Optimism: it’s more than positive thinking!

Perhaps you know someone who is an optimist?  They probably appear to maintain a degree of hope in their life and adopt a positive approach to what they do – a ‘glass half full’ viewpoint.  Well if they are an optimist then they do much more – they take action!

For example, if an optimist failed an exam, they would take action and prepare for the resit.  A pessimistic person might wallow in their sorrows and consider themselves as a failure – and do nothing!

This ‘positive’ approach is also tied into how we explain the causes of life events to ourselves – our ‘Explanatory Styles’.  Those who give up easily (the pessimist) believe the causes are permanent, universal and internal.  Those who resist helplessness (the optimist) believe the causes are temporary, specific or internal.  Some examples explain this better.

Permanent Vs Temporary thinking:

  • Permanent (the pessimistic thinks…):

    – The boss is awful

    Temporary (the optimist thinks…):

    – The boss is in a bad mood today

    Permanent (the pessimistic thinks…):

    – You never talk to me

    Temporary (the optimist thinks…):

    – You haven’t talked to me recently

Universal Vs Specific thinking:

  • Universal (the pessimistic thinks…):

    – I failed that exam – this will ruin my career

  • Specific (the optimist thinks…):

    – That was a tough exam – there’s always the re-sit

  • Universal (the pessimistic thinks…):

    – All teachers are unfair

  • Specific (the optimist thinks…):

    – Mr Jones is an unfair teacher

Internalisation Vs External thinking:

  • Internalization (the pessimistic thinks…):

    – I’m a bad parent

  • Externalization (the optimist thinks…):

    – The kids are really playing up today!

  • Internalization (the pessimistic thinks…):

    – I messed up that presentation – I’ll never be good at this

  • Externalization (the optimist thinks…):

    – That was a tough group – and the disruptive guy didn’t help

Making sense? ‘The key to success is careful monitoring and recognition of our thoughts. Once a negative thought is detected, we can consciously dispute that thought and try to look at possible alternative outcomes.’¹

Making a change

Change is never easy! But with practice (and the right conditions and support) you can start changing the habit of automatically responding in your default way and view situations differently.

‘The mind is the source of all experience and by changing the direction of the mind, we can change the quality of everything we experience.
When you transform your mind, everything you experience is transformed. It’s like putting on a pair of yellow glasses: Suddenly, everything is yellow. If you put on a pair of green glasses, everything you see is green.’².

Sounds simplistic – and in a way it is – but not always easy.  The next time you find yourself being pessimistic, try and catch your thoughts.    Challenge yourself – is there an alternative?  Perhaps ask that optimistic friend of yours what they think – what action would they take?

About The Author

Eddie McDonald is the Managing Director of Beckinridge, an EQ-i 2.0 (Emotional Intelligence Inventory) Accredited Assessor, a Mental Toughness (MTQ48) Licensed Practitioner and a British School of Meditation Qualified Meditation Teacher.  His early career was in software engineering and now has over 30 years experience in Training & Development. He is a multi-instrumentalist, keeps a tidy kitchen when cooking and his current favourite colour is green.

You can contact Eddie on any aspect of this article at eddie.mcdonald@beckinridge.com.

  1. Boniwell, L., Rostron, C. (2010) Positive psychology: the science of well-being, in Mood and Well-being, pp.138, The Open University, Milton Keynes.
  2. Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, (2007) The Joy of Living, P 102, Bantam Books, London.