Can you really learn to be more optimistic?
Have you heard of the term "learned optimism"? Whether you have or not, wouldn't it be great if it were true - that it's possible to learn how to be more optimistic? To explore this idea, let's start at the beginning with the person who first developed the concept.
Martin Seligman and "learned helplessness"
Back in the 1960s the American psychologist Martin Seligman identified a state of mind that he called "learned helplessness". He found that animals and humans that were put in stressful or painful situations over which they had no control soon grew to accept their situation, even when they were given the means to do something about it.
It is the same in life. If you are treated badly as a child and don't have the means to do anything about it, then you can grow up feeling that you will always be helpless to improve your situation. Through his research, Seligman came to see that understanding and believing that you can do things to change your life is the foundation of wellbeing. He called this "learned optimism".
The benefits of optimism
Another leading psychologist, Sonja Ljubomirsky has studied the advantages of optimism - the belief that things will probably turn out well in the end and that you can positively affect the outcome through your own actions. She found conclusive evidence to show that optimistic people tend to have better relationships in love and friendship, are more successful in their work, and are more creative and resilient when things get tough. Optimistic people even tend to live longer: They are less likely to become seriously ill and more likely to recover if they do! Learning to be more optimistic can be a real life changer!
Learning to be optimistic
The key to learning optimism is strongly connected to changing the subconscious beliefs that you have about yourself and the world around you. Seligman calls this process ABCDE:
"A" is for adversity - Identifying a particular difficulty in your life.
"B" is for belief - Your ideas about the underlying cause for that difficulty.
"C" is for consequence - Understanding the emotions that belief will trigger.
"D" is for disputation - Identifying what a better belief might look like.
"E" is for energisation - Embedding and celebrating your new belief.
To put it another way, your reaction to any given situation is down to how your brain has been programmed by your life experiences, especially those learned in childhood. But you don't have to be bound by this programme. You are not a computer! With a little time and effort, you can change it!
How coaching can help
Coaching is an ideal way of exploring the difficulties you are facing, whether in business, at work or at home, and coming up with tailor made solutions for your own particular situation. Challenging and then changing any limiting beliefs you may have about yourself is one of the fundamental objectives of coaching. Can you learn to be more optimistic? Yes you can!
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About Paul Hemphill
Paul Hemphill is a Leadership and Wellbeing coach who specialises in bringing a positive psychology approach to his coaching. Over the last five years he has helped literally hundreds of clients to restart their lives, develop new levels of confidence, change careers, improve their work-life balance, or become better leaders and managers.