Henry Ford once said, “If you think that you can do something or think that you can’t you’re probably right.”

Most people understand that having an optimistic attitude is an important key to being successful.  Having a positive outlook is easy when everything is going well, but unfortunately when we come across an obstacle, pessimism can come to the fore and short-circuit our chances of reaching our goals.

Martin Seligman has identified three elements of pessimism that hold us back from being successful when things don’t go right, so let’s find out more about the 3 P’s of pessimism.

Personalisation.  The first element of pessimism is personalisation.  This can reveal itself in two ways:

  • The first is when you believe that you will never amount to anything and that all obstacles are there because of you.  “Everything bad that happens to me is my fault” is a common statement from people in this situation.  In fact when something goes right, people in this scenario refuse to take credit for it, preferring to assume that you were just lucky on that occasion.
  • The second is when you take negative interactions personally. Having worked in the call centre industry for many years, this way of thinking was rife in consultants.  A random call from an angry stranger that impacted their view of themselves and their self-worth.  

Sometimes, things just don’t go right.  It’s not a grand conspiracy theory against you, it’s just the way life works.  Don’t take set-backs personally, but focus on finding ways to overcome them.

Additionally, when someone reacts the way that they do, it’s not always about you.  This doesn’t excuse you from offending people intentionally or through insensitivity, but sometimes the reactions of others has more to do with their circumstances than what you contributed to the situation.

Permanence.  As the father of a five year old, I hear this a lot.  “I’ll never be able to do this.” Or the delightful alternative, “(Insert name of younger sibling here) is always annoying me.”

The words never and always are very dangerous when it comes to maintaining a resourceful attitude during difficult times.  If you catch yourself saying, “I’ll never be able to change” make sure that you challenge yourself on this false assumption. 

Pervasiveness.  For some people, if one thing goes wrong, then it impacts every other aspect of their lives.  This is called pervasiveness.

For example, you burned the toast for breakfast in the morning, so from then on you are in an unresourceful mood for the rest of the day that impacts your work, your relationships and your overall happiness.

Another example could be that you’ve messed up your diet, so you then think that you’re a loser at everything else and give up trying.

Try not to be so harsh on yourself.  Isolate the inevitable mistakes that we all make and ensure that you’re not falling into the trap of giving up on your goals just because you fell short of your expectations once.

Personalisation, permanence and pervasiveness are each learned behaviours that can be unlearned over time by replacing them with more optimistic outlooks.

Which one can you relate to the most?

Do you have any helpful strategies that you’ve used to become more optimistic?

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