CAN OPTIMISM BE LEARNED? YES, AND HERE ARE 4 WAYS IT HAPPENS
“A pessimist sees the glass half empty. An optimist sees the glass half full. An engineer sees a glass twice the size it needs to be!” – Anonymous
Respond to the following statements with always, sometimes, and never:
- In uncertain times, I usually expect the best.
- If something can go wrong for me, it will.
- I hardly ever expect things to go my way.
- I rarely count on good things happening to me.
- Overall, I expect more good things to happen to me than bad.
In order to fully understand this topic, we have to get beyond the “half empty/half full” definition. The subject is also broader than a personality type. Some people are naturally bubbly while others take a few hours to get their engines running. Yet both can be optimists. Martin Seligman refers to this as a person’s outlook on life. He say’s everyone has an ”explanatory outlook.”
When there are those inevitable setbacks in life, the optimistic person interprets these as something that is:
- It can be changed
- It’s just this one situation
The pessimistic person sees the setback as:
- This is going to be forever
- This will undermine everything I do
When something good happens, the optimist explains it as:
- This will last forever
- I did this
- This will help me in every area
The pessimist, when they experience good things thinks:
- I didn’t do this
- It’s only this situation
- It only helps in this one domain
Everyone has an explanatory style. This is the way we view the world. It has a profound effect on how we view negative information in the media, work, school, or home. Optimism is really resilience more than temperament. The resilient sees negative information as temporary and feels they have some power to change it.
When bad things happen both the pessimist and the optimist embrace them. The difference is that the pessimist has a “see, I told you so” explanation. The optimist has an “I can recover from this” explanation. When good things happen the optimist embraces them, “this is wonderful; I want more.” But the pessimist discounts it by explaining, “this can’t last; it’s too good to be true.”
Here are 4 practices that will make our explanatory style more personally productive.
1. Acknowledge that you are the architect of your perceptions. Without this first step, you become a victim of things happening all around you. The way you see your life shapes your life. We all have our internal way of defining life which to a large degree determines our destiny. This acknowledgment is the beginning of opening yourself up to new possibilities.
2. Be aware of your explanatory style. Everyone experiences setbacks and difficult situations. The optimist keeps the trouble external. This enables them to work on the problem, difficulty, or that taxing project;
- “Who has done this before?”
- “Where can I get help?”
- “Are there better instructions?”
The pessimist sees the setback or struggle as hopeless. It becomes an internal focus of
- “I knew this would happen”.
- “This will probably just get worse”.
One makes use of available options, and the other is so internally focused that no options exist. Observe how you explain events.
3. Disconnect happiness from achievement. The “Destination Disease” says that until a certain thing happens I will not experience joy. This is where the pessimist and the optimist switch perspectives. The pessimist’s happiness is overly dependent on external circumstances taking place. The optimist focuses on personal abundance and sees happiness as an inside job. But don’t confuse contentment with complacency. Hard work is a natural by-product of contented people. They are energized by personal contentment. Your destination is simply a reward for the journey you are on. Wealth never brings happiness to those who are miserable with modest means [tweet this]. Enjoying the landscape and challenges along the way unshackles optimism.
4. Develop the habit of self-affirmation. We have 60,000 thoughts a day. They will either take you in the direction you want – or they will take you further from what you truly desire. If 30% of your thoughts are taking you in the wrong direction, that would be 18,000 counterproductive negative nudges everyday, or 126,000 for the week! This is often referred to as Self-Talk. The more we are aware of our self-talk (thoughts) — both positive and negative — the more we will focus on attitudes and actions that make us more resilient. Your conscious thoughts are like the captain of your ship, and your subconscious thoughts are like the crew members carrying out your orders. Dr. Sharon Melnick provides a helpful metaphor of how this works in our daily lives. Watch this short video and find the blocks you never knew you had.
Every thought is a directive in your subconscious mind to carry something out. Make sure the directives are pushing you in the way you want to go. Wayne Dyer said, “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”
In reality, the glass is not half empty or half full. It’s both! So let’s open up another bottle and remedy the situation!