“Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.” —Helen Keller

The Good News About Optimism

On Monday, I walked into Click Workspace and someone had written, “Scientists have proven that optimism is a skill that can be learned,” on the whiteboard by the entrance. The skeptic in me wondered, “Which scientists?” So I googled it.

It’s true.

In fact, the concept is called “learned optimism” and the researcher who studied it was Martin Seligman, the same guy who gave us the concept of “learned helplessness.” At its foundation, the difference between optimists and pessimists lies in the differing ways that people understand events.

Optimists Overcome Setbacks More Quickly

When faced with negative life events, pessimists tended to personalize them, attributing them to permanent causes. ( For example, “I didn’t get that job because I always mess up interviews. I’m terrible with people!”) By contrast, optimists attribute bad events to something specific, and often temporary. (“I didn’t get that job because they were looking for someone with more of a marketing background. I’ll get the next one!”)

Optimists Feel A Greater Sense Of Control Over Life Events

When it came to positive life events, the opposite was true: optimists attributed them to permanent reasons (“I found the perfect home—I’m so blessed!”) and pessimists saw the causes as specific and temporary (“Wow, the housing market must be bad right now, otherwise I never would have found such a nice apartment.”)

You can teach yourself to become an optimist even if you’re naturally more of a pessimist. (Me! I am!) When faced with adversity, stop for a moment and argue against any negative thoughts that arise. Is there any evidence that contradicts your negative story? Arguing against your initial negative response can give new energy to positive thoughts, and in turn lead to positive action.

Tell Yourself An Optimistic Story

Stories are the way human beings understand events. This week, try telling yourself a positive story, one that gives credit to your efforts and achievements. If you want to write, take a few moments and do so, then congratulate yourself for your productive creativity.

Trust me, you deserve it.