How To Move From A Pessimistic To A More Optimistic Mindset

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Are you a pessimist or an optimist? It's something that is important to find out about yourself as it not only affects your personal well being but it can also impact how you operate at work. Here's how you can identify whether you're a pessimist or optimist and how you can start to change your mindset to a more positive one.

Michael Carthy is a therapist, coach and wellness consultant with more than eight years experience. Over the years, he has worked with hundreds of CEOs and entrepreneurs in both a therapy and coaching capacity.

This is the second part of a series of posts about pessimism and optimism. If you haven't already, check out the first post that tells you how to find out where you sit on the pessimism optimism scale: Here's How To Find Out If You're Really a Pessimist

By now you should already know the difference between glass half empty versus glass half full when it comes to your mindset. And most importantly, why that's so important. You should also know what your scores are on the pessimistic optimistic spectrum. Armed with that knowledge and those scores? Then keep reading.

Understanding your scores

Positive psychologist Martin Seligman developed the test because he needed a way to scientifically measure where people landed on the pessimism optimism spectrum.

He uses explanatory styles to figure out how people explain to themselves why they are experiencing particular events in either a more positive or negative way. There are three main parts in the explanatory styles that we can use to explain the events that happen to us.

What's your particular explanatory style?

Personal (internal versus external)

This is about what you think the cause of an event really is. So, if you're more on the pessimistic side you will interpret events as internal. For example, "I always screw up relationships!", so this is internalising, as opposed to "Every relationship will be tricky, everyone finds it difficult", which is an example of externalising instead.

The same goes for work as well. You may think "Nothing goes right for me at work" or "I'm terrible at my job". That's internalising, which differs from externalising and thinking "Nobody is perfect. I'll learn from my mistakes so I don't screw up on the same kind of task again".

Permanent (stable versus unstable)

This is about how long we feel this event is likely to affect us -- or its likelihood to be changed. If you're more on the pessimistic side you will interpret events as unchangeable and long-lasting. For example, "I will always feel nervous in groups", so this is stable and you assume it will never change, as opposed to "I felt uneasy today, but the next time it will be much better", which is unstable and likely to change.

Pervasive (global versus local)

This is how we explain the effects of an event to ourselves. The more pessimistic people can see an event as affecting all aspects of their lives. For example, "See, I can’t get anything right", so this is known as global, which means it's impactful on all areas of your life, as opposed to, "Things just seem to work out for me when I need them to", which is referred to as local, which means its impact is specific and minimal.

Why do explanatory styles matter?

Recognising these explanatory styles in ourselves is the first step. Seligman believes that taking the test to see where you sit on the scale in terms of your explanatory styles is the jumping off point. If you haven’t taken the test hit this link now, it only takes five minutes.

As a therapist, I've learned to listen for these explanatory styles and the ways in which people explain their day or what they are experiencing. More pessimistic explanatory styles are expressed in people who typically tend to blame themselves for negative situations. They believe that such situations will continue forever and the effects of these situations will likely impact on every area of their lives. This becomes a big problem when these thoughts snowball into depression, loss of control or worse.

Conversely, the more optimistic people tend to point the finger of blame to outside forces for the same negative situations. They choose to believe that such events are temporary, even necessary and they do not let these events impact on too many areas of their lives.

The reason why these explanatory styles really matter is because there have been many research papers and studies proving the correlation between pessimistic explanatory styles and depression, as well as strong links to physical illnesses, too.

But, as with most things, this isn't just one way or the other, or black and white. We're all complex beings who have a wide range of responses to both positive and negative events. But what getting a better grasp of our personal explanatory style does is provide us with a starting line to move away from (assuming you have a pessimistic explanatory style and want to move away from it, of course).

The ultimate goal is to practice and achieve control over the way we explain the world to ourselves and to others. Because this isn't just a case of being a bit whiny or complaining too much. The benefits of a more optimistic explanatory style have been proven time and time again. Experts believe a more optimistic mindset can increase life span, better health, better jobs, better relationship and high subjective wellbeing.

Sounds good, but how can we change explanatory styles for good?

When I'm working with clients I suggest all kinds of ways to move from a more pessimistic to a more optimistic mindset. For today, here are three simple suggestions for you to begin shifting away from pessimism towards a more optimistic perspective.

Try the 5 Minute Journal app

The 5 Minute Journal app ($7.99, iOS) is a tool that provides you with a quick and simple way to take some time out to think about your day. It promotes the use of optimistic explanatory language with daily questions like, "What three things will make today amazing?" and some users report to being more open to seeing the opportunities as they arise.

Try the iCouch app

The iCouch app ($4.99, iOS) employs the recommended approach from Martin Seligman, which is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). This app essentially puts all of the power of CBT in your pocket. It’s about tracking your thinking, analysing your emotions and changing your perspective over time.

Use an old fashioned pen and paper

Yep, sounds simple. But following a dramatic or highly emotional event I tell my clients to sit down with a pen and paper and start re-interpreting the event into something external that is not their fault, that is not a big deal and that it is changeable. The key is then to focus on what can be modified and from there, take action.

Real change happens when we commit to that change, use techniques that actually work and, most importantly, take action. I've had great success in helping clients use these apps and techniques to move away from the dark side and towards the lighter side of life.

This article originally appeared on Lifehacker UK


    Hmph. Right, like that'll work... should we even be trying that, anyway? Optimism is overrated.


    Why not aim to be a realist and simply state the glass has water in it?! As with anything in life, a balance of all ideas help us through life!

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