Birch Tree Psychology

Specializing in Therapy for Children, Adults, and Families

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Practice Learned Optimism!

Posted by Brittany on March 31, 2012 at 7:45 PM

What is the difference between an optimist and a pessimist? Research has found that the answer lies in the way people view asetback. Optimistic people tend to view setbacks as “temporary,” “changeable,”and “specific”, while pessimists view problems as “personal,” “permanent,” and“pervasive.” For example, if an optimistic individual is rejected by othersthey will think the event is:

Temporary –This pain will go away quickly

Changeable- I can do something about thissituation

Specific- It is just this one situation!

Conversely, pessimistic individuals think:

Personal- This is all my fault…There is nothingI can do

Permanent- This pain is going to last forever

Pervasive- This will undermine everything…No onewill ever like me.

Interestingly, it should also be noted thatoptimists and pessimists view good events in the exact opposite pattern as theyview negative events. So for positive events, optimistic thinking is, personal,permanent, and pervasive. If an optimistic individual gets a raise at work they think:

Personal- I have been working very hard anddeserve this raise

Permanent- I am always a good worker

Pervasive- I will continue to rise in thiscompany

This is opposed to pessimistic individuals thatview successes as temporary, changeable, and specific.

Temporary- I guess I was just lucky

Changeable- This is too good to betrue…eventually I will mess this up

Specific- I only did well on one project.

It has been found that pessimistic individualsare more likely to suffer from depression and feel helpless than optimists.Research has also found that pessimists typically underachieve in jobs,classrooms, in sports, and their relationships have more problems. Pessimisticpeople also have more problems with their physical health.

So, the question now is, Can optimism be learned? YES! Try this; Next time you face a problem, try to challenge yourselfand view it as temporary, changeable, and specific. It is also equallyimportant to view your successes in an optimistic manner (personal, permanent,and pervasive.)

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1 Comment

Reply Linda
3:08 PM on January 15, 2013 
Thank you! Good advice - I will have to try this. However, as a professional pessimist, I might say, that this might be very hard to do, since all kinds of emotions and thoughts might be experienced. In other words, not always we have such clear, straight forward thinking. Sometimes people are talented enough to do a very skillful reasoning and not even notice the pessimistic nature of the actual thinking, but one must start somewhere, right?!