Anyone Can Learn to be an Optimist

 Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

Optimistic thinking is highly beneficial for health.  Pessimism and feelings of helplessness lower our body's immunity.

Optimistic thinking resists those feelings of helplessness sinking deep in us.  By reducing helplessness, optimism prevents the weakening of immunity.

Being an optimist, you are more likely to change your lifestyle and unhealthy behaviors, because you are hopeful that such changes will improve your health.  If you think that nothing you do can change anything, you are not going to try anything more other than hopefully taking your medications.

Optimists neither become easily depressed nor do they give up quickly when they fail or experience other disappointments.  When optimists fail, they utilize failure for a midcourse correction.  When pessimists fail, they take it as a mark of their personal failure and a confirmation of their belief that there is no point of trying anything new.

Only an optimist can thrive as a salesperson, broker, or a public relations agent.  When a salesperson is "prospecting," it is estimated that only one out of ten calls materializes in an appointment with a potential customer.

So there is one "Yes" along with nine "No! Go away!  Get off my back!" kind of responses.  Furthermore, out of three appointments, only one consummates into a sale, that is, one sale out of thirty calls.  How long would a pessimist last in the face of such an overwhelming vote in favor of "Give up!  There is no point in trying/"

In one company, fifty percent of salespersons quit in the first year.  But the die-hard optimists, after hearing one more "No," pick up the phone to make the next call with ardent hope that the next response will be a "Yes."  We all know about the ultimate optimist inventor, Edison.  Edison "failed" ten thousand times before he succeeded in making a light bulb.

Optimistic thinking is different from positive thinking.  Positive thinking is like the saying "Day by day, in every way.  I am becoming better and better."  Some people shun it as Polyannish "a hocus pocus from the la la land." 

Optimistic thinking is really realistic thinking,  Freeing your thinking of any distortions of facts, and avoiding negative sweeping generalizations.  If you discover that your teen-ager has been doing drugs; or in business, your deal falls through, and you say to yourself, "I am not a good parent," or " I will never learn the tricks of trade," you are distorting the facts about your previous actions, drawing incorrect conclusions about your competence, and making sweeping generalizations on a single failure.

As a parent, you may have done countless things right, and as a business person, might have succeeded in learning many things.  And now let me give you an optimistic fact:  Anyone can learn to be optimistic!

By training your thinking and paying steady attention to your style of thinking i.e. "Am I thinking pessimistic or optimistic?" you can become an optimist.  Develop an "optimistic explanatory style" to explain to yourself about the events that happen around you.

We all talk to ourselves, to make sense of and to explain to ourselves about what happens to us.  Pessimists have a pessimistic explanatory style in which they explain the negative events to themselves in a way that discourages them from trying again and lowers their self esteem.

Optimists explain negative events to themselves in a way that is assuring and least damaging.  They tell themselves, a negative outcome is only temporary rather than permanent, specific rather than pervasive, and external rather than personal.

In an optimistic explanatory style, negative unpleasant events are explained as temporary, specific, and external, briefly, TSE.  In a pessimistic style, they are explained as permanent, pervasive, and personal, briefly, 3 "P"s.

For example, you encounter a negative and unpleasant event, your boss criticizes the report on which you spent midnight oil.  You apply the "temporarily' of TSE, "When I correct the problems that the boss pointed out, he (or she) will be really proud of me;"  as opposed to a "permanent" pessimistic explanation, "in the eyes of my boss, I have lost respect forever."

For the specific explanation of TSE, you may say, "While I gave several creative ideas in my report, I should make a habit of double checking my facts."  As opposed to the pervasive, pessimistic explanation, "Nothing is going right in my life."  For the external explanation of TSE, you may, "There is a lot of pressure on the boss these days."  As opposed to the personal pessimistic explanation, "I am totally incompetent."  

Use the TSE as a yardstick to evaluate what you tell yourself when negative events happen to you.  Take responsibility for your actions and change what you need to without the pessimism.

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Copyright 1996, Mind Publications