspire to have… and live by them.

Wins matter

We tend to give so much attention to our flounders and our mistakes that it’s easy to skip over our everyday wins. Make it a habit to write out or list the wins in your daily life. Even if the only win that you had was to get to work on time. These victories are important to acknowledge and pinpointing success is a great way to build upon a foundation of confidence. Just think about how you feel when you focus solely on your mistakes… pretty awful, right? Now think of how you feel when you’re proud of an accomplishment or receive positive feedback. That positivity inspires positive feelings. Grab onto that – give yourself “positive” fuel by acknowledging your daily wins.

You don’t have to go at it alone

Though confidence ultimately comes from within, there’s no reason to go at it alone. There are plenty of resources available and you should take advantage of any that are particularly effective for you. Not everyone responds to the same triggers and that’s entirely OK. Experiment with different kinds of support to get a feel for which ones impact you the most successfully. Maybe you like short articles to get you motivated, or working out as a way to reconnect with your goals. Whatever your circumstances, there will be something that stands out for you. When you find it (experimenting with/failing at multiple things is perfectly normal path to singling it out) make sure to hone in on it and continue tapping in!

Fear isn’t necessarily a negative emotion

One of the biggest confidence deflators in life to come up against an uncertainty. It’s especially jarring if you’ve been strolling down your life road just fine and suddenly bam… you’re gripped with that toppling sense of fear. What if I can’t do it? What if I fail? What if, what if? Since fear triggers an emotional and physical reaction it literally makes you feel the adrenaline rush and it muddles your thoughts. But it’s also just another emotion that’s coming from you. Since you have control over you, you have the power to overcome it!

Restructuring what fear actually represents is a useful way to get past the anxiety and to rebalance your emotions. What is fear but an indication that you’re up against something that requires you to have your wits about you? In some cases, it’s for your own physical safety, but in other cases your fear is a way to clarify a situation. Use that clarity to help motivate you! For example, you might feel afraid to face your debt and unsure of how to proceed with repayment, give yourself the upper hand by understanding exactly where you stand and what your numbers represent.

Trusting in the result is essential

Imagine with me for a minute. You’re in your kitchen, standing over your stove, staring down a frying pan. To your left are two whole eggs, resting in the grooves of the tile. The heat’s on. The pan is greased. And it’s time for breakfast. You reach for the first egg, a little rusty in your egg frying abilities. Poised and ready, you bring your hand and the egg down to the edge of the pan but before you make contact, you get a little nervous and slow down at the last minute. The egg taps but the shell remains unbroken.The nervousness had a direct impact on the result.

It’s a fairly simple scene, but it does demonstrate something important: sometimes you have to trust in the result to get the result you want. In other words, you have to commit to a goal with the expectation that it will work out. Don’t get tied up in the potential scenarios of failure, or the obstacles that might get in your way. If you do, you could end up limiting your potential. Going about something with purpose and with trust in the result of your actions makes a world of difference.

It takes practice, practice, practice.

It’s a common misconception that optimism and confidence are qualities that are inherent. But positive thinking and confidence don’t come easy, and they don’t necessarily stick around indefinitely once harnessed. Life is unpredictable and full of ups and downs. The energy spent processing the changes and the challenges can easily derail positive thinking.

While some people do seem to take to it more quickly than others, you’re the author of your own story. You are penning your own life – that means edits and all. Re-read, reimagine, and reassess if you don’t like the direction or the tone.

So… what are you waiting for?

It’s true what Dr. Suess said, “… there’s no one more you-er than you!” Take full advantage of all that you personally have to offer to your goals. Ultimately, it’s not about whether the glass is half full or half empty. It’s about how you fill your glass. Orange juice? Pineapple juice? Bevy of beverages? Whatever it may be, it’ll be delightful in its own way. Take the time to appreciate and fill your own well with everything that you need to take care of yourself. From there, you can tap into the confidence that’s required for an optimistic outlook on your financial (or any other) path.

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  • Ruben Omega

    So true…I used to be pessimistic about having to travel a lot for work and being away from family ’til a friend verbally slapped me by making me realize it’s something I take for granted, and to pay attention to the benefits and perks of travel. Took a while for my optimism of work-travel to become genuine, but now it’s something I look more forward to, and it’s spread to other life aspects as well!

    • http://www.twitter.com/bwfeldman Benjamin Feldman

      Wow, what a great example. I could see both sides of that – on the one hand, I can understand your frustration with the logistics of traveling frequently, but on the other hand, I can imagine your newfound excitement about exploring the globe. It’s great that you were able to create that new way of looking things! Thanks for your comment.

  • http://www.brokepedia.com Kristin

    Great stuff here, Claire. And I like your point about using fear to your advantage. ‘Restructuring’ is a great way to put it–there’s usually something valid in fear. It helps to find what that is and turn it into something useful!

    • Claire Murdough

      Thanks so much for the comment, Kristin! Totally agree on restructuring. Not always an easy process but the result is incredibly empowering!