- Look on the positive side of events and spring back from misfortune? If you fail (or don’t succeed as well as you want) do you pick yourself up and work out how to do the task better next time?
- Or do you believe success depends on luck (“it’s not worth trying…”), and feel that it’s not worth getting excited about something as it is sure to go wrong?
Optimism (the first viewpoint above) may help you to feel that your life is good, and that you experience many positive events. It can even improve your health and lengthen your life!
This is #1 in a series of 2 blogposts, and in this post I’ll explain the research behind this new interest in optimism, and how it can vastly improve our health.
Psychologist Martin Seligman (1) is known as “the father of positive psychology.“(2). He wrote a book on this topic, Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life, He maintains that optimism and pessimism are only “habits of thinking.” (3).
Seligman divides us into optimists and pessimists.
Pessimists (when compared to optimists):-
- give up more easily – they may feel that their actions do not affect the eventual outcome
- do not persist as long at tasks
- feel depressed more often
- have poorer health
Optimists (when compared to pessimists):-
- generally do better at tasks in school, work, and extracurricular activities.
- perform better than predicted on aptitude tests
- are more successful
- have better overall health
- may even live longer
- expect positive outcomes
- examine reasons for failure and use it as a learning opportunity
- tackle problems rather than ignore them, hoping they will go away.
There are some strategies you can use to help yourself become more optimistic:-
- Act more optimistic. Once you begin to act in this way, positive emotions can follow, and you will start to feel more persistent if you meet setbacks.
- Keep a note of your positive experiences, e.g., write a list each evening. If you find that you are self-critical, you could write a list of (e.g.) 10 positive tasks that you have done, and (e.g.) 1 area for improvement.
- Focus on what can you learn from experiences that will help you grow, rather than just labelling them as failures.
- Spend time with positive people, and avoid (or minimise contact) with negative people. Optimism and pessimism can be contagious.
- Focus on what you can control, and let go of what you can’t control.
- Focus on the here-and-now and the future. Although we all can hopefully learn from our mistakes, we can’t change the past. So rehashing what happened is unproductive.
- Stop using negative language e.g. “I tried that before and it didn’t work”, “I can’t …” or “That is never going to work”. Instead use positive phrases such as “I’ll give that a go”, “I’ll plan it and learn from the experience if it doesn’t work the first time”, “That was a success”, and “I’ll improve on that next time”
- Practice gratitude, be grateful for what you have already rather than focusing on what you do not have.
- Incorporate one of the useful traits of a pessimist while remaining an optimist. Pessimists generally are better prepared for things to go wrong, so “prepare for the worst and expect the best”.
- Remember that you are more than your possessions or your performance (or your job, school grades, interview performance, etc.). You have inner resources and knowledge that can help you change situations for the better, or at least work out better ways to stay in the situation until circumstances change.