June 20, 2016
By Joan B
Positive attitude is a choice, an attainable state of mind.
Do you believe that headline? I do because I know firsthand that a positive attitude/an optimistic outlook can be learned. It takes retraining our thought processes, but who doesn’t think that’s worth a try!?
Dr. Martin Seligman, the guru of positive psychology, spent his early career studying why people become depressed and anxious, but later, he began to focus on the strengths, virtues and practices that contribute to a positive outlook. I was so impressed by his work in the art and science of positive psychology that I began to apply his tenets of “learned optimism” in my own life.
To say that optimism or positive attitude is important in our daily lives is a gross understatement. It brightens the lens through which we view our personal and professional experiences. It contributes to strong relationships, happiness and success at work, excellence in sports, and enhanced creativity. It fuels our passions and enables us to persevere through the inevitable peaks and valleys of life. It enhances our health and well-being. It energizes and reduces stress. And socially, it makes us magnetic and compelling to others. In fact, I can’t think of a positive person I’m not attracted to!
While it is true that some people seem to be born optimists and others born pessimists, science has demonstrated that what we’re born with, our “nature,” is not fixed—that we can rewire our minds to think and act differently.
The way we talk to ourselves, the manner in which we explain events to ourselves, is called “explanatory style” (Seligman, Learned Optimism, 1990). There are several dimensions of explanatory style, and when practiced regularly, they have the power to transform a negative attitude to a positive one. I call them the “4 Ps of Positive.”
1. The first one is permanence. When an unwelcome event occurs, it’s unlikely it will last forever. Accept that it may last a long time but it won’t be permanent. Meanwhile, learn from it.
2. The second one is pervasiveness. When an undesirable event occurs, it’s doubtful it will pervade absolutely everything in life. Accept that it will affect some but not all parts and then isolate it, compartmentalize it, and work on changing it.
3. The third one is personalization. When a setback occurs, it’s easy to blame ourselves and take it personally, but who needs more negative self-talk? Instead, focus on maximizing personal strengths as a means to overcome future obstacles or setbacks.
4. The fourth one is possibility. When we can’t see possibilities we have no hope, and as Dostoyevsky once said, “To live without hope is to cease to live.” Cultivating a mindset of imagining, seeking and tapping possibilities is essential to a positive attitude, and it pays dividends in relationships, career, school, exercise, technology, art, spirituality, and business ventures, to name a few.
It is both comforting and empowering to know that we have the ability to reshape our thoughts by changing our explanatory style. We can learn to be optimistic. It may take time to habituate but it’s well worth the effort because positive people tend to be happier and more captivating, enthusiastic, hopeful, fulfilled, dynamic, and successful in life.
So just try it, because positive attitude is a choice, an attainable state of being!