Monday, April 1, 2013

Are you on the bright side?

In celebration of April Fools,  Easter Monday, the change into spring (or autumn ;), the start of a new business quarter….hey, we don’t any excuse…here's to optimism.

"Always look on the bright side of life".

I am positive, the founder of positive psychology Martin Seligman would be one to agree with Monty Python's classic Life of Brian song. 

We all experience highs and lows in our lives; how we view these depends on whether we take a pessimistic or optimistic outlook. From Seligman's learned optimism research of the 1990s, he encourages us to become aware of our habitual ways of thinking, of our explanatory style of how we attribute our success and failures.  In essence, pessimists will see the impact of bad events as long lasting, pervading all aspects of their life and will blame themselves for it.  An optimist on the other hand will see such events as a temporary set back, will compartmentalise them in respect to other things going on in their life, and will externalise any failure. 

Of course, pessimism serves a function. It is useful when it concerns details, numbers, accuracy and issues of safety.   We generally like our engineers, accountants and pilots to take caution, for instance.  More often than not however, optimism will install positive emotional states that create an “upward spiral” of continued growth and thriving.  It broadens thinking, helps with resilience and social connections.  In essence it is good for us and is more fun.

In a world where there is so much uncertainty and where we are never absolutely clear about how much control we really have, it seems it is often better to err on the side of optimism— assume the best will happen and act on the belief that success is achievable.

We can do this by becoming masters of our own minds.  We can become aware of our habits of thought (take the Optimism test on Seligman´s website for starters), and make conscious choices.  We can challenge negative self-talk.

I have been running sessions on mindfulness and learned optimism, combining the contemplative practice of observing our thoughts with the practice of changing those thoughts in a more positive way.  From stillness, we can create more options.  Mindfulness will help us find that space between stimulus and response, a subject of a previous posting.  It can help us more clearly see what is available to us. From then we can be flexible, factoring in risk to choose optimism where it serves us well.  We can learn to distance ourselves from the unhelpful thought by noticing it with detachment. We can distract ourselves, by ´parking´ the thought and focusing on something else.  We can dispute our assumptions and beliefs behind the thought to see other ways of looking at the event.

As the writer Paulo Coelho phrased it, “the optimist and the pessimist both die in the end, but each lives life in a completely different way." 

It seems optimism can bring us more happiness and health along the journey.


Schulman, P (1999) Applying Learned Optimism to Increase Sales Productivity, Journal of Personal Selling & Sales Management, Vol XIX, Number 1 (Winter), pgs31-37

Seligman, Martin. Learned Optimism. New York, NY: Pocket Books. 1998.
Image posted by Vivid Greeting Cards on Facebook - Pentateuque by French artist Fabien Mérelle (5 February 2013).  Vivid Greeting Cards – luxury matte greeting cards. Sign up to their Facebook Page to celebrate art, beauty and the many wonders of the world :  

No comments:

Post a Comment