By Leo Gura - March 18, 2014 | 4 Comments
A rich definition of optimism and how you can become more optimistic right now.
Hey, this is Leo from Actualized.org, and in this video we’re going to talk about optimism.
Looking Forward To The Future
Welcome back. Let’s crack into this. Let’s talk about why optimism is important, what optimism is, some details about the different aspects of optimism. I think you’ll find that very interesting, we can dissect it quite a bit.
This is a topic that has been studied by many researchers in the positive psychology movement, just very recently, in the last forty or thirty years. Then we’re going to give you some practical ways to start to actually build up your optimism. You want to be more optimistic? Yeah, it’s awesome.
I love feeling optimistic. I love being able to look forward to my future. For me, that’s huge. This exercise that I’m going to share with you at the end of the video is going to be huge, so stay with me. It’s simple, but it’s really powerful and it’s really going to build up your optimism in a very practical way.
Let’s get into this. First of all, why is optimism something that we should care about, what’s important about it? A lot of the information I bring to you here comes from doctor Martin Seligman. He’s one of the leaders of the positive psychology movement right now. He published a seminal work — I don’t remember really what it was, but it was thirty or forty years ago — he published this brilliant work and a book called Learned Optimism.
What he did is a lot of research about how optimism works. He looked at the effects of optimism in business, in the workplace, in social situations, in our private lives. He looked at all the different variable involved. He really broke it down, did the research, found ways to actually build up optimism.
A lot of my information is coming from there. One of the things they found in that research is that optimism is important for success in life. People who are more optimistic are just more successful. Why is this?
The reason this is, I think, ultimately will boil down to persistence.When you’re able to remain optimistic, you’re able to stick with the process. You’re able to stick with the path, and you’re able to bust past many more obstacles than a pessimistic person would. You simply see more opportunities.
You try more things. When that happens, what do you think, does that make you more successful, or does that make you less successful? Right. How could you possibly be unsuccessful if you are super, super persistent, if you’re super hopeful, if you’re willing to try every avenue, if you’re willing to do it all, if you’re willing to go all out and test it all and still remain hopeful, and still remain happy, still remain cheerful, still remain confident.
Isn’t that something you want to have as a personal trait? I know that sounds awesome, I can just see all the different places in my life where I’ve failed, where I’ve fallen off track, where I wasn’t able to do as much as I wanted at the gym, or with my nutrition, or with my job or my career, some project that I started, things I procrastinated on.
An Extra Push
You can just see that if I was more optimistic in those situations, I would’ve been able to push through a little bit more. Sometimes that’s all it takes, just a little bit extra push, one extra obstacle you get through and then you get a new resurgence, like a second wind of motivation, and then that carries you through.
In the meantime, you need that optimism. Some of the most successful people you’ll find in the world, in some of the biggest corporations and companies out there, are extremely optimistic. They did studies on this and actually proved it.
A lot of companies started to use this research and started to give their employees tests. When they were hiring employees, they would look and specifically test the employee not on their technical skills, but they would test the employee on his outlook on life and his optimism level.
They would hire the people that were more optimistic. For example, they did this in the insurance industry, in the life insurance industry. What they found is that, for example, for salesmen, optimism is one the leading factors, one of the critical factors for their sales success.
The Smiling Salesman
What they found is that the people, the salesmen in a life insurance company, for example, the ones that outsell everybody else, those are usually the most optimistic. Why is that? Because selling life insurance requires a lot of optimism. You have to do a lot of cold calling, you have to be out there talking to clients with prospects.
That whole process can be very demoralising if you go out there and call one client and that client rejects you and he says “No, I’m not interested in life insurance.” and you get a second client who says “No” and a third client, and a fourth client… And then, ten clients later, most of us, most normal people would be so demoralised that we’d say “Screw this! This cold calling business doesn’t work. It’s too painful. I get rejected too much.”
We would get so hurt by it that we would quit, because we would assume that because we got ten rejections, that we’ll keep getting rejections. The optimistic person will get ten rejections and say “I got ten rejections, but this eleventh one, this eleventh call might be the one.”
Sure enough, he makes that eleventh call, and he nails it. He lands it. He gets his success, and then he just builds on it and builds on it and builds on it. This is actually very practical, you can see this in sales numbers for the top salesmen in the country. You’ve got to be very optimistic if you’re doing cold call sales.
You can just see how this might translate and apply to something that you’re doing in your life. How many projects have you fallen off track with? How many diets? Right, exactly. How many things do you know you need to be doing, but are not doing them because you tell yourself they’re not going to work?
That you’ve tried it but it’s never going to happen? That’s you being pessimistic. Being optimistic is great for your success level and performance level. I think it’s also good because it just makes you feel good. When you’re optimistic, you feel better. You’re more cheerful. It helps you avoid things like depression, depressive episodes. Nobody likes to be in those holes, right?
It Can Only Get Better
What is optimism ultimately? If we define optimism, it’s basically a hopeful outlook on the future. If you think your future is going to be better than today, then you’re going to be optimistic, you’re going to be hopeful. Good stuff is coming.
If you expect bad stuff to be coming in your future, then you’re going to be depressed. You’re going to be sad and miserable. You’re going to be afraid. That’s really the bottom line difference.
Martin Seligman, one of the brilliant things that he did in his research is, he said that optimism is explained, and pessimism and optimism — he really studied both sides of this one coin — he said the difference is explanatory style. It’s the way you explain and the way you attach meaning to the things that are happening to you in your life.
It’s not that the — the pessimistic and the optimistic person, they both face the same challenge. They face exactly the same challenge, but the question is what kind of meaning do you assign to it. It’s all in the meanings you assign to things.
An optimistic person will get the same bad situation, he’ll get that same flat tire on the way to work, but he’ll assign a different explanation, a different meaning to it than a pessimistic person would.
Forever Or Not?
There are three different types of explanatory style that lead to either optimism or pessimism, so let’s go over those. The first is permanence. How permanent is the problem? Let’s say you get a flat tire. How permanent is that problem? Will the problem last forever? An optimist will say “It’s just a flat tire. In the grand scheme of my life, it means nothing. It’s just a flat tire, we’ll fix it in a few hours. Who cares? Tomorrow it won’t be an issue.”
What about the pessimist? The pessimist will start to say “Oh my god I’ve got a flat tire! How am I going to fix this? How long is it going to take to fix?” In his mind, he builds it up as though this is going to last for his whole life. It seems like it’s something that’s going to be permanent. It’s never going to be fixed.
Maybe a flat tire is not the best example for that. I think most rational people would say a flat tire can be fixed pretty quickly. How about something like a divorce? Or a break-up in a relationship?
An optimistic person would say “Yeah, I broke up. I really love that person. I didn’t work, but there’s plenty of fish in the sea. We’ll go out there. This is just one relationship. I’m going to have many, many relationships in my whole life. In the grand scheme of things, it’s not a permanent problem.”
The pessimist, what does he do? He looks at that relationship, and this is the end of his life. He sees he’s going to become single and miserable for the rest of his life. He’s probably going to die lonely. Nobody loves him. It’s just going to be that way forever. It’s permanent.
When you think a problem is permanent, you don’t want to take any action to change it. You’re totally powerless, you’re totally a victim. Now you have nothing to look forward to. The optimist looks forward to a nice relationship in a few months. The pessimist looks forward to being miserable for the rest of his life.
All-Encompassing Or Not?
Who’s going to feel better? Who’s going to go out there and be more resourceful? Pretty clear, right? How about the next point: pervasiveness. This is the second explanatory style. This asks the question of “Will this undermine everything?” How pervasive is the problem?
If you get a flat tire, how pervasive is it? How much does it affect every category of your life? An optimist will say “Well it’s just a flat tire. All it really affects is right now, today. Maybe I’ll be late for work and I’ll miss something at work. That’s just work. The rest of my life is unaffected. My relationship is great, unaffected. My hobbies are great. My health is great, totally unaffected. Only this little category of life is affected by this flat tire – my job. Even there, it’s still limited. It’s not like I’m going to lose my job just because of that. That’s the optimist.
What does the pessimist think? The pessimist start to spread this around, it’s like a cancer. It starts to spread. What should have been classified as a local problem, becomes a global problem.
Now, all of a sudden, a flat tire — you start to think “Well a flat tire means I’m going to be late for work. If I’m late for work, I’m going to get yelled at there. That’s going to put me in a bad mood. I’m going to come home and then I’m going to be in a bad mood, and I’m going to be late for dinner. Then my wife is going to yell at me, and we’re going to have a fight again. Because of that I’m going to miss the gym. The kids are going to be upset.”
It just kind of spreads out and basically, your whole life now has been tainted by a very local phenomenon, which was a flat tire. We can also see how significant this is. How much more resourceful the optimistic person is, when they can limit the problem and contain it within a small little area. It literally is like a cancer. If you can contain that cancer, you’re much better off than letting it spread through your whole body.
Personal Or Not?
The third point of explanatory style is personalization. What the optimist does is, whenever there’s a problem, he tends to say that he is not responsible for the problem. If there’s something good that happens, he tends to take credit for it.
In this situation, if there’s a flat tire, he’ll say “Bad luck. I drove over a nail and got a flat tire. No biggie. It wasn’t my fault.” If something good happens, like he gets a promotion, then he’s going to do the opposite. He’s going to say “Yeah, that promotion. I got promoted because it was me. I went out there, I worked my ass off for a whole year, I beat my sales figures. Now I got this awesome promotion. That was all me.”
That’s what an optimist does. What does a pessimist do? A pessimist does the inverse of that. That means that when there is this flat tire, the pessimist is going to look at it and say “Goddammit, why was I not more careful? I should’ve been more careful and not driven over that nail.” In his mind, he blames himself.
The reverse of it is when he has something positive happen, he tends to be humble. He gets that promotion and says “Well yeah, I got that promotion. Sure, I worked for a year, but in the end, anyone could’ve gotten that promotion. It wasn’t really me. It was the company. The company needed someone, and I was the only one to fit the bill. I can’t take credit for that promotion. It was really the right timing, the right situation. Nothing to do with me.”
He’s not invested in the positive stuff. This is another really big distinguishing factor between positive thinking people and negative thinking people. You can see how much this affects your willingness to go out there and take action in the world.
When you think you’re responsible for everything that’s good, and not so responsible for anything that’s bad, then you want to go out there and you want to act. You feel hopeful. If you’re thinking the opposite, then you don’t want to act. You feel miserable. You’re beating yourself up, you’re feeling guilty all the time.
How About You?
The question is, ultimately, what is your explanatory style? You can actually get tested on this, there are tests out there that will assess you on the different levels of your explanatory style. Then you can actually do something to improve it.
A little bit too much to get into here, getting into all the tactics there. The questions is, how optimistic are you about your future? What do you think about your future right now? Are you hopeful for the next month? Are you excited about all the stuff that’s going to happen to you in the next six months? How about in the next year? How about in the next decade? Are you excited about the next decade of your life?
If you’re not, then you’re not being very optimistic. That is something that can be tweaked. This is something that can be worked on with a few little techniques. Actually, I’m going to give you a great technique right now, that is going to help you turn this around. If you’re not optimistic, this will help you. If you are optimistic, this will take you to the next level.
The key point I want you to take away here is that optimism can be stoked, like a fire. You’ve got a campfire, and it’s kind of dying down, then you can blow air on it, you can put some more kindling on it and it will spark up and flare up.
That’s what you can do with your optimism. Right now, maybe you’re feeling at a baseline level, where you’re not too pessimistic about your future, but you’re not too excited either. What I recommend you do is the following exercise.
Take your journal, a piece of paper, something where you can write. I want you to write out and list thirty things that you’re most excited about in the next year, that you’re going to do. Thirty things you’re super, super excited about.
Maybe it’s that vacation you want to take. Maybe it’s that relationship you hope to get into. Maybe it’s that promotion at work you know you’re going to get. Maybe it’s having all your credit card debts eliminated. Maybe it’s starting that new business of yours, or starting that dream project or losing some weight.
Whatever it is, start writing it down. Be as specific as possible. Thirty things you’re excited about achieving in the next year, that really motivate you. Try to focus on the ones that get you excited. This is simple, this is the whole exercise.
Sit down and actually do this, take twenty minutes or whatever it takes you to write all this stuff out. Notice how you feel. Notice how you feel right now, how you feel before doing the exercise, and then I want you to notice how you feel after you finish it.
If you’re like me, you’re going to feel so much more optimistic. You’re going to feel energised, you’re going to feel happy, you’re going to feel alive, you’re going to feel like there’s something to your life.
Your future is now bright, and it’s right here before your eyes. You’ve articulated it, you’ve laid it out very clearly. It’s right before you. I recommend you do this exercise more than once. Do it right now, but also continue to do it throughout your life. Continue to do it. Do it at least once a month.
Do it even once a week, because it’s going to get you connected back to the stuff that’s exciting to you. Your mind is going to brainstorm and come up with new stuff to put on that list. You can be brainstorming about what you’re going to be doing for the whole year, but you can also localise it down and you can shorten the timeframe to something like the next month, or even what you’re going to be doing over the next week, or even today.
Even today, you can do it. What are five things you’re going to be excited about doing today? If you do that exercise in the morning, just for five minutes, what are the five things you’re going to be excited about doing today.
It’ll probably take you just two minutes to do that. You’re going to be much more excited about your day. You’re going to be much more optimistic.
This is what I’ve got to say about optimism. I’m going to be signing off. Go ahead and post me your comments down below. I love to hear feedback and your thoughts on this stuff. Also, please like this and share this so we can spread this around, get people more aware about what optimism is and how to become more optimistic.
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