Ever had to work with or just spend time with someone who is particularly negative. Come on, you know the type, it doesn’t matter how good things are, they manage to flip them upside down and uncover the downside. And what’s more they seem to be happier when they have identified a potential failure. They relish the opportunity to be the loser, to be the only one on their side, to have less than everyone else, to have the biggest struggle. They are almost afraid of things going well, because when they do there is always a chance they will turn around and go sour again.
“How would you feel though, if I told you that there was evidence to suggest that all the positive thinking and all of the affirmations you can fit in your shopping trolley, amount to nothing if you drop the ball when they don’t deliver the goal?
…that the secret to success, is in how we handle things when we’re not successful, not just how we prepare for success.” Optimism – Nah, wouldn’t work for me mate
“We have found over the years that positive statements you make to yourself have little if any effect. What is crucial is what you think when you fail, using the power of “non-negative thinking.” Changing the destructive things you say to yourself when you experience the setbacks that life deals all of us is the central skill of optimism.” (Seligman M.E.P, 2006)
Martin Seligman has an enormous volume of research data collected over 20 years that tells us in no uncertain terms that it is entirely possible to learn how to be positive. Sounds counterintuitive I know. We all know that leopards don’t change their spots, or do they. Maybe we can turn a leopard into a zebra with a good paint job. Here goes:
Seligmans research on explanatory style tells us there are 3 ways that people explain or justify an unwelcome occurrence and they are permanence, pervasiveness and personalisation. It’s all about self talk.
What’s the conversation you’re having with yourself when things don’t go the way you had hoped. Next time things go wrong, or even not quite how you planned, stop and think about how your explaining the event to yourself then, practice turning your style around for a more optimistic reflection.
Many of us give up too easily, believing that the bad events that happened to us are permanent. We believe, these events happened to us all of the time, and will continue to happen. We begin sentences with:
- I never win…
- Diets never worked for me…
- The boss has always hated me…
These are very permanent assessments. Try approaching these as an optimist would.
- I didn’t win this time, I was tired and just needed a little more practice.
- The diet didn’t work this time, because I’ve been on holidays and eating out often.
- The boss is angry with everyone this week, not just me, he’s had a tough week and he’s exhausted.
Make these events extraordinary, not ordinary.
Whilst permanence is about time, pervasiveness is about space, Specific versus universal.
Optimistic people don’t take a specific event or situation and apply it universally. Very universal assessments such as:
- All bosses are angry and unfair.
- Everybody thinks I’m incompetent.
can be reframed as:
- my boss was angry and unpleasant last week as she was under intense pressure.
- I made a mistake in front of one colleague, the rest of my colleagues know how competent I am.
When something bad happens to a person with low self-esteem, they tend to blame the event on themselves. Confident, optimistic people, will always find a reason why it is someone else’s fault. Change, “I’m stupid”, to “your stupid” (perhaps don’t say that out loud). Change “I am useless at golf”, to “I don’t have enough time to practice to be really good, otherwise – lookout.”
The wrap – Let’s have a chat with ourselves
Changing the way in which you talk to yourself when something doesn’t go the way you hoped, has a significant impact on whether you are able to move forward optimistically or pessimistically. We all know we get what we want and what we believe. If we continually tell ourselves we never win, everyone is against us, we are hopeless, then guess what, the universe will conspire to deliver us what we believe. Have a listen to your self talk today. You wont always catch yourself in time, but the first step is always awareness.
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Many thanks to my nephew James Westmore for his wonderful artwork.
References: Seligman, M.E.P, 1990, Learned Optimism – How to Change Your Mind and Your Life, Vintage Books, USA.