Showing posts with label Optimism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Optimism. Show all posts

Monday, February 17, 2014

Why It Pays to Be an Optimist

I used to work with someone who had a habit of saying, “If anything can go wrong, it will.” Whenever he experienced any kind of setback, he interpreted it as confirmation that things always turned out badly for him.

He honestly believed that he was destined to have awful things happen to him and that he had no control over the outcomes.

ALL of us experience unexpected, negative events in our lives. When you have to deal with this kind of challenge, it’s easy to feel that life’s against you. The difficulties are right in your face, so you focus on them and completely overlook any positive aspects of the situation. You can get discouraged and lose sight of the choices you do have.

It turns out that our beliefs and attitudes dramatically affect what happens to us.

When you’re pessimistic, you anticipate and dwell on the worst-case scenario. You create a movie in your mind of the result you don’t want and play it over and over.

But focusing exclusively on the negatives like this can actually cause your worst fears to be realized. You can end up feeling like a victim and concluding there’s nothing you can do.

Stopping this vicious cycle requires a shift from pessimism to optimism.

Now that doesn’t mean putting on rose-colored glasses and pretending that all is right with the world. It means learning to recognize that every situation in life has both positives and negatives.

With optimism, you see both aspects, but you make a conscious decision to emphasize possibilities and opportunities instead of disasters and problems. You take responsibility for things you can control, and you don’t feel bad or guilty about areas outside of your control.

The attitude you bring to a situation strongly influences its outcome. If you’re convinced things will turn out badly, you probably won’t take steps to achieve the best result.

Open your mind to the positives as well as the negatives, and your worldview will be more complete. If you remember what you have going for you, it will have a major impact on the way you respond and the outcome you achieve.

Take inspiration this 2-minutes clip with Dr. Martin Seligman, who explains the difference between an optimist and a pessimistic – and why the optimist demonstrates greater resilience.

“One of the things I learned the hard way was that it doesn't pay to get discouraged. Keeping busy and making optimism a way of life can restore your faith in yourself.” 
- Lucille Ball, American comedian (1911-1989)

Monday, January 7, 2013

Optimism: A Strength You Can Develop

Back in 1994 I completed the self-assessment in Martin Seligman’s now-classic book, Learned Optimism. With most quizzes, I answer the questions, think about the interpretation for a few minutes and promptly forget about it.

Not this time.

The insights I gained from that thought-provoking test had a profound, lasting effect on the way I think about and explain what happens to me in life.

Dr. Seligman helped me understand that the way you talk to yourself after an event – whether it’s a positive or negative experience – impacts the way you view yourself and the control you have over your life. He calls it your “explanatory” style, and the good news is, it’s not set in concrete.

If you currently tend to see the world through the eyes of a pessimist, you can learn to alter your perspective so that you acquire a more balanced view.

So how does he define the differences in the explanatory styles of an optimist and a pessimist? There are three related areas.

1. TIME: Permanent vs. Temporary

Will this event persist, or is it just a short-term phenomenon?

Optimists tend to explain positive events as permanent and pervasive (“I’m always lucky”) whereas a pessimist uses language that reflects a temporary condition (“I guess it’s just my lucky day”).

Conversely, when something negative happens, an optimist explains it as temporary (“You don’t seem to be listening right now”), while a pessimist uses words like “always” and “never” (“You never listen to me”).

2. SPACE: Specific vs. Universal

Are you able to isolate the effects of an undesirable incident, or does it impact everything else that happens in your life?

Pessimists will take one bad experience and allow it to influence everything else around them. As Dr. Seligman says, “When one thread of their lives snaps, the whole fabric unravels.” For instance, if they experience a disappointment or setback on the job, those at home can end up paying the price.

Optimists, on the other hand, are more likely to look at a specific incident and detach it from other aspects of their lives. They don’t conclude that a failure in one area means they are incompetent or inadequate in all others.

3. FOCUS: Internal vs. External 

This area relates to personal responsibility and blame. Do you blame yourself, or do you blame the outside world?

The key is to understand who and what you are responsible for.

If an event is beyond your control, it makes sense to take the optimist’s approach and recognize that you could not influence the outcome. It would be inappropriate for you to blame yourself, but that’s exactly what pessimists tend to do when these kinds of situations happen. The effect is that an optimist’s self-esteem stays intact while the pessimist’s suffers a serious blow because of unwarranted self-criticism.

On the other hand, there are many times you can influence the position you find yourself in. Optimists will assume personal responsibility and do what they can, whereas pessimists will put themselves in the role of victim by blaming external factors for their plight.

If you recognize yourself in any of the pessimist’s reactions described here, there’s good news. You have the power and ability to condition yourself to think and behave with greater optimism. Use these strategies to make the transition to a more positive, balanced way of viewing yourself and the world:
  • Recognize when you have the power to exercise control over your environment, and then take action. Don’t look around for someone else to rescue you, and don’t play the blame game.

  • Dispute the internal criticism if your negative thoughts attack your worth as a person. Challenge this line of thinking by presenting evidence that contradicts the thought. Prove to yourself that what you’re saying is factually incorrect by listing other situations where you have had positive results.

  • Learn to encourage yourself after a setback, just as you would a good friend. Monitor what you say to yourself, and keep the internal dialogue positive. 
As Dr. Seligman wisely states: “Changing the destructive things you say to yourself when you experience the setbacks that life deals all of us is the central skill of optimism.” 

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Finding the Upside

Every now and then I read a book that inspires, educates and gives practical tips I can use right away. Find the Upside of the Down Times by Dr. Rob Pennington is that kind of book.

Rob has faced extreme adversity in his life and prevailed. Even when the “down times” included getting shot in the chest by an assailant, fired from his job, audited by the IRS and taking care of a critically ill spouse. Instead of becoming cynical and discouraged, Rob used each of these challenges as an opportunity to learn and grow.

I admire that. His courage, optimism and perseverance serve as motivation and encouragement for me.

And Rob did two things that caused the book to be a compelling read:

Self-Disclosure. Rob makes himself vulnerable to the reader. He doesn’t pretend that he was strong or perfect in the middle of these circumstances. Instead, he allows us to see his emotions, doubts and struggles. He’s one of us so we can identify with him and realize that it’s possible to emerge successfully from even the gravest of situations.

Structure. Each chapter contains the same three parts:
1 - Personal story that captures your attention and describes his challenge
2 - “What to Remember” – the lesson learned from the experience
3 - “What to Do” – the specific actions you can take to apply the lesson in your own life

For example, in the chapter “Turn a Worry into a Goal,” Rob describes his serious concerns about paying the $36,000 hospital bill he received after getting shot. He didn’t have the money and didn’t know how he’d get it. He explains how he was able to hold a “positive possibility” in his mind and find the solution to this problem. The action steps provided at the end helped me work through a specific challenge I was facing at the time.

Like any book, if you just read Find the Upside of the Down Times, you’ll gain some insights you didn’t have before. But if you actually implement the clear, step-by-step suggestions included with each chapter, you’ll experience the true potential to change your attitude and your results.

In his preface, Rob recommends reading just one chapter at a time. Then take time to think about how you can put the concepts into practice in your life.

I agree. This is a book to be savored over time. Although it could be a quick read, you’ll get the greatest benefits by following his suggestion.

You’re going to face many difficulties in your life. Some of them will even bring you to your knees. Absorbing the wisdom in this book will prepare you for those times so you emerge stronger from the

Friday, June 11, 2010

Optimism - Focus on Opportunities Instead of Obstacles

The attitude and beliefs you bring to a challenging situation dramatically affect what happens to you. Putting on rose-colored glasses and hoping for the best won’t make the problem go away. Find out what an optimistic approach really looks like and why it will get you better results. When you implement these ideas, you’ll reduce the fear and anxiety you may feel in the face of uncertainty.

If you tend to play “scary” movies in your head, try replacing them with vivid images of what you DO want. Can you feel the difference in your mind and body?
"Things turn out best for people who make the best of the way things turn out." - John Wooden, American college basketball coach

“Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow, it only saps today of its joy.” - Leo Buscaglia, American author

“The optimist sees the rose and not its thorns; the pessimist stares at the thorns, oblivious to the rose.” - Kahlil Gibran, Lebanese poet
"What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered." - Ralph Waldo Emerson, American philosopher