By: Joan Boykin
Positive attitude is a choice, an attainable state of mind.
Do you believe that bold claim? I do because I know firsthand that an optimistic outlook can be learned. It takes retraining our thought processes, but who doesn’t think that’s worth a try!?
Dr. Martin Seligman, the guru of positive psychology, spent his early career studying why people become depressed and anxious, but later began focusing on the strengths, virtues and practices that contribute to a positive outlook. I was so impressed by his work in the art and science of positive psychology that I began to apply his tenets of “learned optimism” in my own life.
To say that a positive attitude is important in our daily lives is a gross understatement. It brightens the lens through which we view our personal and professional experiences. It contributes to strong relationships; happiness and productivity at work; excellence in sports; and enhanced creativity. It fuels our passions and enables us to persevere through the inevitable peaks and valleys of life. It boosts our health and well-being. It energizes and reduces stress. And socially, it makes us magnetic and compelling to others. In fact, I can’t think of a positive person I’m not attracted to!
While it’s true that some people seem to be born optimists and others born pessimists, science has demonstrated that what we’re born with, our “nature,” is not fixed—that we can rewire our minds to think and act differently.
The way we talk to ourselves, or the manner in which we explain events to ourselves, is called “explanatory style” (Seligman, Learned Optimism, 1990). There are several dimensions of explanatory style, and when practiced regularly, they have the power to transform a negative attitude to a positive one. I call them the “4 Ps of Positive.”
- The first one is permanence. When an unwelcome event occurs, it’s improbable that it will last forever. Accept that it may last a long time but it won’t be permanent. Meanwhile, learn from it.
- The second one is pervasiveness. When something undesirable occurs, accept that while it will affect some part of your life, it will not pervade absolutely everything in your life. Isolate it, compartmentalize it, work on changing it, and roll with it.
- The third one is personalization. When any type of setback occurs, from criticism to rejection to loss, it’s common for us to blame ourselves and take it personally. But who needs more negative self-talk? Instead, accept it as an opportunity to learn and grow. With renewed effort, focus on maximizing your personal strengths and building resilience to overcome obstacles or setbacks.
- The fourth one is possibility. When we can’t see possibilities we have no hope. As Dostoyevsky once said, “To live without hope is to cease to live.” Cultivating a mindset of envisioning possibilities is essential to a positive attitude, and it pays dividends in relationships, career, school, exercise, technology, diet, and spirituality. Possibilities offer hope, and hope makes a tough present situation more bearable because it motivates you to take steps to improve it.
It is both comforting and empowering to know that we have the ability to reshape our thoughts by changing our explanatory style. We can learn to be optimistic. It may take time to habituate but it’s well worth the effort because positive people tend to be happier and more captivating, enthusiastic, fulfilled, dynamic, and successful in life.
So give it a try because a positive attitude is a choice, and it’s attainable with practice.