Thursday, June 4, 2009

Two Parts Optimism+One Part Pessimism=A Hard Working Worrier

Have you heard the old maxim: The best way to learn material is to teach it? One great benefit of teaching is that I constantly improve my own “soft” skills as I share basic principals and proven techniques with my classes. Recently, I had a small epiphany as I reviewed my materials for an optimism workshop.

Research by Dr. Martin Seligman has identified 3 types of thought patterns of optimists and pessimists. Optimists see failures as:
1. temporary,
2. isolated events,
3. that they can change through effort.

A pessimist sees the opposite: successes are viewed as temporary, isolated, and lucky (i.e. not related to their effort).

A pessimist sees failures or setbacks as:
1. Permanent (will never end)
2. Pervasive (always happening)
3. Unrelated to any effort exerted.

I’ve always seen myself as exceedingly optimistic. But this morning, as I practiced some of the exercises I would give my participants, I was surprised to find that only some of my thinking is optimistic.

When I lost a job several years ago, I plunged into a job search with zeal and excitement. I have always had an extremely high “locus of control,” i.e. I see my efforts as directly impacting my success. I work hard and expect good things to happen. That’s the “utilizes effort” element of optimistic thought patterns ( #3). But sometimes when things go wrong (as happened several weeks ago when someone hacked into my website), I can plunge myself into doomsday feelings of “this will never get fixed,” a negative thought pattern favored by pessimists (#1 above).

I’m happy to see that I have an optimistic viewpoint for 2 of the 3 elements Seligman describes. But while my belief in my own efforts keeps me moving forward, my fear-based thoughts (of never-ending catastrophes) often cause me harmful anxiety.

What is your unique blend of pessimism vs. optimism?
Do you see setbacks as temporary or permanent?
Do you see obstacles as isolated events or as the standard, (pervasive) state of your life?
Do you see success as a lucky break or as the result of effort?

© 2009 Laura Lewis-Barr all rights reserved

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