What differentiates an Optimist from a Pessimist? Are we born optimistic, or do we learn to be?
Just to introduce the subject of optimism I will refer to a study by Marty Seligman and Steve Maier conducted in 1964, which concluded for the first time, that suffering is not what leads to hopelessness; what effectively takes people to that state is their perception that this suffering is out of their control and when you feel that something is out of your control, you stop looking for ways to solve it and stop visualizing a better future, that is the key to an optimistic person.
Pessimists and optimists can identify the same event as negative; the big difference lies in how an optimist catalogues the causes that generated that event. When optimists explain the causes of an event that leads them to suffer, they refer to these causes as temporary and specific to the event, while pessimists find that the causes of the same event are permanent and pervasive. As you can realize, when you perceive that the cause of what makes you suffer is permanent and omnipresent then you can feel that it is out of your control and therefore you are at the mercy of the suffering that it generates and you enter a spiral of pessimism; because if it is out of your control, there is nothing you can do to change the situation and see a more diaphanous and optimistic future.
When you’re a pessimist, you don’t just diminish your ability to challenge and change the situation, you’re also more likely to suffer from anxiety and depression and be less resilient, so it might take a little longer to recover from an unpleasant situation. At the other end, optimists tend to be more satisfied with their decisions and have more opportunities to excel. The good news is that optimism is a competence we can develop. It’s a gift of the neuroplasticity of our brain that we can’t waste.
So, if you are facing a bad event.
Try this: Ask yourself, what are the reasons behind this event? For example, if you did not deliver a project on time, identify the cause you identified, if you think it was because you do not have the ability or the competence for that project then you are appealing to a permanent cause that inclines you to be more pessimistic, if on the contrary you identified causes such as, that the project did not motivate you particularly, or that it required some knowledge that you do not yet have, you are appealing to a temporary and specific cause, and therefore you can find the solution and cultivate being more optimistic.
Whenever you become aware that you are using a pervasive and permanent cause to explain an event, ask yourself “What is under my control that may have originated this event?”, once you identify it, ask yourself «being under my control, what can I do to make this situation better or not happen again?».
Another way to develop your Optimism, start by exploring your belief about your talent. Why do this? Because studies by Carol Dweck have shown that when people believe they were born with an innate amount of talent, they question their ability to grow and also give up more easily an event that they believe they do not have the ability to solve and consequently they become less optimistic. Carol Dweck’s recommendation to develop a growth mindset that is associated with optimism is to recognize effort over natural talent.
Every time you find yourself saying that I am not good at math, or I am not good at reading, you are reinforcing a fixed mentality, when you recognize that you have not made enough effort this gives you the possibility to change your approach, and boosts the development of a growth mindset, because if you haven’t made enough effort, you could do it and then your reality is not determined by your natural talent, but by the effort you put into it.
Try this: Every time you find yourself telling yourself that you don’t have enough talent to face something or explaining that someone else accomplishes something because they have a lot of talent, remember that effortless talent is just wasted potential. So, following Angela Duckworth’s suggestion, update your beliefs about your intelligence and talent; although not a common suggestion on the topic of Optimism, science has found that the relationship between these beliefs and your growth mindset and optimism is direct.
There are other practices related to developing optimism that I will be sharing in this article, but I have preferred to focus on this first two less widespread and still powerful practices, that are also totally at your fingertips.
So, in short, my main suggested practices to support you in your process of being more optimistic are:
- Question the reasons that in your opinion, explain the negative events. Become aware if you use permanent versus temporary, general versus specific reasons; and question the causes of that event, every time you think they’re pervasive and permanent. Remember, the event itself does not differentiate the pessimists from the optimists, the causes we perceive for that event, if it does.
- Identify your belief regarding your Intelligence and talent and reinforce recognition of yourself and others from effort above talent. When you recognize the effort above talent, you realize that limits are self-imposed, and your vision of the future is more optimistic and enhances a growth mindset.
If you want to take advantage of other activities, better known, that will allow you to develop Optimism are:
- Visualize the results you want and the steps to reach them. Don’t forget to visualize the steps. That differentiates a person who is positive from a person who is optimistic
- Taking care of your health and monitoring sugar levels and thyroid function, both have a major impact on your emotionality.
- Surround yourself with people you want to resemble, if you want to be optimistic, filter who you are with and the information you decide to consume.
- Rescue a hobby and save a space of time to practice it at least once a month, and them more frequently.
- Keep a circle of close friends and/or family and reserve a space to share with them.
- Move. Includes a physical exercise practice that keeps you moving daily. Better 15 minutes than none.
- Speak gently, every time you find yourself being hard on yourself, capture the dialogue and change it for something gentler.
- In common situations, stop and integrate the positive experience. If you like coffee, enjoy it consciously, when walking, stop in front of a beautiful place and enjoy it, when you eat, taste your food and become aware of the feeling of well-being
- Set limits on people and toxic situations.
- Connect your purpose with your activities.
- Help others, it has been proven that the well-being generated by giving lasts longer and is much more significant and makes you more optimistic.
- Smile, your brain will believe you and align with that smile without asking what generated it.
- Be by the side of someone you love and reciprocate, the longest study in human behavior, showed that this is key to our well-being.
- Appreciate your present moment, and question yourself, if a pessimistic thought is due to something that is happening at that moment or something that you are anticipating. I share news with you, in 92% of the cases that terrible thing that you think will happen, will never happen.
- I know it’s easier to say something than to end up doing it; and even so, I insist on asking you to raise awareness in differentiating what is under your control and what is not. If you are frustrated by something that is not under your control, since you have no way to influence it, you will remain in a pessimistic state. When you focus on what is under your control, you will find ways to improve it, sometimes it will be easier than others, but it will always be possible.
Finally, and above all things keep in mind the power of simplicity, the little things in life have the power to give us countless reasons to be optimistic, but first we have to make the decision to be optimistic and commit to taking actions that bring us closer to that state of optimism, which we now know, brings us closer to our best states of productivity. If you find this list overwhelming, choose three or one practice and start with it. Small changes can lead to a big transformation.
I wish you many smiles