Optimism isn’t a cure-all but it does have an important place in our lives. Some things optimism helps us with is protecting against depression, enhancing our physical well-being, raising our level of achievement, and improving our mental state. If you’re not naturally inclined toward looking on the bright side or recognizing things can get better and want to bring a little more of this into your life know that optimism is a skill you can learn.
Dr. Martin Seligman writes in his book Learned Optimism, “We have found over the years that positive statements you make to yourself have little if any effect. What is crucial is what you think when you fail… Changing the destructive things you say to yourself when you experience the setbacks that life deals all of us is the central skill of optimism.”
Next time you mess up or think you mess up, do these two things.
First, pay attention to your internal thought commentary. If it’s negative, don’t try to switch to the positive, just experiment with not contributing additional negative comments. It’s okay if something negative pops up first as an automatic reaction. Your job is to invoke the power of non-negative thinking by not piling more on.
Second, pay attention to how you explain your mess up, setback or failure. The manner in which we habitually explain to ourselves why events happen is another critical skill in optimism. Do we think failures are permanent, effect every area of our lives and because everything is out to get us? Or do we recognize that failures have specific causes, are just about this one thing and things will get better? The way we explain setbacks plays a major role in our ability to be optimistic. Practice explaining failures as temporary, confined to just what it effects (not an indication of you in general) and assign responsibility accordingly (not automatically, think about it).