But optimism isn't all bad. It's a necessary and uplifting attitude toward life, as long as it functions hand-in-hand with realism. In times of change, we're challenged to let go of the old and create a future different from the past. That transition involves surrender to, and trust in, the unseen. If I'm realistic and give up a job that is seriously stressing me out, for example, it helps to trust that I'll be able to find something better. Otherwise, I'll start to feel helpless and hopeless, which is when defensive pessimism turns into crippling depression.

The ability to surrender to the unknown and to live with trust in the times between "no longer" and "not yet" is optimistic realism. With your feet on the ground and your mind open to possibility, every experience has the potential to deepen your wisdom and connection to the richness of life.

3 Tips for Becoming an Optimistic Realist

  • Identify a realistic action step to help you through change. When the recession hit, I called the phone company and saved $40 a month by asking them to suggest ways to trim costs. I became more involved in the day-to-day running of my business, and almost instantly new opportunities emerged.

  • Stoke the fires of spiritual inspiration. The Sufis say if you take one step toward God, God takes a hundred steps toward you. Meditation, music and time outside keep me spiritually optimistic and present to the beauty of the world and this life.

  • Be accountable to a friend. Just as people who have dogs get more exercise because they are accountable to their animal companions, you can exercise your resilience muscles by identifying a step—either practical or spiritual—and telling a friend what your intention is.

New York Times best-selling author Dr. Joan Borysenko is a world-renowned expert in stress management and mind-body medicine. Her gracious presence, sense of humor and ability to combine the latest scientific research with personal stories and riveting anecdotes make her a popular speaker in venues ranging from hospitals and corporations to conferences and retreat centers. Her most recent book, It's Not the End of the World: Developing Resilience in Times of Change (Hay House), is available now.

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