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The situation: Jane and Anthony have differing ways of viewing the world. Jane is a pessimist (the glass is half-empty), while Anthony is an optimist (the glass is half-full). These outlooks influence how they experience similar situations.
Scene 1: Job loss. Jane is devastated, convincing herself that she is all washed up, she can never catch a break, it is useless for her to try to be successful, and she is never going to succeed at anything.
Anthony, however, has a healthier inner dialogue. He tells himself he may not have been good at that particular job, his skills and his company’s needs did not mesh and being fired was only a temporary setback in his career.
Scene 2: New jobs. Offered a new job, Jane, the pessimist, believes she was able to find a new job only because her industry is now really desperate for people and must have lowered their standards to hire her.
Anthony, however, feels he landed the new job because his talents were finally recognized and he will now be appreciated for what he can do.
As these examples illustrate, optimists tend to interpret their troubles as transient, controllable and specific to situations. Recent research by Dr. Martin Seligman confirms this.
When good things happen, optimists believe the causes are permanent, resulting from traits and abilities. Optimists further believe that good events will enhance everything they do.
Pessimists, on the other hand, believe their troubles will last forever, will undermine everything they do, and are basically beyond their control. When good things happen to pessimists, they see them as temporary and caused by specific factors that will eventually change and lead to negative outcomes.
Optimism creates better resistance to depression when bad events strike, better performance at work and better physical health.
In fact, one long term study at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, found that optimists lived 19% longer than pessimists.
Optimism is also a powerful antidote to anger. Many participants in our anger management classes report their anger lessening as they learn to replace negative thinking with positive thinking.
Here’s some good news for negative thinkers: You can learn how to replace pessimism with optimism.
The starting point is to access your vulnerability to pessimistic thinking by taking the self-evaluation test you can find at www.authentichappiness.org
Your responses will be compared to thousands of other people in various categories, down to your Zip Code.
If you scored lower than you’d like, you can become more optimistic. As Dr. Seligman writes in Authentic Happiness, his latest book: ‘the trait of optimism is changeable and learnable.’
There is now a well-documented method for building optimism. It’s based on first, recognizing, and then disputing, pessimistic thoughts.
People often do not pay attention to their thoughts and thus do not recognize how destructive they can be in leading to negative emotions. The key is to recognize your pessimistic thoughts and then treat them as if they were uttered by someone else – an external person, a rival, whose mission in life is to make you miserable!
Basically, you can become an optimist by learning to disagree with yourself – challenging your pessimistic thinking patterns and replacing them with more positive patterns.
Note: This view of optimistic thinking is not the process of ‘positive thinking’ in the sense of repeating silly affirmations that you don’t really believe.
Rather, it is the process of correcting distorted or faulty thinking patterns that create health, career and relationship problems for you.
By teaching yourself to think about things differently (but just as realistically), you can morph yourself from a pessimist to an optimist – and tame the Anger Bee in the process.
Dr. Tony Fiore is a So. California licensed psychologist, and anger management trainer. His company, The Anger Coach, provides anger and stress management programs, training and products to individuals, couples, and the workplace. Sign up for his free monthly newsletter "Taming The Anger Bee" at www.angercoach.com and receive two bonus reports.