Have you ever run across someone that seems to have so many negative “issues” going on, i.e. cancer, caught in an unhealthy job, ailing parents or kids are in trouble, yet, they seem to be taking it in stride with a positive attitude? What mindset do they have that we can all learn from? They are all drinking from the fountain of optimism that truly does have scientifically based healing properties AND leads to higher self-esteem which guides us to success in life. I’m asking you to indulge yourself for the next couple of minutes while reading this and pretend you have that pitcher of optimism right at your fingertips, ready to drink at any opportune moment:
Now, just for fun, I’d like you to look at these three pictures to see if you lean to the “O” side (optimist) or the “P” side (pessimist):
Which of these responses do you tend to lean to? :
I. Optimist vs. Pessimist Analysis
A. Sky –
Optimist- What a beautiful sunny day with some clouds!
Pessimist- I see a cloudy day with the sun just barely showing.
B. Lawn & Garden –
Optimist- What a beautifully manicured garden and lawn!
Pessimist- That must take hours of work to make the lawn and garden look like that!
C. Snow Swimmers-
Optimist- That snow swim looks exhilarating!
Pessimist-Are those guy crazy? What are they thinking?
Got the “O” and “P” picture for yourself?
II. Now to some real life optimist models we all can learn from:
A. Joan Lunden- Famed host of Good Morning America for decades, mother of 3 grown girls and two sets of tween-age twins, has just reached her 1 year cancer-free checkpoint. She was diagnosed in June of 2014, at the age of 63, with triple negative breast cancer. This is a diagnosis that is routinely a death sentence. The treatment involved 9 months of aggressive treatment: radiation, a lumpectomy and 16 rounds of chemotherapy. However, her sunny disposition still remains, now vowing that she wants to empower other women fighting breast cancer. When she was recently asked in the current edition of Prevention magazine about her “glass-half-full kind of girl” outlook on life, specifically if she felt victimized by the disease, she answered “Never”. She also answered those criticizing her sunny attitude on social media regarding her cancer fight:
“A positive attitude will certainly make the time you’re here on Earth more palatable and will certainly keep the fight in you to keep fighting to live until maybe we even find a better treatment. It will keep that fight stronger.”
B. Captain Phillips- Randy and I had the pleasure of seeing Captain Phillips speak at a conference this past fall. The now famous Captain Phillips had the distinct honor of having his cargo ship come under attack by Somali Pirates in the Northwest Indian Ocean in 2009. I say distinct honor because he is the first U.S. captain since the 1800s to come under siege.
After many hours of captivity on the ship, he smartly convinced the pirates to leave the ship in a lifeboat, holding him as the ransom. That opportunity ultimately was the death knell for the pirates, as the navy seals ended the pirates’ lives with their expert marksmanship. His quick on his feet thinking under obvious duress saved the ship, his crew and ultimately his life. But at the true core of his actions was his optimistic outlook on life:
“These aren’t easy times. They’re tough, they’re challenging and they’re changing. Yet, I have faith in you. See, I know from experience that you are stronger than you even know, and if you commit yourself to see it through, to not surrender in the face of adversary, to join your colleagues as a dedicated team, you too can overcome almost any problem you face.”
C. Ronald Reagan- Reagan entered the race for the presidency in 1980 in the face of fierce voter pessimism and a troubled economy (sound familiar)? He saw himself as a beacon of optimism in troubled times:
“I will not stand by and watch this great country destroy itself under mediocre leadership that drifts from one crisis to the next, eroding our national will and purpose. The time is now, my fellow Americans, to recapture our destiny, to take it into our own hands.
The U.S., in 1980, was the unwilling beneficiary of 17 years of malaise. Beginning with the assassination of JFK in 1963, Nixon’s Watergate debacle and subsequent resignation, a failed presidency with Lyndon Johnson, a first-time U.S. loss of war (Vietnam) and the subsequent cultural and economic decline in the 1970s. And American polls portrayed this lost hope for the future.
Reagan’s campaign theme and his presidency was to restore America’s optimistic morale, and he did! But first, HE was an optimist to the core!
So you might be saying, so what? Those people you pointed out are bigger than life, what does that have to do with little old me? I can’t be like them! I say, yes you can, but first, another reason to turn in your pessimist car keys for the souped up optimist model:
III. The Healing Health and Success Benefits of Optimism-
The science is rock solid behind the health and success benefits of optimism. Here is the “O” and the “P” columns of positive and negative attributes of both. I’ll let you make the choice:
Recover better from bypass surgery
Have stronger immune systems
Fare better when suffering from cancer, heart disease and kidney failure (Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation, June 2000)
77% less likely to die from heart disease (Frontiers in Neuroendocrinology, Dec. 1994)
Catch fewer diseases
Have higher self-esteem
Lower blood pressure
Recover faster from illness
Have lower baseline levels of the stress hormone cortisol (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 85, Oct 2003)
More barriers to professional success
Less likely to experience pleasure
More likely to endure challenges in relationships
More likely to get sick (Learned Optimism)
More likely to suffer from depression
Peruse Dr. Lissa Rankin’s book, Mind Over Medicine for a more in-depth discussion.
So are you convinced??? If so, let’s get to work…..
IV. Cracking the Optimism Code- Dr. Martin Seligman, author of Learned Optimism is truly the father of learning how to switch your automatic pessimist response into an optimistic one. It does take a little work on your part, but as I’ve already shown you, it’s worth it! First, you need to understand the concept of explanatory styles:
A. Explanatory style is what we tell ourselves after a particular event has occurred and how we process it, be it positive or negative. There are three styles: Permanent, Pervasive and Personal. Here is how the “O” and “P” process each style when an negative event arises:
1) Permanent-“This was only temporary or only specific to an event. It won’t happen again.”
2) Pervasive-“This just happened once, I’ll lookout for it next time to make sure I did everything I could though.”
3) Personal- “This was a one time event. If I’m the one that caused it then I’ll make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
1) Permanent- “This will always happen, it’s always going to be bad!”
2) Pervasive- “This event will have an impact on everything I do from now on!”
3) Personal-“I can’t do anything right! Why do I try?”
So do you think it’s hopeless for you to learn optimism if you recognized your responses in the “Pessimist” column? NO, I SAY! Dr. Martin Seligman (Learned Optimism) and Dr. Michael Roizen (This is Your Do-Over) have some tried and true tips to make that switch;
V. Tips for Drinking from the Optimism Pitcher:
A. Keep an ABC journal- ABC stands for Adversity, Belief and Consequences. So when the negative occurrences in life “happen” (adversity), you can track your response (belief) and then the outcome of your response (consequences). According to Dr. Seligman you keep this journal “to tap into your inner dialogue and identify beliefs that arise in the face of adversity.”
Okay, now you understand what pessimistic “knee-jerk” reactions you have, your next step:
B. Distract or Dispute- You can distract yourself by interrupting your normal pattern of habitual pessimism, i.e. pinch yourself OR tell yourself you’ll think about it later in the day. But, Dr. Seligman prefers the dispute method, actually arguing with yourself when that nasty old “head of the dragon” pessimistic thought crosses your mind. This reminds me of the same scenario of breaking out of a habit. I’m talking any bad habit we suffer from here folks! That is the habitual cue, response, reward gerbil wheel known as behavioral chunking (for more about breaking bad habits see Strategies For Changing Health Into a Habit). In this case, continually arguing with yourself when that automatic pessimistic thought crosses your mind is a sure-fire way to break the pessimistic habit (gerbil wheel) because you will eventually see how non-logical and senseless your pessimistic thought processes really are!
C. Are you a “but” or an “and” person? – Dr. Michael Roizen, our recent guest on radio show “Healthy U” points out that the frequent usage of the word “but” is a sure sign of your pessimistic tendencies, whereas the “and” people tend to be more creative, inspiring and yes, more optimistic. So watch that verbage!!!
D. Live a Healthy Lifestyle- Your frame of mind, be it good or bad, also has an enormous amount to do with how you feel. The BEST Rx for feeling on top of your game is by following a healthy lifestyle. THEN you will be ready to learn more optimistic responses (for ideas see A Perfect Day in Game of Life).
RECAP OF “DRINK FROM THE HEALING PITCHER OF OPTIMISM”:
I. First analyze what type of person you are: “O” or “P.
II. Real life optimist models we all can learn from are Joan Lunden, Captain Phillips and Ronald Reagan.
III. Optimism has numerous healing health and success benefits.
IV. Cracking the Optimism Code Requires Knowledge of Explanatory Styles: Permanence, Pervasiveness and Personal.
V. You can learn optimism with simple tips like keeping a journal, distracting or disputing your responses, watch your use of the word “but” and following a healthy lifestyle.
I have to end this with a dedication to my Dad. He’s shortly going to be 86 years old. His mother died when he was 10 of colon cancer and both his brother and sister died of chronic diseases decades ago. My Dad is the last one standing of his immediate family and I’m sure it has a lot to do with his effervescent optimism, even in the face of adversity. He’s still working full-time as an attorney and always has a song on his lips.
Here’s to you Dad!!! Btw, please don’t tell my Dad he’s sharing the same space as Ronald Reagan, he would be (politically) mortified!!!! LOL!