Taking little steps towards optimism

February 18th 2022

Optimism can massively reduce anxiety. But what if you are a pessimist? Here is how you can change that outlook and in turn, reduce anxiety.


At school we learned the 2 times table and the 10 times table first.  That made it easier to then learn the 4 times and 5 times tables.  Learning the 3’s supported the 6s.

We took things in steps.

So why as adults is it so common that we make things hard? It is like  aiming to memorise the works of Shakespeare when you have only just learned the alphabet!

The gap between where you are now and where you want to get to is daunting – just the sort of environment that invites anxiety in!


The anxiety itself can then become a brake to make closing the gap even harder

Here is a technique that releases the brake and helps you to start closing the gap.  And it is a bit like learning that 2x table as a way to then doing the 8x table in the future.

Start doing the things that are easy to do

We are surrounded by things that can help us feel better.  It may be putting on that comfy old sweatshirt, or stopping to smell the perfume of a rose bush as you pass by.

Young children are brilliant at this.  They live in the moment and indulge in the things that leave them feeling good.  Many of these things are still around us but we have lost that childlike presence.

These may be little things but neurologically there is a lot going on.  That little pleasure releases a chemical called dopamine into the blood system- the natural happy drug.  And a bit like learning the tables, taking time to appreciate the pleasures makes it easier to see those pleasures (remember they are all around us!!).  And the easier it becomes, the more we do it, the more dopamine is put into the system….

The stronger that mental muscle becomes, the more you can do

By appreciating the little things you can start to see pleasure in what often is the mundane, changing the mundane into something that can be a source of pleasure.

The walk that you ‘had to do’ to get your 10k steps in, becomes an opportunity to wonder at the soaring hawk, appreciate the spring flowers, laugh at the antics of dogs on their exercise.

Be contagious

As we start to discover the little things in life that makes us happy, we naturally share this excitement with others.  Back to those little kids who want to share the joy of finding a shell on a beach.  As the joy grows and grows, we naturally share it with others.  And guess what….?

…..We all become infected with more dopamine!

And the gap closes

And now the magic starts.  From having taken a little time to appreciate those little things, you have strengthened that mental muscle we call appreciation. And that muscle then keeps twitching leading you to actively think of what you can do to feel good, to help other feel good.

And the outcome…..that gap closes and you don’t even realise you have done it.  Just like you no longer need to go through the whole 5 times table to end up at 9×5=45 – you just find yourself there easily.

When making a leap feels daunting, don't leap! Just keep taking little steps and what was at first a mountain, now allows you to see the wonderful view from the top.

Anxiety is a response to perceived vulnerability; risk.  When you reduce the risk anxiety reduces.  And this simple approach not only reduces the anxiety, it gives you a mental strength that can support a whole new view of life.

What small step are you going to take today?

Caroline Cavanagh is an anxiety specialist  and hypnotherapist in Salisbury, Wiltshire.  She is an author and public speaker and would love to talk to you if you would like to know more about her work

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