The truth is that optimism can be learned!
Some just have to work harder at it than others.
Optomists have more Fun!
Have you ever noticed how some people always enjoy themselves? Or how certain people are just great to be around? They have something special about them, are excited about life, energise others, and are generally helpful and good fun in many situations. These “eternal optimists” seem to have the world in their palms and their enthusiasm rubs off onto others. Aren’t they those lucky ones who were born with this sunshine disposition and the silver spoon in their mouths?
Granted, there are certain characteristics we are born with through genetic makeup, but the truth is that optimism can be learned…some just have to work harder at it than others. But then again, life has never been fair, has it? So let us make the most with what we have and change the things that don’t work too well for us.
It has been established that optimists live longer, stay healthier, are happier, and of course, notch up more successes than their pessimistic counter parts.
The concept of positive thinking has traditionally been a neglected area in the realms of human psychology. Since it’s early beginnings the study of human behaviour has always strived and fought for scientific recognition. The subject of positive thinking was too fuzzy, too illogical, too much like “pop-psychology”. It is refreshing to see that in recent years established psychotherapies and theories of human behaviour have placed a lot of emphasis on the power of thought.
Albert Ellis, the founder of RationalEmotive Therapy maintains that human beings have the tendency to whine, moan and groan rather than act. He states that individuals feel upset, not by the events experienced, but by the way they view these events. We can certainly learn to think differently and by doing so, change our reactions and the way we feel.
Optimists live longer, stay healthier, are happier and notch up more successes than their pessimistic counter parts.
Although we are all human and have a right to sometimes feel upset or angry, tired or just generally offcolour, it is a good idea to restrict these experiences. We can decide when to stop and DO SOMETHING about it. Decide how long you want to feel miserable that’s your right too and in some instances it is the “normal” reaction – then change course. If circumstances cannot be changed, the way we perceive them certainly can. We do have control over our own thoughts and therefore control our own lives.
Martin Seligman who developed the theory of learned helplessness regarding the development of depression has added the importance of learned optimism in terms of wellbeing. It is described as a habitual way of thinking which focuses on lifeaffirming perceptions and beliefs rather than thinking of all the adverse possibilities or aspects of a situation. Thoughts always predetermine a person’s behaviour and BEFORE we tackle a task we have already determined how well we are going to perform. By expecting a certain outcome we have programmed the sequence of events to a large degree.
Thinking positively about our abilities, or a situation we face, cannot guarantee an expected outcome, but the odds turn to our favour in a huge way. Give yourself the pep talk before going into an important presentation, look for the positive in everything, expect to do well, look forward to a pleasant experience. The concept of the selffulfilling prophecy has been established as an important psychological phenomenon a long time ago. Positive thinking is reflected in your life circumstances, your successes, your appearance, your wellbeing, and your relationships.
Recently my husband and I attended a leadership seminar with some of our business partners and a few problems were experienced with the sound and stage lighting. I was amazed at how little affected the organisers and speakers were. The band performed in semidarkness for a few minutes and one of the presenters experienced some difficulties with the microphone. Not a problem! Nobody wasted their breath on some of the hiccups. The enthusiasm and positive atmosphere were maintained and everybody had a good time anyway. Only positive thoughts were expressed and a few little details were not going to destroy the important issues we were there to deal with. Being quite a perfectionist I would normally have been horrified at anything going wrong (it just shouldn’t happen – what about our standards!) but I learned a great lesson. The minute you give way to negative thinking, to bickering and criticising, you lose track of what really counts. We know that by expressing those negative thoughts we give them power and reaffirm the negative. So why not focus on what is positive and make the most of what we have?
People in general will always remember negative experiences more so than positive ones. Statistics confirm that if ever we have a bad deal somewhere, we will tell at least 20 others. This of course is something the customer service department has to be aware of, and any company should keep this in mind when perfecting their efficiency. In this instance, however, we are concerned about another matter altogether, namely our own wellbeing and the impact thoughts have on our own experience and performance. We are in control and the price is too high to allow anything to mess with our attitude.
Next time somebody asks you how your business is doing, you say “fantastic!”. Should physical reality momentarily be different from that, try “unbelievable”, which can work either way. Remember that everytime you think a certain thought, or voice that thought, you reaffirm it’s reality. So why not turn the tables in your favour? The least you can do for yourself is to maintain that “every day, in every way, I am getting better and better and better”, a phrase which was first formulated in 1922 by Emile Coue`, a French physician and therapist.
So let us be eternal optimists, let us practice daily to look for the half full glass, rather than the half empty one. Let us stand guard at the gate of our mental sphere, since it is there where our reality takes shape. Let us have a good time.
Coue`, E. (1922). Selfmastery through the use of conscious autosuggestion. London: Unwin Brothers.
Dryden, W. (1984). RationalEmotive Therapy: Fundamentals and Innovations. London, Croom Helm.
Dryden, W. (1991). A dialogue with Albert Ellis against dogma. Buckingham: Univ. Press.
Dryden, W. (1991). Reason and therapeutic change. London: Wurr Publ.
Seligman, M. (1993). Pessimisten küsst man nicht. Berlin: Elsnerdruck.
Think About It:
Exceptional performance is never an accident. It is always a well executed plan of a person who has as much respect for themselves, as they do for what they are doing, and the people they are doing it for.
By: Dr. Alfriede Usher