Fresh starts. New beginnings.

Optimism at the New Year, or anytime, is good for our health, relationships, finances … a good life.

“Learned Optimism” by Martin Seligman, commonly known as the founder of Positive Psychology, emphasizes that an optimistic approach is the best way to handle life’s problems – while pessimistic interpretations narrow your field of vision and lead to poor performance.

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First… the Bad News

It’s common to fall into pessimistic Thinking Traps, particularly when stressed. We’re bad-weather animals. Our ancestors survived the ice-age because they worried about the future instead of assuming the weather will clear tomorrow. Sometimes catastrophic thinking is useful … and sometimes it’s paralyzing and unrealistic.

Researchers have found pessimists respond to negative events with the “three P’s”:

  • Thinking that the problem is Permanent, something you can’t change.
  • That it happened because of some inherent Personal defect.
  • That the difficulty reflects the terribleness woven into the fabric of your life (i.e. that it’s Pervasive).

Essentially, pessimists believe failure is a normal outcome and fighting to overcome difficulties is pointless.

Sound familiar? Personally I’m in this place more often than I’d like to admit or that I’m even aware of. My signal is the “permanent” thinking – the issue is unchangeable and it’s never going to change. Oy.

And now … the Good News.

Optimism can be learned!

get out of thinking trapDedicating time and practice to combat pessimistic Thinking Traps promotes more productive (and optimistic) thoughts and behaviors. So, our first 2016 Positivity Adventure tool is a three step process Seligman’s teaching 40,000 staff sergeants in the US Army (who will in turn teach their troops) to dodge or escape these traps.

  1. Self-awareness: What traps do I typically fall into? What circumstances and thought patterns typically trigger a trap?
  2. Rebuff negativity bias: While in the trap, hunt the good stuff. Identify three good things that happened today.
  3. Use Critical Questions to see the problematic situation more accurately and correct counterproductive thinking patterns.

I’m trying this…

Permanent thinking: I catch myself saying “Always, Always, Always”. Grab control. Identify three good things that happened today and consider why they occurred and what they mean to you. Then return to the challenge and ask myself “What’s changeable? What can I control?”

Personal thinking: I think the problem is Me, Me, Me. Hit the pause button, look outward to notice how you or others contributed to your three good things. Then revisit the problem and ask “How did others and/or circumstances contribute to this difficulty?”

Pervasive thinking: I notice I’m painting Everything, Everything, Everything with my pessimistic brush. Hunt down my three good things, then circle back and consider “What’s the specific behavior that explains this struggle?”

Want to learn more? There’s a great powerpoint from Seligman’s training at the Fort Bragg military base with more ideas.

Bonus Trap

It’s all about Them, Them, Them like in this 56 second clip from Frasier. I almost fell off my chair laughing with self-recognition.

Critical Question to tackle it: How did I contribute?

Ready to see the sun?

I’m playing with Seligman’s ideas this month to help me see the sunshine through the clouds. Would love to hear how your experiment goes.

Momentum and Miracles

If you want to receive our monthly Positivity Adventure tool times, then email me to get on the list! Great things can happen when we all work as one.

Want a better chance with a New Year’s Resolution?

Try a New Year routine.

In the meantime, continue to lead your life with a focus on G.R.A.C.E. [Grow Relationships & Choreograph Efforts]…enjoy yourself and the moment…and lead with confidence!

May the (positivity) force be with you.

.. Mary Ellen (ME)

Mary Ellen Sanajko,
Leadership Coach & Trainer