I could study to be a psychologist.
I’m not a psychiatrist or even a psychologist but the optimist inside me tells me I could be in about 10 years time. Trouble is, statistically I’d only have a year or two to practice before I shuffled off this mortal coil. However, there is a whole lot of things that make sense to me about the world of positive psychology. This is a group of researchers who decided somewhere along the line that psychology had to become about more than fixing people who suffered from trauma or mental illness.
The Positive Psychologists
Martin Seligman is a leading researcher in this field and one thing he has written about is optimism. He was of the view, that the absence of negative issues in our life does not guarantee positive feelings will exist. So he began the research the things that make us flourish. According to Wikipedia, he believes “the benefits of an optimistic outlook are many and include the fact that optimists are higher achievers and have better overall health. Pessimism, on the other hand, is much more common; pessimists are more likely to give up in the face of adversity or to suffer from depression.”
How About You?
So where are you on the scale between optimism and pessimism? Wikipedia tells us that pessimism is much more common, so its more likely that you will be on that end of the scale. Yet, if your health and outlook depends on how optimistic you are, shouldn’t you do something about it?
Martin Seligman is so convinced that you can do something about your pessimism, that he wrote a book called “Learned Optimism.” This followed some research on animal models that showed helplessness is a learned behaviour and that led him to believe we humans also learn helplessness from negative experiences. His view was subsequently supported by research in humans and from that he concluded, if we can learn helplessness, we can learn optimism too. Looking at further studies, he claims we will reduce the possibility of getting cardio vascular disease and other diseases by as much as 25% if we have a positive outlook on life.
You probably don’t realise how bad you are.
One problem he sees with pessimists, is that they often don’t realise how pessimistic they really are. I think that’s probably true of some optimists as well but pessimists believe they are permanently pessimists. Selgiman, however, believes that pessimists can become optimists if they relearn the way they think but not through simply imposing optimistic talk and actions. Saying to yourself, as Frank Spencer did in “Some Mothers Do Have Them” that “every day and in every way I’m getting better and better” doesn’t seem to work so theres got to be more.
How do we do it?
How do we learn to become optimists? It seems, the only way is to learn to think differently. So when something goes wrong you have to learn to analyse the situation rationally, and not just jump to conclusions. Jumping to conclusions is how you got to be a pessimist in the first place. Seligman says we need to
- keep a diary of the Adverse things that happen and
- work out our Beliefs and
- the Consequences of that.
In case you haven’t noticed that makes an ABC. Next, you have to either distract yourself from those beliefs or dispute them. (Both D’s). He makes the point these beliefs are not necessarily facts, but rather just beliefs, and so it often not only possible to challenge them (sorry dispute them) but you can end up in a better place by changing the way you think if you practice enough. Then finally, the best way of changing your beliefs, is to look at the Evidence (that’s an E) to see if they are true or if there are alternatives or different Explanations.
Still Don’t Understand?
Now I realise that this is difficult to understand without examples and detailed explanations but I’m trying to show you there is a path Seligman tells you to go, and it will result in change to your behaviour. My hope is that you may believe it is possible to change from being a pessimist to being an optimist. If my explanation hasn’t cured you (most likely) and you still have pessimistic tendencies, then buy the book and find out the details of what he’s talking about. As he says “learned optimism works not through unjustifiable positivity about the world, but through the power of non-negative thinking.”
Just Do It.
So read what he has to say and decide for yourself. At worst, you’ll lose about $14 on iBooks and at best – it may change your whole life for the better.