This post is part 3 in my series Confidence is an OUTCOME gained through H.O.P.E. The “O” in H.O.P.E. stands for Optimism.
Say the word “Optimism” to a lot of people post-2008 and they sneer knowingly and wonder just how in touch with reality you are. Yet speak of Resilience and an ability to keep moving forward after a setback, and you are likely to be admired. “What’s your secret?” people want to know. In a word, it is Optimism.
Optimistic people believe that they will rise above life’s challenges and are able to keep calm in tough situations. Because of this, Optimists are less distracted by their own thoughts and more observant of the situation they are in and the external world. They therefore are able to see opportunities that others may overlook. And with the ability to put things in perspective, bounce back after setbacks, and generally be resilient, a strong Confidence emerges. Confidence is an outcome, and Optimism is a key factor in building confidence. And the good news is that thanks to the research of Martin Seligman, developing an Optimistic self-explanatory style is something that is achievable within a matter of months. I’ve had a great number of clients do exactly that. So let’s get started.
Your “self-explanatory style” means the style of thinking you have when you explain to yourself the reasons for life’s events. Your self-explanatory style is either more Optimistic or more Pessimistic. When bad things happen, the Pessimist tends to think in terms of ALWAYS. (“Why does this always happen? Things will never get better.”) The Optimist, however, tends to think in terms of SOMETIMES, or LATELY. If you want to become more resilient to life’s setbacks and grow your confidence, you need to make sure that your self-explanatory style is chiefly Optimistic. This means you have to catch yourself when you use a Pessimistic style, and correct your thinking.
To catch yourself in Pessimistic thinking, look out for the 3 P’s.
When bad things happen, there are three ways in which a person with a Pessimistic self-explanatory style will knock themselves back. The Pessimist’s thinking about the bad event will be
- Pervasive (meaning it will make other bad things happen ), or
- Personal (it’s the Pessimist’s fault), or
- Permanent (bad things will keep happening), or a
- Combination of the above.
Here’s an example I often share with clients. You park your car at the supermarket and do your shopping. You come back to the car with the trolley and see a massive dent in your car. What do you say or think in response to this? A person with a pessimistic self-explanatory style might say, “Oh no! I never should have parked so close to the entrance. (PERSONAL) Now I’ll have to get time off work to get it fixed and my boss will angry with me for being absent and my insurance rate will go up and my spouse won’t like that. (PERVASIVE) Why do these things always happen to me? (PERMANENT). What does an Optimist say in the same situation? “Grrr. Some idiot hit my car (IMPERSONAL not Personal). Now I’ll have to get it fixed (SPECIFIC & TEMPORARY, not Pervasive and Permanent).”
When bad things happen, check your thinking. If you find it is
- Pervasive, try to make it Specific.
- Personal, try to make it Impersonal. (Yes, those who blame others do seem to be happier people! But the point here is don’t ruminate and self-flagellate with blame.)
- Permanent, try to make it Temporary.
An easy way to remember this is to take your three P’s, SIT down, and change your thinking to be more Optimistic by explaining the event to yourself in Specific, Impersonal and Temporary terms. Let’s do this together. Suppose you are studying for an additional qualification while you work full-time. Unfortunately, you fail an exam. Rather than wallow in self-recrimination (PERSONAL) and give up on the course because you think you will never get through it (PERMANENT), what could you tell yourself? Take a moment to think of a healthy Optimistic response using the SIT method above. Here’s one to get you started, “The exam was particularly difficult.”
Next time I’ll focus on avoiding Pessimism when GOOD things happen.This is important, too! And remember, the more healthy, Optimistic thinking we achieve, the closer we are to being Confident. To learn more about healthy thinking, read Martin Seligman’s books, including Learned Optimism.