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Learned Optimism

optimism1The Idea: Thinking Habits and how to change them.

Known as the father of the new science of positive psychology, Martin E.P. Seligman draws on more than twenty years of clinical research to demonstrate how optimism enhances the quality of life, and how anyone can learn to practice it.

Habits of thinking, although learned in childhood and adolescence, need not be forever. Whilst mild pessimism has its uses, pessimistic prophecies are in general self-fulfilling. As we believe that life will be hard and we will never succeed, so we see that starting to come true.

Although life imposes the same setbacks and tragedies on the optimist as the pessimist, the optimist weathers them better, which leads to greater achievement at work, better physical health and even prolonged life.

The Action

Choose the way you think: optimism can be learned, taught and measured. By learning to speak to yourself about setbacks from a more encouraging viewpoint, you will build your resilience and ultimately improve the quality of both your work and home life. The tool for this is the three Ps – Personal, Permanent, Pervasive.

When you face a setback or something difficult, a pessimistic and confidence-damaging way of thinking is that it’s all your fault (personal), it will always be this bad (permanent) and actually this just proves that everything you do is a failure (pervasive to other areas of your life). Switch this round to “it’s not all my fault, I can learn from this and do better / avoid this in future and just because this went wrong here, it doesn’t mean it affects everything else – I can still be successful in other areas of my life.”

This is a more encouraging way of thinking that will help you focus on learning and feel better about the situation.