“The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” ~ Winston Churchill
The ability to think about the future in positive terms is called “optimism.”
Optimists tend to expect the best, they expect that things will turn out well; problems will be resolved and they see the light at the end of the tunnel. Conversely, pessimists, or worst-case thinkers, tend to expect catastrophe. When things go wrong, they’re convinced that the worst-case scenario is the most likely. In reality, we are all optimists to some degree, and this degree changes in different situations.
As someone who specialises in helping people overcome anxiety and stress, I was interested to discover that:
- optimists suffer less physical stress symptoms than pessimists
- pessimists have higher baseline levels of stress hormones compared to optimists
- optimists because of their mind-set are less likely to experience anxiety disorders
If you’re more of a pessimist this is not good news, it fact it could be downright stressful, but don’t worry, because the good news is – you can learn to be more optimistic.
In his excellent book Learned Optimism, psychologist Martin Seligman presents a theory of optimism. He explains how we can build more optimism into our lives by changing our ‘explanatory style.’ Our explanatory style is the way in which we explain to ourselves why things happen.
Seligman explains, “Specifically, optimistic people believe that negative events are temporary, limited in scope (instead of pervading every aspect of a person’s life), and manageable. Of course, optimism, like other psychological states and characteristics, exists on a continuum. People can also change their levels of optimism depending on the situations they are in.”
For example, say a friend cancels your coffee date last-minute. If you’re pessimistic, your immediate thought is that you must have upset your friend in some way and that they are unhappy with you. If you’re optimistic, you’re more likely to believe that an important issue came up that your friend had to prioritise.
What if something good happens? If a pessimist is praised at work, they might think that their boss was in a good mood that day. The optimist feels proud and believes they’ve made the right career choice and they’re a competent person.
Whether you’re more a glass-half- empty or a glass-half-full person is most likely a result of your life experiences to date. And while you can’t change your past, you can change your mind-set to adopt a more optimistic thinking style.
Consistently using an optimistic thinking style can reap considerable benefits. For instance there is substantial evidence that optimists:
- generally live longer than pessimists
- suffer fewer health problems
- have fewer mood difficulties and
- perform better at work. Optimists are more deeply engaged in their work because they have positive expectations about the future, and they work hard to make that success happen.
The times when optimism really pays off are when you are faced with a life problem, challenge or setback. An optimistic thinking style at these times will increase your resilience, maintain hope and improve your chances of a successful or acceptable outcome.
Overall being optimistic makes life less stressful and more enjoyable. That’s why I choose to be an optimist!
If you’d like to explore how you can develop a more optimistic mind-set and reduce your stress or anxiety, please get in touch.
Have a wonderful, opportunity filled, optimistic week.
Tony Yuile is a Personal Development Coach & hypnosis professional based in Wellington NZ, where he specialises in helping people achieve their goals and overcome the barriers that stop them from enjoying life to the full. Tony’s solution focused approach to coaching uses a range of techniques drawn from the fields of co-active coaching, hypnosis and neuro-linguistic programming (NLP). Contact Tony today to discuss how he can help you, or if you think Tony could help someone you know, you might like to encourage them to get in touch with him.
This article contains the personal views and opinions of the author, which may change over time. It is intended to be for information only and does not constitute medical advice. For medical and health advice, always consult a qualified medical professional.