Monday, November 01, 2010

Optimism

Are you half empty or half full? This metaphor of a glass half way filled is often used to describe a person’s mindset and their attitude towards life. A person can look upon their life’s events as being “half done” as half the drink has gone, or as space to pour in half more – as there is room for more drink! In other words, people tend to adopt a pessimistic or optimistic outlook on life.

I am, like my father, the eternal optimist. To such an extent that my friends call me Polly Anna, always looking for goodness, seeing a different picture on sometimes dire circumstances and generally waving the flag of positive thinking. We are beautifully balanced by other family members who, living more in the half empty world, bring us back down to earth with a bump!

Of course there are benefits of allowing yourself to be pessimistic. My sister describes it as living her life in more of a realistic way, not allowing herself to be disappointed when things go wrong. And us optimists of course can learn from a healthy dose of realism. My friends do tell me that I drive them round the bend always looking for the positive, particularly in people.

But I do wonder if optimists have a better life, by constantly showering ourselves in positive thoughts? In thinking about this, here are some things that optimists, most likely subconsciously, do:
  • They reframe – this process is often used by coaches to help clients develop a new perspective around their issues. The thinking is that optimists live events as if they were enclosed and played out in a picture frame. Optimists are more able to expand the borders of the frame and change the content to play a different movie and outcome.
  • They are open to new landscapes – optimists often generate new possibilities and don’t limit themselves to the familiar. They are more prepared to sneak a peek at something new.
  • They learn – when, inevitably, things don’t go the way they want, they generally view the experience as something to put as a credit in their learning bank and approach differently next time.
  • They find another way to tell themselves they are lucky – even in the most difficult circumstances, optimists give themselves positive affirmations. Following bereavement for instance, as well as the obvious loss, there is a feeling of luck to have had that person in their life.
  • They visualise – optimists find a language or a way to look at a future full of possibilities. They are able to create a picture something to aim for that is different to now.
As with everything, there is a downside to each of the above. More pessimistic people would describe that better than me and of course people who describe themselves as more pessimistic also do the above. But I believe that optimists do them more naturally and automatically. And while I can learn from, be balanced by and injected with realism by my less optimistic friends, I am still happy where I am. After all, in the famous song from the famous Monty Python movie, even Brian was able to “Always look on the bright side of life”!

I would be very interested in your views via the blog.

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