Accountable Healthcare - Beating Burnout With Optimism
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December 20, 2019

Beating Burnout With Optimism

Humans are born either more positive or more negative – it’s genetic. You can be born more positive but when you enter into a negative work environment, you can easily adopt the negative attitudes and behaviors from other people because of something in our brains called mirror neurons.

Spend time with people who are negative and over time; you will see the world through a negative lens too.

The flip side is true. Spend time with people who are positive and over time; you will see the world through a positive lens!

Mirror neurons are the exact reason why being optimistic is a gift for those who possess it.  In their book, Connected, authors Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler demonstrate the power that social networks have to influence interpersonal behaviors and relationships.  Numerous studies show that you do not have complete control over your behaviors, thereby conforming to the most common behaviors within your social network.

The bottom line is that if you want to be happier – surround yourself with happy people. If you want to have more money – spend more time with people who have money. If you want to be in a loving relationship – spend more time with loving couples.

If you want to be more optimistic as a nurse – spend more time with optimistic nurses!


Optimism isn’t someone who lives in a state of constant joy, who walks into work skipping and smiling, or who never seems to be upset about anything. That would be weird. Optimism is a BELIEF that good things are possible. It’s being hopeful about the future and confident that no matter what the current situation is, things will get better. There is so much gloom and doom out there. People who are optimistic don’t let the media or the break room chronic complainers suck them into the vortex of hopelessness. Instead, they rise above and remember that MOST people are good people; that there is more goodness in the world than badness; that nursing is a wonderful profession filled with numerous opportunities to make a difference in the lives of millions of people despite the challenges.

The connection between optimism and positivity

Martin Seligman is known as the father of positive psychology. As the former president of the American Psychological Association, he spent the majority of his life studying human strengths and potential. As it turns out, what can unlock human potential is positivity. 

Positive emotions, such as enthusiasm, excitement, and joy are more contagious than negative ones.  Positive emotions compound quickly and positive leaders were perceived as more effective and more likely to persuade their followers to do what they want them to do.  Positivity and optimism go hand in hand.

People who are optimistic and positive build strong relationships with others, are trusted, and typically perform better than their counterparts; pessimistic, negative people.

How optimism shows up in the nursing profession:

  • New nurses entering into the profession with bright eyes and eager minds
  • Experienced nurses who master the art of the electronic medical record even though they don’t own a computer!
  • Nurses who sit for a certification exam or who go back to school to get an advanced degree even though they are nervous
  • A nurse who has the worst shift of his career, goes home, sleeps, and then gets back up the next day to do it all over again

Optimism is the hope that we CAN and we WILL make this world a better place.

How to give yourself the gift of optimism:

1. Create opportunities for laughter

There are 4 primary neurochemicals in the brain: endorphins, dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin. They all contribute to our positive feelings of happiness, pride, joy, well-being, achievement and fulfillment. Dopamine, in particular, gets released when we laugh! The benefits of laughter include improved immune function, stress relief, increased tolerance for pain, improved cardiovascular health, reduced anxiety, and improved mood.

Not only is laughter good for individuals but it also improves the workplace. According to Daniel Goldman, workplace jokes and laughter improve communication and trust. You and I both know you can get a lot more done with people you feel comfortable communicating with and whom you trust.

2. Get social

The more friends you have, the better you feel! Did you know that people who have less than 5 friends are more likely to die before those who have more than 5? A study of 20,000 people found that people who felt disconnected from others were more likely to get sick, miss work or even suffer a heart attack!!! The less socialization you have, the shorter the life expectancy.  Social relationships provide the best guarantee of heightened well-being and lowered stress. It’s like the antidote for depression and prescription for high performance and optimism. 

3. Spend more time with optimistic people!

Just like we talked about with mirror neurons, you are influenced greatly by the people you spend time with. Take a look at your inner circle of friends and colleagues. Who are the most positive? Deliberately go out of your way to spend more time with them.  In my professional life, I have a list of colleagues whom I regularly spend time with who “fill my cup” and give me hope for the future. Same thing in my personal life. I have friends and family who always encourage me and make me believe that I can do and handle anything!! And of course, like you, I have those people in my life who suck the life right out of me!! I try to spend less time with them and more time with the cup fillers.  You need to do the same.

If you spend time with people who care about your development you will grow.

If you spend time with people who are hostile and negative, they will bring you down too.

The greatest gift you can give yourself, your colleagues, and the world, is the gift of optimism. Nurses who are optimistic BELIEVE that their work matters. They have clarity of purpose and believe they are making a difference even if it’s to that one person.

Article was written by: Renee Thompson