Today I want to share something that will help you have better coping skills, lower stress levels, better physical health, and higher persistence when pursuing goals – and that is just to name a few benefits. And, by the way, that is not just my opinion – those benefits are scientifically validated benefits.
So, what is this secret sauce?
Optimism is a learned response to challenge and opportunity.
And before you think: I’m not very optimistic, don’t worry: Optimism can be learned and today I’ll share a scientifically proven method to help you develop optimism.
Before we talk about how to develop it, let’s talk about what it isn’t.
It is NOT, being a Pollyanna,
It is NOT just positive thinking
It is NOT sticking your head in the sand
It is NOT ignoring reality.
I want to be super clear on something: I am a very optimistic person and I do NOT ignore reality.
I do NOT hide my head in the sand.
I do NOT hide from challenge or pretend that it isn’t there.
When a doctor told me that I only had a 3% chance of a full recovery back in 2003, I didn’t ignore that.
I didn’t put a positive spin on it and pretend that it wasn’t that bad.
But, I did think, “well that means that 3% of the people have figured out the answer so I need to find them and learn what they know.”
That is at the heart of optimism: seeing the situation before you for what it is and believing in your ability to move through it successfully.
I believe that is a key to whether or not we can navigate situations or challenges in a positive, successful way or not: whether or not we believe we can.
If we believe that we can, we continue to look for new information, new resources and new things to try. If we believe we can’t, then why try?
That leads to two very important things about optimism:
At some level, it is a choice.
You can develop optimism. You can learn it. If you want a deep dive on the subject, check out Martin Seligman’s brilliant work: Learned Optimism. He’s a scientist and researcher and his work is life changing. By the way, his work on learned optimism came about because he first researched learned helplessness: why and how we give up in the face of challenge. Then he thought, if people can learn helplessness, why can’t they learn the opposite?
Today, I’m going to focus on who you can develop it. As part of his research, Martin Seligman discovered, what he calls, explanatory styles. Essentially, the way that we explain things to ourselves shapes how we feel about the event and therefore it affects what we do next.
To keep it simple, there are 3 “ps” to explanatory styles: Personal, pervasive, and permanent. Here’s a simple example:
Let’s say that you take a math test and you do poorly on the test. A pessimistic explanatory style would frame it as:
I am so stupid. I always do poorly on tests. I will never be good in math.
So, it’s personal, it is pervasive meaning that it is no longer just about math. It has bled into other areas as in “I’m stupid and I do poorly on all tests. And, it is permanent: I will never be good at math.
Another way to explain this same event is: I didn’t do well on that test. I need to prepare and study harder in the future.
Do you hear the difference? We are still taking responsibility and we are still seeing that we didn’t do well on the test AND that is as far as it goes. We aren’t stupid. We aren’t bad at ALL tests. IN other words, it isn’t pervasive. And, we aren’t dooming ourselves to never being good at math. Meaning that it isn’t permanent. Instead, we are saying “Wow. I need to be better prepared in the future.”
Hopefully, you can hear how this optimistic explanatory style serves us well.
Here is an example of how this has helped me:
Years ago, back in 2004 or so, I was booked to do 2 sessions at a conference. The first session was awesome!
The second session, I felt, was a bomb.
The client was happy, but I wasn’t.
I remember driving home and I thought:
That second session wasn’t as good as it could have been. I need to look at that and think about what led to that result and what I can do in the future so it doesn’t happen again.
I was owning it – and I was owning changing it in the future – but it wasn’t permanent and it wasn’t pervasive. I didn’t say to myself: You suck as a speaker, you should quit. That would have been permanent, personal and pervasive. And the learning and growth would have ended.
Ironically, even though I hated thinking that I had had a bad session, this turned out to be one of the most powerful things that could have happened because it led me to a different way of preparing.
And now, the way that I prepare for speaking or workshops, is one of my signature strengths. And it started with this quote/unquote failure.
This is the other benefit of explanatory styles in my experience: they allow us to experience the failure without being defeated by it. It allows us to turn a temporary failure into a longer term success.
How can you put this to work for you today?
#1 Build your awareness muscle. Start really paying attention to how you explain things to yourself.
Keep a journal with you and as things happen, put your awareness on your self talk. If you don’t do well in a presentation at work, let’s say, what do you say to yourself afterwards.
Years ago, I was lucky enough to attend a Harvard coaching conference and I got to see John Whitmore speak. He is an absolute legend in coaching.
He was talking about awareness, and he said that “often awareness is curative.” Building up your awareness muscle in this area will go a long way, long way towards changing this.
#2 Change your self-talk. Now that you’ve created awareness, you can change the behavior.
The next time you experience some sort of setback, do NOT allow yourself to beat yourself up or go down the pessimistic rabbit hole about how bad you are.
Instead, stop yourself and say, “Okay. That didn’t go as well as I wanted it to. It is just one event; it doesn’t affect who I am or all areas of my life. It is ONE event. I know that I can and will do better in the future.”
This will take some discipline and it will take time. This is something that I still practice to this day.
It is probably why I am as optimistic as I am.
And, it is why I keep trying.
It’s why I may get knocked down, but I get back up.
And, ultimately, it is why I have the courage to put myself out there and try new things even when there’s a good chance that I’ll stumble.
Because I know that it is a temporary stumble and it is only a stumble. My entire self-worth is NOT caught up in any ONE action or stumble or success.
In coaching people, I see this a lot: we tie up our entire self-worth into any one action that we are about to take. When you think about it that way, no wonder trying something new is so scary. That’s a topic for another episode, but please, please, please don’t do that to yourself! It’s just an action, it’s not YOU.
Try out the above 2 steps and let me know how it goes!
A quick favor for all of you sales professionals and sales leaders out there. As you know, I’ve worked as a sales coach with one of the top firms in the country for the last 13 years and over the years, I’ve been tracking a problem that I’ve seen and I want to know if this resonates for you.
The problem is this: while you are enjoying success in your career – and liking the success and achievement – there is a nagging voice inside that keeps wondering:
Am I showing up in ALL of the roles that are important to me?
I’ve seen this in hundreds of coaching sessions that I’ve done. And it is a painful tension.
And, it’s a tension and problem that I want to help resolve. With that in mind, we are in pre-launch mode for a system that will allow people to gain:
Clarity on what roles matter
A game plan for developing success in each of those roles
And ultimately a big picture roadmap that brings confidence, assurance and peace that you are truly living your WHOLE life – not just pieces of it.
Here’s the favor. We are doing a bit more research and fine-tuning. So if this resonates for you, we’d love to chat. We are offering a call to discuss your situation and help you find a way forward. At this time, these calls are free, because we are still doing research. Here’s how to book a call: simply drop me a note at BK@bobbikahler.com and we’ll take it from there.
That wraps up this episode. Thanks for listening. If you are getting value from these . . . Positive Review
And no matter what happens this week, make sure that you Rise and Thrive.