Optimism: the Key to Living Longer
"Success is measured by your ability to maintain enthusiasm
Sir Winston Churchill
Mahatma Gandhi, Thomas Edison, Helen Keller, and Christopher
Reeves are just a few names that come to mind in a discussion
about optimism and success.
People who are successful in life measure high on assessments
of optimistic attitudes. I would be easy to presume they
are optimistic because they are successful, but there is
enough research to show that the optimism comes first.
Traditional wisdom puts forth the idea that to be successful,
you must have two things:
More recent research shows that a third element contributes
strongly to success:
- Talent, aptitude or skill
particularly in the face of adversity
High scores for optimism are predictive of excellence in everything
from sports to health, elections and sales. When Metropolitan
Life used an assessment of optimistic attitude to select and
hire salespeople, those scoring highest on the optimism scale
outsold others in their first year by 27 percent.
Optimists are more resistant to infectious illness and
are better at fending off chronic diseases of middle age.
In a 1980 study of 96 men who had their first heart attack,
15 of the 16 most pessimistic men died of a second heart
attack within eight years, but only five of the 16 most
optimistic men died.
Dr. Martin Seligman, author of Learned Optimism, has
shown that optimists not only do better educationally and
in their careers, they also enjoy superior health and longevity.
A Dynamic Optimist vs a Passive One
"Dont ever become a pessimist; a pessimist is correct
oftener than an optimist, but an optimist has more fun and
neither can stop the march of events." Robert A. Heinlein
On the surface, optimism may appear to be a simple case
of "dont worry, be happy." However, an effective
assessment will show that there are degrees of optimism.
Not all kinds will move us forward in life.
Max More, Ph.D., has proposed two distinct kinds of optimists:
those who are "dynamic" and those who are "passive."
Dynamic optimists have an active, empowering attitude which
creates conditions for success by focusing and acting on
possibilities and opportunities.
Passive optimists simply tell themselves that all will work
out just fine. They expect other people and organizations
will solve the problems.
Dr. More proposes that effective optimism requires study,
understanding and practice. A passive optimist, while more
effective than a pessimist, sees no need to take action.
They think positively but dont know how to turn thoughts
into actions. Those who are really dynamic in their optimism
turn their thoughts into behaviors. They apply optimism
in diverse ways to attain goals in career, finances, spirituality,
health and leadership.
Optimism Can Be Learned
Pessimists, passive optimists and dynamic optimists all
selectively focus their attention.
Dynamic optimists interpret their experiences differently
than other people. They also influence outcomes differently
by translating effective thoughts into specific kinds of actions.
The differing ways in which optimists and pessimists
focus their attention lead to noticing different things,
experiencing different motivations, and taking different
actions. The pessimist focuses on problems, pains, and pitfalls.
The passive optimist sees only what is encouraging and enjoyable,
but blinds him or herself to potential obstacles. This leads
to missed opportunities or limited success.
The dynamic optimist dwells on the constructive and
enjoyable while de-emphasizing pain, difficulty and frustration.
Such a person can look at a frustrating event; fully accept
its reality, and then choose to interpret the event in a
way that leads to action, growth and mastery.
When You Hit that Wall...
They recognize dangers but have a wider vision open to solutions,
possibilities and assisting forces.
"For myself I am an optimist. It does not seem to be
much use being anything else."
Think about the times during the day at work that you
are blocked and feel discouraged.
What do you do when you hit that wall?
The optimistic individual perseveres. In the face of
routine setbacks he or she persists. He or she keeps on
going, particularly at the crucial juncture when the competition
is also hitting the wall and starting to wilt. In the face
of major failure, the optimist persists.
Optimism helps every time your work gets hard. It can
make the difference between getting the job done well or
poorly or not at all. Even in noncompetitive tasks, such
as paper work or writing, an optimistic attitude can make
Procrastination is the result of not having an optimistic
mindset to start and finish a task. But at the root of putting
things off is the internal dialog when facing an unpleasant,
routine or boring task. A pessimist thinks all sorts of
negative thoughts when facing such tasks. The optimist thinks
positive thoughts that actually encourage and energize.
Failure often does not stem from laziness, or from lack
of talent or lack of imagination. Its often simply ignorance
of some very important tools not commonly taught in schools
or in workshops.
Coaching for Optimism
When working with a coach, you can use the opportunity to
work on developing the skills of optimism.
Here are three important tools for learning to cultivate
an optimistic attitude:
"A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an
optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty." Sir Winston
- Become aware: look at how you selectively focus on
- Examine your internal dialogue, then change what
you tell yourself.
- See negative events as opportunities rather than problems.
Each of us was born with a certain set of skills and a need to feel constructive. Therefore, it is our responsibility to uncover our talents and apply them to make this a better world.
Your coach can help you look at yourself in a way that can't be done on your own.