Every day is a new adventure, isn’t it? Did you know we can make a conscious decision each morning as we jump out of bed how we’re going to approach the day? I mistakenly thought that one’s attitude had to be heavily influenced by what happens to us.
I know, I know, we’ve all heard the saying by Charles R. Swindoll that life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.
But until a few life-changing events happened, it never occurred to me that I could take charge. We don’t have to succumb to circumstances unless we want to. We don’t have to react in ways others might find understandable just because something bad happened. The willingness of others to cut us slack doesn’t mean we should adopt a position of learned helplessness.
To some degree, it’s true events can have a bearing on our thinking and behaviors. But it’s also true we can train ourselves to have more of an optimistic mindset. This is called “learned optimism”, a term coined by Dr. Martin Seligman in his 1990 book by the same name. He says that a talent for joy can be cultivated. This approach is called positive psychology.
So, we’re not stuck with a pessimistic perspective if we really want to act differently. We can choose to think about our reactions to adversity in a different way and see the event as an unlucky situation – just a temporary setback that doesn’t define our lives, our work or relationships. The event is not personal, it’s not permanent (in most cases) and it doesn’t have to ripple throughout the rest of our life – unless we choose to let it.
THREE STEPS TO CHANGE OUR ATTITUDE
1. Optimists point to temporary causes for negative events while pessimists point to permanent causes. We can think about the event as something that won’t last. My Uncle used to say, “This too shall pass.” While the event itself may be something permanent, the affect it has on us doesn’t have to be.
2. Optimistic people compartmentalize helplessness, but pessimistic people assume that failure in one area of life means failure in life as a whole. We don’t have to allow a negative event to filter into family, relationships, self-image but can build figurative walls around it to keep it contained. In Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl, he urges us to create barriers to limit the spread of something toxic.
3. Optimists blame bad events on causes outside of themselves, whereas pessimists blame themselves. I’m fond of saying, “It’s never JUST business, it’s ALWAYS personal.” But in this case, we can’t take things personally if we want to remain optimistic. People who say, ‘I’m such a dummy” or “Why did I do that? I was just being stupid” are furthering a pessimistic, negative self-image. (This is different than being personally accountable for an error we made.)
OPTIMISTS ARE MORE SUCCESSFUL
A few other reasons why being optimistic is a good use of your energy: optimists are higher achievers and have better overall health. In fact, MetLife Insurance hired Dr. Seligman to study the performance of their sales consultants and found that optimists outsold pessimists by 21% in the first year and 57% in the second year.
You can still be realistic and be an optimist. It doesn’t mean you are naive or wearing rose colored glasses to your detriment or that of others. But, you can see yourself and the negative events that happen to you as temporary. You can allow good events to brighten every area of your life rather than just the area in which the event occurred. And you can blame bad events on causes outside of yourself, which has the added benefit of increasing self-confidence.
So as you struggle to get out of bed in the morning, choose the position you’ll take and attitude you’ll embrace in the day ahead. Make a conscious decision to live as an optimist and watch your life improve in ways you couldn’t expect. This is one attitude adjustment you’ll never regret!
Q: Do you see yourself as an optimist? If so, has it served you well? Send me an email if you’d like to share your opinion.