How to learn to be Optimistic

affirmations-441457_1280In a previous article…/197-3-more-ways-to-build-resilience  I pointed out that optimistic people tend to be more resilient than pessimistic types.  However the good news for pessimists is that optimism can be learned.

Martin Seligman, author of “Learned Optimism: How to change your mind and your life” reaches the conclusion that the tendency towards optimism is learned (rather than dispositional) and can therefore be trained. He has arrived at this conclusion following his studies of learned helplessness.

The ability to learn to be optimistic is important because it means that people can learn to be more resilient and to develop ways of looking at their life that facilitate rather than inhibit their performance under stress.    Remembering that our emotions flow from our thoughts, the methods that have to be mastered involve taking control of our thoughts and developing our positive thinking patterns. This is how you move your mind from the shade into the sunshine.

Seligman has designed training which helps people to learn and develop the positive thinking skills of learned optimism. The ABC model developed by Albert Ellis and used by Cognitive Behavioural Therapists is the starting point for Seligman’s training method.  The ABC model works like this: 

  • Adversity/Activating event – This is the event that causes stress
  • Belief – This is how a person interprets the event, and
  • Consequence – The resulting action from the belief caused by the adversity.

Ellis believes that it is not the activating event (A) that causes negative emotional and behavioural consequences (C), but rather that a person interprets these events unrealistically and therefore has an irrational belief system (B) that helps cause the consequences (C).

Seligman then adds a D and E, as follows

  • Disputation– Using evidence to challenge negative thoughts from A-C.
  • Energizing– Once a person is able to condition themselves into positive thoughts and behaviours in response to A, B-D will eventually lead to a person feeling more energized.

To start to affect change, we must first understand our own beliefs and reactions to adversity. That means we must pay attention and look out for patterns of pessimism, and then seek to challenge our beliefs and replace negative thoughts and behaviours with positive ones. This is the D phase in Seligman’s model.

With practice, a person’s attitude towards adversity should start to become more optimistic. They will have learned optimism. It might sound as easy as ABC, but of course it takes time and focus. However there is no doubt that the results will be a happier and more resilient you.