Have you noticed that some people feel down and defeated when faced with difficult situations while others feel challenged and hopeful?
We just have to look at the news to realize that we live in challenging times. Yet, have you noticed that some people feel down and defeated when faced with difficult situations while others feel challenged and hopeful when faced with the very same situations? We develop optimistic or pessimistic outlooks by how we perceive and respond to our own challenges and successes.
Optimism is the feeling that, despite frustrations and setbacks, in the end things will turn out for the best. Optimists focus on expecting the best. When faced with uncertainty they see setbacks as temporary and remember their successes better than their failures.
Are you an optimist or a pessimist?
1. When you think about your past, do you focus on success more than failures?
2. Do you usually attribute positive outcomes to yourself or to good luck?
3. Do you look for the unseen benefit in difficult situations?
4. Do you find it difficult or easy to expect good things to happen in your life?
By considering your answers to these questions, you can make your own assessment of your level of healthy optimism.
Martin Seligman, in his book "Learned Optimism," posits: pessimists believe that bad events will last a long time (permanent), undermine everything that they do (pervasive), and are their fault (personal). Optimists, when confronted with difficult situations, perceive it as a temporary setback (this will not last), confined to that one situation (specific) and not necessarily their fault (shared responsibility). As a result of this different explanatory style, optimists are more resilient when facing adversity than pessimists.
A healthy optimist understands that both optimism and pessimism are useful perspectives. On many occasions in life we need both, and finding a balance that works well for you is helpful.
According to Seligman, the fundamental guidelines for understanding when to emphasize optimism is to ask, what is the cost of failure in this particular situation? If something is risky and the cost of failure high, then looking carefully, objectively and pessimistically at the risk involved will help you take action to minimize the risks. For example, optimism should not be utilized in design and safety engineering, cost estimating, etc. We want aircraft and automobile engineers to have a pessimistic outlook while engaged in their professional responsibilities.
However if the cost of failure is low, such as sales, overcoming shyness or engaging in new activities, then it is advantageous to be optimistic. If you find yourself giving up before you even try, then increasing your level of optimistic thinking will be helpful.
While you cannot control the events in your life, you can influence your self-talk and your explanatory style as to why these events happen to you. Some of the ways that you can do this include:
1. Observe your own self-talk and automatic negative thoughts, Challenge unnecessary pessimistic thinking utilizing cognitive behavioral therapy as a method to change your feelings by changing your mind.
2. Develop an "attitude of gratitude." Thank those in your life who have done something special for you. Make a habit of doing something special for others.
3. Practice self-care strategies and be patient with yourself, understanding that change happens incrementally. Align with activities and people that make you feel hopeful, confident, and optimistic.
4. Focus on what went right instead of what went wrong. Write in a success journal so you are at least as aware of your successes as your difficulties.
Allan Weisbard L.C.S.W. an Ashland psychotherapist specializing in anxiety and sleep disorders. A free class at the Ashland Library, "Choosing the Optimism Option," is on Tuesday, May 3 from 5 to 5:45 p.m. For information see www.healthyoptimism.com.
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