Written by Kate Billing, Founder & Creative Director, Blacksmith
(Part Two in a seven-part series) A 3 minute read.
This week it’s ‘O for Optimism’ that gets our attention.
I’m a big fan of what’s called ‘rational optimism’. In his fabulous book ‘The Happiness Advantage’, Harvard psychologist Shawn Achor defines rational optimism as “a realistic assessment of the present, while maintaining a belief that our behaviour will eventually create a better reality.” This is a thoroughly humanist perspective and one which really serves us in the current reality.
But developing optimism isn’t about simply being positive. It’s about shaping our thinking, and pro-actively working with the neuroplasticity of our brains to mitigate and overcome our inherent negativity bias and potential pessimism about ‘the current situation’ and our possible futures.
“One of the most significant findings in psychology in the last 20 years is that individuals can choose the way they think.” … Dr. Martin Seligman, Learned Optimism, 2006
We have the ability to literally change our minds through disciplined practice, training them to be more optimistic through what I call ‘giving your mind a job’ (noting your experience and reflecting constructively on it) and thereby changing what Dr. Seligman, one of the founders of the positive psychology movement, calls our ‘explanatory style’ – basically, the stories we tell ourselves about our own experience.
Optimists and pessimists have different explanatory styles based on their perspective on a shared mental model:
- Permanence – how permanent or temporary is the experience?
- Pervasiveness – does this apply in all situations or is it limited to this one experience?
- Personal – am I the cause of this experience or is it because of someone or something else?
By way of an example of explanatory styles in action, check out the model below of how an optimist and a pessimist see GOOD things that happen to them through this mental model. For BAD things, it’s basically flipped on its head.
So, what can you do to start developing a more optimistic outlook?
It involves a simple and easy-to-use Applied Positive Psychology practice, first developed by Dr. Seligman, called Three Good Things. It’s an excellent way to “give your mind a job”.
Three Good Things sounds like a gratitude practice but it’s much, MUCH more. Not only are you scanning your life for the good things you experience, you’re also looking beyond that, to what you do that means you experience those good things. You’re making it PERSONAL.
Using this practice, each day we prime our conscious mind to notice the good things in our experience. This, in turn, primes our subconscious mind to repeat and reinforce mindsets and behaviours which enable us to create more of those good things. This helps build overall optimism, confidence, and positive behaviour, which ends in MORE good things. A classic virtuous cycle!
The practice is very simple and is best done at the end of the day. It takes about 10 minutes, long-hand, with your journal and a pen:
- Step One: Identify one good thing you experienced during the day
- Step Two: Reflect on your part in creating that good thing
- REPEAT FOR TWO MORE GOOD THINGS – simple!
Here’s an example below of one of mine
In clinical trials, Dr. Seligman’s team found that as little as seven consecutive days of this practice has a self-reported positive impact on mood and state of mind up to six months later. I reckon it’s good to commit to at least 21 days and see how you go. The first time I did this practice eight years ago, I went for 100 days and it was life-changing!
And it doesn’t just have to be for you. You can do this with your Home Team, your Work Team, and with members of your community like your neighbours, sports team, or people you volunteer with.
Give it a go!
Next week we’ll look at VULNERABILITY and how it helps us connect more deeply with ourselves and with others, so we can make the most of the opportunities we have before us.
P.S: If you haven’t already, sign up to join our growing Fully Human Tribe HERE or at the bottom of this page and we’ll keep you posted with upcoming events, new thinking and development opportunities!