When it comes to role models, all sorts of names come up in a coaching session. Whilst I was talking with a client (let’s call her Sarah) recently, we found ourselves discussing a couple of Winnie the Pooh’s friends.
When I asked Sarah how she was feeling about a particular issue recently, she replied, ‘Oh, a bit like Eeyore. I feel like this whole thing is my fault, that it’s just going to drag on and end up having a negative impact on everything around me. I just wish I could be more like Tigger and bounce back.’
The psychologist Martin Seligman is commonly referred to as the founder of Positive Psychology and spent many years looking at the different ways in which pessimists and optimists evaluate difficult events. He found three key areas:
When the pessimist doesn’t get the new job he went for, he feels it’s always going to be like that because he’s always rubbish at interviews.
When the optimist doesn’t get the new job, he sees it as a temporary blip. Maybe he just had an off day, or maybe he had a good day but in that instance, there just happened to be someone even better than him. His perfect job is just around the corner.
The pessimist feels that this specific difficult situation ripples out and has a negative effect on every aspect of life: the optimist views the specific difficult situation as an isolated event.
When something goes wrong, the pessimist automatically blames himself – he’s made redundant because he’s bad at his job. The optimist looks for other external circumstances that may have contributed to the difficult situation – he’s being made redundant because of the downturn in the economy.
In a study of insurance salesmen, Seligman found that optimistic salespeople sold 88% more than their pessimistic colleagues. Optimists are widely believed to be healthier, both physically and mentally, than pessimists. If you feel you’re a pessimist, maybe you’re reading this now thinking ‘oh great, I’m doomed and it’s all my fault.’
Well, Seligman believes that you can learn to be optimistic. If you’d like to read more, head on over to Learned Optimism. After my session with Sarah, she decided she’d like to read Seligman’s book so I’m looking forward to hearing more about that and whether it helps her to be more Tiggerish! I should point out that Seligman himself recognises that blind optimism in which we shut out all notions of reality is not the answer.
Today’s pebble for your contemplation: are you naturally optimistic or pessimistic? How does that affect you?
ps if you’d like a coach to help you work on improving your optimism or any other goals, why not email me to see how we could work together?
Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching.