Optimism is something that comes to mind when we think of certain people, at times these thoughts can be tinged with cynicism as we often feel these people are over the top or too bright and bubbly and something we will never be. Yes, some people are naturally optimistic but there are many tools and techniques we can use throughout our lifetime to increase our optimism if it is not something that comes naturally. Optimism is not a fixed character trait, it is a lifelong venture.
Optimism is defined as approaching problems from a position of empowerment. It is moving forward, seeing adversity as a challenge, one that they will gladly attempt to conquer. A useful tool to build optimism is the A to E model offered by Martin Seligman:
A. the Activating event or potentially stressful situation, or Adversity
B. your Beliefs, thoughts, perceptions about A
C. The Consequences that result. i.e. the behaviour you exhibit or action you take
D. Take time to Dispute your beliefs or thoughts, are they ‘true, false, or don’t know
E. Then Energise your thoughts and beliefs into action
Our beliefs can be identified by listening to the ‘self-talk’ that is the constant commentary in our minds, that we are sometimes unconscious is even there. Taking time to slow down and practice mindfulness can be a way to increase our awareness of this self-talk. This is an essential step if we wish to change our behaviour and actions as this is the underlying driver of our behaviour and actions, and a step that we often don’t realise is part of getting from A to C. This model can be used by people of all ages. When disputing our beliefs or thoughts we can use the 3 P’s.
Personalisation (I am responsible, my fault, someone else’s fault, out of my control)
Permanence (it is temporary or will it last forever)
Pervasiveness (how much of my life is influenced by this event)
Listening to our explanatory thoughts and beliefs can give us a hint of how we are perceiving the adversity/situation i.e. it’s all my fault (personalisation), this always happens (permanence), this has ruined everything (perverseness).
Our disputation of thoughts can be enhanced by searching for evidence of our beliefs, looking for alternative ways of looking at the adversity, accurately analysing the ‘what if’ scenarios and developing a plan of attack for the most likely scenario.
We can have different explanatory thoughts and beliefs in different settings, we may be highly optimistic in particular areas of our life, i.e. work settings, and may be down the pessimism/optimism continuum in our personal relationships.
Taking time to note our level of optimism, and using tools such as the A to E model and actively building our optimism has been shown to have health benefits and assists to our overall wellbeing that makes the pursuit worthwhile.