Many people don’t know this but March happens to be National Optimism Month. The research around optimism has exploded lately (there have been more studies done in the last seven years than in the previous twenty) and the results are remarkable. We can in fact increase how optimistic we are. Why should we strive to do this? The benefits of having an optimistic outlook are many – optimists tend to be happier, healthier and more successful while pessimists are more likely to develop depression, poor health and give up on their goals in the face of adversity.
Dr. Martin Seligman is one of the leading researchers in this field and his many books demonstrate that optimists and pessimists simply have opposite perspectives when it comes to success and failure.
Optimists see success as permanent (the situation will last a long time), pervasive (reaching into all areas of life) and personal (something they caused and have control over). In contrast, they view failure as temporary (the situation will not last long), specific (affecting just one aspect of their life) and impersonal (the cause is likely having to do with other people or circumstances).
Pessimists apply the same thinking but in reverse! They see failure as permanent, pervasive and personal and success as temporary, specific and impersonal.
As you can imagine, this type of thinking can permeate all aspects of our lives and have quite an impact. In one research study, Dr. Seligman found that how sales people explained their failures made the difference between their becoming an outstanding sales person or quitting the company.
People who had an optimistic outlook and saw their failures as temporary (this one failure is simply a small setback), specific (this one failure does not represent my overall ability as a sales person) and impersonal (the reason this deal did not close is not because I’m a poor sales person) had 37 percent more sales in their first two years on the job compared with their pessimistic counterparts.
The sales people with a pessimistic view that saw their failures as permanent (I’ll never close a deal), specific (I am not cut out for this type of work) and personal (It’s my fault that the deal did not go through) not only had less sales but were twice as likely to quit in their first year on the job.
If you think you might lean towards a pessimistic style of thinking the first step is to become aware of your thought patterns and then slowly work to change your explanatory style. For instance, if you think, “I’ll never make the kind of friends in this new neighborhood like I had where I lived before,” you can catch your pessimistic thinking and avoid falling into it again. The next time you are feeling lonely you might instead think, “It takes time to develop close friendships when you move to a new neighborhood.”
Slowly but surely, as you become aware of negative, pessimistic thought patterns you can work to generate more positive and accurate explanations for life events and before you know it new neural pathways in your brain will develop and you will shift your thinking towards the optimistic end of the spectrum. In honor of National Optimism Month, why not start today!
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”