Cultivating Optimism

RECENTLY, I gave a presentation on the components of emotional intelligence. The audience was engaged and interested in each of the competencies as I went through them. They were asked to discover one or two areas that they could strengthen while listening to the presentation, and to hold their questions until the end.

After I finished, a rather serious young man asked me,

"Of all the competencies you presented, the one that doesn’t make sense to me is optimism. How do you strengthen this and why is it important?”

I looked at him and smiled. I could see his confusion, desire, and his doubt that optimism could be learned.

Why is optimism important? There are several reasons, especially when it comes to stress, challenges, and adversity.

~ Stress distorts judgment, and optimism can help you stay more reality based.

~ Being optimistic makes you more resilient during adversity and can help you bounce back quicker.

~ Having an optimistic mindset makes you innovative and open to new ideas

~ Optimism helps you see possibilities

~ Enables you to challenge the process in order to create new solutions

~ Gives you a competitive advantage over your constituents

~ There is a direct correlation between optimism and achievement

Dr. Martin E. P. Seligman, former president of the American Psychological Association, devoted over 20 years to studying optimism. The results of his research identified three characteristics of an optimist when faced with challenges and adversity. The optimist views the situation as:

- Temporary
- Specific
- External – not taking the situation personally
When you’re not optimistic, the stance taken is a defeated outlook and the situation is considered:

- Unchangeable
- Pervasive
- More personal
One of the common issues I am confronted with when coaching is that during adversity, the “go-to” is to take the situation personally. When this happens, the person becomes overwhelmed, often having feelings of defeat, which, as I mentioned earlier, creates more internal stress and distorts judgment.

How Can One Cultivate More Optimism?
1. Learn to reframe the situation by taking the posture that it’s temporary, specific, and external. Ask yourself, “What else could this mean?”

2. Shift your language by phrasing it in the positive, i.e., “I look forward to see you,” versus, “I can’t wait to see you.” Or, “yes, and” instead of “yes, but.

3. Avoid negative people and the naysayers, the devil’s advocate mindset of, “This will never work.”

4. Adopt a daily practice of reading inspirational quotes.

5. Become aware of your internal dialogue that can illuminate where you might be cultivating a learned helplessness rather than resiliency.

6. Increase your self-actualization by being open to learning new things that take you out of your comfort zone.

To lead and inspire others, you need optimism. Motivating others through optimism helps them to reach levels of performance they never thought possible. Your optimism can be the catalyst of making the impossible possible. To learn more about how to become more optimistic, I suggest reading Dr. Seligman’s book: Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life

I hope you enjoyed this article and gleaned some techniques to become more optimistic. I appreciate your comments on this topic.