No matter what kind of challenges you have to face in life, no matter how difficult the situation you find yourself in, and no matter how tough things get, there is always a move forward that you can make. Even more, there is always the optimal (the best) move you can make.
When thinking and using your brain, there are three very basic levels of the mindset you operate from:
- Negative thinking and victim mindset (aka suboptimal negative)
- Suboptimal thinking (mediocre, average thinking, sometimes even positive thinking)
- Optimal thinking (the concept of optimal thinking was introduced by Rosalene Glickman, Ph.D.)
The victim mindset is based on giving your personal power away completely. There are many different causes that lead to the victim kind of thinking.
Examples of the victim mindset are hopelessness, helplessness, overwhelming yourself, jumping to conclusions, self-labelling, undervaluing the reward, perfectionism, many different kinds of fears, coercion and resentment, low frustration tolerance, and so on.
The victim mindset together with negative thinking is always connected to severe cognitive distortions, being overwhelmed with negative emotions, operating with low levels of self-confidence, and usually also to a big gap between the challenge and skill levels.
The only way to get out of the victim mindset is to start building self-confidence, dealing with cognitive distortions, shaping a superior life strategy and starting with everyday small steps.
Engaging in optimal thinking can also be a great help with getting out of the victim mindset. Optimal thinking is the opposite of the victim mindset. It means clearly seeing what your options are, which move makes the most sense and not beating yourself up emotionally over things you can’t change.
Honestly, nobody operates with optimal thinking 100% of time. But that only means that there is always room for improvement.
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The fact is that the more optimally you think in life, the more optimal actions you will take, and that will lead you to the best possible results – achieving your goals as quickly as possible, having a good quality of life and being super productive.
But there is one catch. Even if the victim mindset is the one that paralyzes a person and makes them a passive player of life, there is another type of thinking that lies somewhere between the optimal and the victim mindset and is called suboptimal thinking.
Suboptimal thinking may not be that paralyzing and emotionally tough, but it often brings stagnation in life. Suboptimal thinking is usually the one that lets you enjoy your comfort zone and avoid any kind of innovating and consequently also any kind of progress.
Suboptimal thinking doesn’t lead to you becoming the best version of yourself, achieving the highest quality of life and the best possible results, including maximizing personal happiness. Suboptimal thinking only leads to an average life. If you want to achieve your peak potential in life, you simply have to upgrade your thinking from the negative or average to the optimal.
Here’s how to do that.
Ask yourself the right questions
If you want to engage optimal thinking, you have to start asking yourself the right questions. Only the right question can encourage your brain to start looking for the best solutions. “The best” is the key in optimal thinking. Let me give you an example.
The questions below are examples of emotionally torturing yourself with a victim mindset:
- Why is this happening to me?
- Why did they give me a task, they know it’s too demanding for me?
- What if I fail and everybody will laugh at me?
- Why should I act, there’s no good that can come out of it?
- Why am I not more successful?
Now let’s move on to the next level. Questions like the ones below are how you’re encouraging suboptimal thinking:
- What should I do now?
- Which option should I choose?
- What’s a good way to approach a thing like that?
- How can I solve this problem?
Well, suboptimal thinking will rarely lead you towards considering or coming up with the best possible solution. As mentioned, only the right questions will lead you to take your thinking a step further. Here are examples of questions that encourage optimal thinking:
- What’s the best way to do this thing?
- How can I solve a problem in the best way?
- Which is the best option for me?
- What will lead to the best possible outcome?
- What would the best solution look like?
- What is the best opportunity in my life right now? Help yourself with the SWOT analysis.
- Who is the best person to help me make progress in life?
- What is the best location for me to work?
- What is the best way to minimize waste?
- What are my best skills that I can offer to the market?
- What is the best company for me to work for?
Now, whatever you’re asking yourself, add “the best” into your question. What’s the best way to find a better job? What’s the best way to earn additional money? What’s the best way to deepen a relationship with someone? What’s the best way to organize your schedule for the upcoming week?
What’s the best way to reply to an email? What’s the best book you should read next? You name it. By asking yourself the right questions, you won’t only raise your standards, but also start looking for completely new solutions you haven’t thought of before.
You can also replace the best with other superlatives, like:
- greatest (talents),
- highest (priority),
- smartest (way to work),
- most (profitable, productive, enjoyable, rewarding, important),
- maximal (output, productivity, time spend together),
- optimal (processes, commuting, costs).
Open your mind and innovate
Asking yourself the right questions will definitely encourage your brain to think in the right direction. Nevertheless, it makes sense to add some fuel to creative thinking. The optimal solution is rarely the first solution, so you have to open your mind and brainstorm a little bit.
Below are a few questions that will help you encourage optimal thinking and find the best solution. But remember, the point of the questions is only to open your mind and lead you to the next step, not to give you the final optimal solution.
- What if I do the complete opposite?
- What was the best/worst solution for that kind of a problem until now? Why?
- What if I make it bigger, smaller, faster, slower, add dimension, change color …?
- How would the problem be solved in movies or cartoons?
- What if there were no limitations and I had unlimited resources?
- How can I simplify everything?
- What would I do if I had nothing to lose?
All these questions will definitely open your mind, just make sure you don’t start daydreaming and living in illusions. The idea is to find the best practical solution that you can start immediately implementing.
You can take everything even a step further. You can acquire extra ammo that will help you shoot right towards optimal thinking. Do research, find out how other successful people did what you want to do, analyze best practices (only to get new better ideas, because best practices don’t really exist), equip yourself with additional knowledge, talk with people, and so on.
Ask yourself what your role models would do
When you’re encouraging optimal thinking, you can call your role models for help. One way to do it is to ask your mentor or someone you know and admire what they think would be the best solution for a problem you are facing. People love to help people and I’m sure you’ll get many ideas that will lead towards the best solutions.
But there may be an even better way to encourage optimal thinking. There must be heroes you admire and don’t really know in real life. Not knowing them gives you an advantage, because you can keep the fantasies about their superpowers. You know, that’s why you should never meet your heroes, because they usually don’t have the superpowers you imagine they do.
Anyway, you can fantasize how your hero with superpowers would act and what kind of optimal thinking and optimal solution they would come up with. Just ask yourself: what would [x] do?
Where [x] can be Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Michel Jordan or whoever your role model is. They can even be superheroes like Batman, Superman or any of your favorite fictional characters. Doing such an exercise will help you with emotional detachment and thinking optimally more easily.
Now you know how to get to optimal thinking. Ask the right questions. Open your mind and innovate. Get a third-party perspective with rational superpowers. But that isn’t enough. On the way to finding the optimal solution, there are a few important facts you must never forget to really get to the best solution:
- You have to take all areas of life into consideration
- You have to balance short-term and long-term outputs
- Positive thinking is not always optimal thinking, but optimal thinking is always positive
Take all areas of life into consideration
There’s a simple rule. You can’t live a happy and successful life if you only focus on some parts of your life and forget about the others. You have to look at your life as a whole, and optimize it on the macro level.
That means that optimal thinking always considers all life areas and how your solution will increase/decrease the quality of the specific areas. Here are the ten areas:
- You (personality, environment, happiness etc.)
- Health and primary needs (body)
- Relationships and people skills (love and belonging)
- Money and wealth
- Career, achievements and respect
- Emotions (your emotional body)
- Competences – intelligence, knowledge and skills (your intellectual body)
- Fun, creativity and travel
- Spirituality, self-actualization and giving back to the world (your spiritual body)
- Technology as a leverage for being more productive in all areas of life
As you probably know, if one of the life areas collapses, everything else can collapse as well. Your health greatly affects your earning potential and the quality of your relationships. Your income level has a big influence on all other areas of life, and so on.
You should always thoroughly think about how every major decision influences all ten areas of your life. With optimal thinking, you never take only one or two areas of life into consideration, but you analyze how your move will influence all areas of life.
Rare are the moves that influence life areas only in a positive way. Your energy and time are limited, and investing more in a certain area leads to deprivation in other areas. But with optimal thinking, you can make sure that no area collapses or gets severely damaged and that your overall position after making a move is better than it was before.
For example, optimal thinking may lead to you getting a new, better-paying job. But that also means more work and less free time, at least in the beginning. If you have enough free time, that won’t be a problem at all. You’ll have a little bit less time, but the overall quality of your life will improve.
But if you are already burned out, that kind of a move is probably not optimal thinking. At the end of the day, there is one best solution that considers all the areas of your life and your environment.
Balance short-term and long-term
Besides balancing all areas of life when making an important decision, there is one more thing you have to be very careful about. Your decisions should always balance short-term and long-term quality of life. Managing instant gratification and having the long-term view in mind is always an important part of success and optimal thinking.
You have to deprive yourself of things today, so you can enjoy a brighter future. There is no other way to happy and successful life.
You have to save money and invest it to enjoy future yields and more money. You have to put strict limits on when is enough chocolate for the day so that you don’t get fat. Periods come when you have to work harder to enjoy promotions in the future, and so on.
All those kinds of decisions where you curb your desire for instant gratification can only be made if you have the long-term perspective in mind. But having only long-term perspective in mind is also not good enough.
You aren’t a robot, you’re a human being and you have your own needs. If you don’t regularly satisfy your needs to a certain level, you become bitter and depressed.
That’s definitely not the optimal decision. Thus there must always be a balance between short-term and long-term sacrifices and rewards when you’re looking for the optimal solution.
Positive thinking isn’t always optimal thinking
You can’t live a positive life with a negative mind. Optimal thinking always includes focusing on the positive, considering all the options and the optimal next move, together with accepting limitations and things you can’t change. Optimal thinking is always positive thinking.
Ignoring the negative won’t make your life better.
But on the other hand, positive thinking isn’t always optimal thinking. You may use positive thinking to escape the harsh reality. With positive thinking, you may avoid conflicts, you may use it to suppress negative feelings, you may escape into daydreaming and unpractical solutions, and so on.
For example, with positive thinking you may be nice when you shouldn’t be nice at all, but rather stand for yourself (situations when you’re mistreated).
Here’s the catch. Action required by optimal thinking is usually not an easy one. It takes some courage, new behavioral patterns, to stop doing certain things and start doing new ones. Not always, but in most cases.
So there is a question that answers if your positive thinking isn’t optimal thinking: “Are you taking the easy way out?” and “Will you do things differently than how you’ve been doing them until now?”. If your answer to the first question is “yes” and to the second one “no”, you’re probably not thinking optimally.
For extraordinary results, you need to take extraordinary actions. To take extraordinary actions, you have to think in unorthodox ways.
Why don’t we always think optimally?
Being unable to manage your feelings is the number one reason why you usually don’t think optimally. If you want think optimally, your judgment can’t be clouded with severe negative (or positive) feelings.
You definitely have to listen to your feelings, they are the compass telling you in which direction to go, but you must be careful they don’t overwhelm you to the point that you don’t act or act in a toxic and destructive way.
If you hurt your body, you go to the doctor. If you’re suffering emotionally, that means something is wrong in your life; that you aren’t on the right path.
You can use that to get yourself on the right path or let yourself drown in self-pity. It’s no different if your body was bleeding and you’d do absolutely nothing, just feel sorry for yourself until you bled to death. That is far from optimal thinking.
Besides emotional burdens, there are also other factors that can lead to suboptimal thinking:
- Lying to yourself that things are better than they are to avoid emotional pain
- Operating out of the fixed mindset (things are as they are and can’t be changed)
- Acting based on completely wrong assumptions
- Trusting current best practices. There is no such thing as a best practice.
- Having zero knowledge or being stuck in analysis-paralysis
- Having no feedback loop and not doing any self-reflection
- Having Anti-Kaizen mentality
Introducing the search mode into your life, with the goal of making small steps in real life and finding the optimal solution based on the constant feedback from your environment is the hardest, but definitely the best way to employ optimal thinking. If you want to think optimally, you have to know when you are in the search mode and when in the execution mode.
How optimally are you actually thinking?
Well, there is no optimal thinking without doing an exercise or two. This is the most important part after you read something – applying knowledge. So make sure you really do the exercises. I even prepared a spreadsheet to get them done more easily.
So what is the best way for you to do the exercises? Download the spreadsheet below, open it and start typing. Alternative way is that you just follow the instructions below.
- Optimal thinking – Template with 60+ questions to help you with optimal thinking (.xls)
Exercise 1: Improving your life strategy with optimal thinking
- What is the most important to me in my life?
- What are the most important needs I have?
- What do I want more than anything?
- What are my greatest strengths and talents?
- I deserve the best in life. What is the smartest way to get that?
- What is my highest priority in life right now?
- Who can help me grow the fastest in my life right now?
- How can I organize my schedule in the best possible way?
- What is the best way to achieve my currently most important goal in life?
- How can I make the most out of [your currently toughest] situation?
- What’s the best solution to [your currently biggest problem in life]?
- What is the best way for me to read more every day?
Exercise 2: Updating your thinking to achieve your goals faster
Now it’s time for the second exercise, a little more demanding. List all the areas of life. For each area, write a goal or two you have. Now write down all the negative, suboptimal and optimal convictions and beliefs you have regarding you achieving your goals.
Analyze how optimally you’re really thinking and for each goal, write down what would be the best way for you to think. Then update your brain “software” and start thinking in this kind of way. When you slip, open the spreadsheet and remind yourself of your new mindset.
When doing this exercise, make sure that you also answer the following questions for each area:
- How can I become the best version of myself?
- In what kind of an environment do I function best and thrive the most?
- How can I maximize my happiness in life?
- What is the sport I like the most? How many times is optimal for me to exercise in a week?
- What is the optimal diet for me in terms of not getting fat and keeping high levels of energy?
- What is the most important to me in relationships?
- What is the best way for me to make additional money?
- How can I offer the highest value to markets at the moment?
- What is the most profitable project I can undertake right now?
- What is the best company I can currently get a job at for sure?
- What is the most rewarding work I can currently do and get paid?
- What step can I make to maximize my career status from my current position?
- What is the smartest way for me to manage my emotions better?
- What are my most profitable competences?
- What is the best way for me to develop more profitable competences?
- How can I maximize my productivity right now?
- Which fun activities give me the highest satisfaction in life?
- What is the most creative activity I enjoy in life?
- How can I give the most back to the community?
- Which software makes me the most productive? Which apps are the biggest time wasters?
Exercise 3: Applying optimal thinking in other life situations
Now as the last exercise, try to use optimal thinking in other life situations. Here are a few examples:
|A problem you have||What is the best solution?|
|A situation you have||What is the best way to handle the situation?|
|Strategy||What is in my best interest?|
|Feeling stuck||What is the best opportunity right now?|
|People||Who brings out the best in me?|
|Relationships||What is the best for both of us (me and my partner)?|
|Learning||What is the best way for me to learn more?|
|Thinking||What is the best way for me to upgrade my mindset?|
|Resources||Which resources would help me advance in life the fastest?|
|Time management||What are the three most important tasks I will do today?|
|Risks||What is the best way to minimize risk?|
|Money||What is the best way to earn 10x more than I am making now?|
|Mentoring||Who is the most viable person to talk to about a problem I have?|
|Thinking for yourself||What is the most important area in my life where I could use optimal thinking and wasn’t mentioned in this post?|
Let’s end with one more question that will help you increase the percentage of use of optimal thinking. When, where and with whom you think in the most optimal way?
Your thoughts and actions are always a product of who you are and your environment. So think and analyze carefully when, where and with whom your thinking is at its best, when it’s mediocre and in what kind of situations you become a negative-thinking person.
Now you know how to upgrade your mindset with optimal thinking. Don’t be stuck in an emotional cage with the victim mindset and don’t settle in the comfort zone withe suboptimal thinking. Negative and suboptimal thinking usually slowly lead to becoming a zombie. You can do much better and you deserve it. You deserve to live your optimal life.
If you are interested in learning more about optimal thinking, there is a whole book dedicated to it (Optimal Thinking: How to Be Your Best Self) written by Rosalene Glickman who also introduced the concept of optimal thinking. On their website you can also take the test to identify your dominant level of thinking.
Enjoy thinking optimally and seeing the results!
References: Optimal Thinking: How to Be Your Best Self by Rosalene Glickman, Ph.D. and Optimal thinking website. Optimal Thinking is a registered trademark of The World Academy of Personal Development Inc.