The greatest challenge is stating the problem in a way that will allow a solution.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Mindset: The Glass is Half-full

What we need is not the will to believe, but the wish to find out.
- William Wordsworth

Health professionals tell us that optimism improves our physical and mental health and helps us live longer. Corporate coaches report that optimistic employees are more productive, earn more money, and climb the career ladder more quickly than their pessimistic counterparts.  Psychology research concludes that optimistic people are happier and have more friends. 

Webster's definition: - optimism is the tendency to take the most hopeful or cheerful view of matters, to expect the best outcome, or the practice of looking on the bright side of things.

Reckless optimism, based on unrealistic expectations is the kind of optimism sometimes sold to us by the self-help industry: creating unrealistic expectations and leading to disappointment when the rosy predictions do not materialize, in spite of your honest efforts at P.M.A.,visualization or whatever techniques were promulgated by pertenacious peddlers of magical thinking.

Healthy optimism is the willingness to focus on the positive rather than the negative aspects of any undertaking. Optimists are more open to possibilities and to more likely to seek creative solutions in overcoming barriers.

Expecting misfortune affects your overall attitude making you anxious and apprehensive about the future.  Over time, it can develop into a state of mind wherein you doubt your ability to control any situation or to solve any problem. Martin Seligman calls this state of mind "learned helplessness".

Depression, anxiety disorders and chronic distress have  negative impact on the mind, body and spirit.  They need to be ameliorated, to achieve any kind of happiness and peace of mind.  Forecasting failure and disappointment:

"Let us be of good cheer, remembering that the misfortunes hardest to bear are those which will never happen."   
- James Russel Lowell

Optimists choose to expect good outcomes and with this approach they can relax about things like test scores.  Focus on the process of learning rather than outcome is more enjoyable and less stressful.   Ellen Langer names this Mindful Learning. 

However the situation turns out, anxiety and stress have been reduced by being focused on the bright side.

Optimists tend to see adversity as temporary and look at obstacles as learning opportunities; brushing off a letdown and persevering to find a solution or quitting a losing game.  They do not let fear paralyze them nor do they take defeat as final.

Your attitude, whether optimistic or pessimistic, propels you to behave in ways that match your expectations. This is called a self-fulfilling prophecy.

There are some situations where research clearly indicates that optimism helps you attain your goal. Positive assumptions about the future allow you to tolerate stressful situations that may otherwise be unbearable.

According to Martin Seligman, author of Authentic Happiness and a proponent of positive psychology, "if anything, the evidence in support of the health benefits of optimism is stronger than ever."

Positive psychology is the scientific study of what makes life most worth living. Seligman's work has shown that people become more optimistic when they learn to challenge their negative thinking patterns, especially those involving self-blame.

Breaking behavioural habits also has an impact on your mental habits. Take a different route to work, read a newspaper from a different city, watch a television show or read a book in a genre that is new to you, eat at a place you've never eaten before.

Allowing yourself more flexibility can lead to more creative thinking. This is particularly important as we age since our thinking tends to become more crystallized. Celebrate every success on your journey to positive thinking. What you focus on grows.

My post is based on an article by:
By Anne Marie Hartford, executive director of Family Enrichment and Counselling Service Fredericton.