By Wayne Larkin - 7,539 Words
How Optimism Improves Business Performance and Personal Wellbeing
Being Optimistic is the NEW REVOLUTION in Change Management for peak performance. This will take you through the thinking to transform your organisation and yourself for the 21 Century. These are the things they did not teach you at school. There is no silver bullet but there is a gold one. This is now well established by the latest research and science.
In this article, I will highlight success factors for optimum business and quality of life. Being optimistic, realistic and having situational awareness to achieve superior performance outcomes.
It is important to understand the meaning and application of the word ‘Optimism’ and “Being Optimistic” in an organisational context and in your own personal life.
Optimism has had a semantic change confusing the true meaning of the word and the application of how it should be used in context to create the best outcomes.
The Origin Of The Word Optimism
The origin of the word optimism is from the Modern Latin ‘optimum’, meaning ‘The Greater Good’ derived from Latin ‘optimus’, meaning ‘The Best’.
The philosopher and prodigious scholar Gottfried Leibniz is known to have used ‘optimism’ in 1710 to mean ‘the best of all possible worlds’. The noun optimist (1759) derives from the French ‘optimisme’ (1752).
In English, the word ‘optimum’ was originally used in biology, in reference to ‘conditions most favourable’. As an adjective, ‘best or most favourable’, from 1885.
“Optimism in business and in your personal life is to create the "best or most favourable” conditions for ‘The Best’ outcomes that are for ‘The Greater Good’. To create ‘the best of all possible worlds’ is the optimum outcome.” - Wayne Larkin
The true optimist sees the world through three main lenses:
- Being ‘Realistic’ with good 360 Degree Situational Awareness giving you a complete ‘helicopter view’ of the overall picture without bias to better understand the reality of a situation.
- Seeing the best possible approach to ‘Optimise’ the situation for the best possible outcome.
- Has the Vision and Foresight to see the best Future Desired State and bring it into the present.
Many people believe success will lead to happiness. When in fact having a positive mindset of optimism is the greatest predictor of your sustained success and wellbeing.
Creating Your Best Possible Future In Business
Our current myth of ‘Progress’ assures us that ‘full-speed-ahead’ is never wrong. History and ecology teach us that it is usually a disaster.
Progress should be the movement towards an improved desired state of optimum wellbeing where people and nature thrive. You cannot put new ideas into old mindsets. You cannot get new results from old behaviours. You must change your thinking and the way you perceive things to change the outcomes.
“You cannot predict the future, but you can create it.” - Peter Drucker
Peter Ferdinand Drucker (1909-2005) was an Austrian-born American management consultant, educator, and author, whose writings contributed to the philosophical and practical foundations of the modern business corporation.
He was also a leader in the development of management education, he invented the concept known as management by objectives and self-control, and he has been described as "the founder of modern management". He is one of the best-known and most widely influential thinkers and writers on the subject of management theory and practice.
Optimism: Your Passport To Happiness, Health And Success
Optimists have been found to be more robust, adaptive, happier, healthier, live longer, more successful and wealthier.
We all face obstacles. However, how we see and respond to those obstacles can make all the difference in the world. Optimists tend to see obstacles as opportunities. As a result, optimists who expect good things to happen will take actions that lead to positive results. Navigating around the obstacles and challenges to achieve their ultimate success (desired state).
“In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity” – Sun Tzu
Sun Tzu (554BCE-496BCE) is known as a Chinese military strategist, Taoist philosopher, and general in the 6th century BCE who is widely recognised for his work 'The Art of War' (also known as The Thirteen Chapters); a treatise on military strategy. It is a coherent strategic and tactical work on theory and a practical doctrine governing intelligence, planning, command, operational, and administrative procedures. The author was the first man to provide such a theory and doctrine.
Pessimists can be easily discouraged by obstacles. When they expect negative results, they often fail to do what is required to minimise or prevent those negative outcomes.
“An Optimist sees the opportunity and acts, taking life's lemons and making lemonade!” - Wayne Larkin
Is Optimism An Emotion?
Optimism is not an emotion, nor is Hope but both create the emotion of Happiness and Pleasant Surprise. The most universally accepted six basic emotions are anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, and surprise.
Optimism is a mental attitude reflecting a belief or hope that the outcome of some specific endeavour or situation will be positive, favourable, and desirable. An understanding that you have control (Internal Capability) over your beliefs of the meanings and feelings you attach to events, situations or people. An understanding that you have the capability to have an influence on external events based on your beliefs, attitude and the decisions you make to create positive outcomes.
People who are optimistic have a higher level of Emotional Intelligence (EI). EI is the ability to understand and manage your own emotions, and those of the people around you. People with a high degree of emotional intelligence know what they are feeling, what their emotions mean, and how these emotions can affect other people. The people in your personal and business networks have a large influence and impact on your personal wellbeing and business success in life.
Emotional Intelligence (EI) Domains And Competencies
1. Self Awareness
- Emotional Self Awareness
2. Self Management
- Emotional Self Control
- Achievement Orientation
- Positive Outlook
3. Social Awareness
- Organisational Awareness
4. Relationship Management
- Coach and Mentor
- Conflict Management
- Inspirational Leadership
The Origin And Meaning Of Opportunity
The definition of an opportunity is ‘a favourable situation for a positive outcome’.
The word comes from the Latin phrase, ‘ob portum veniens’ which means "coming toward a port" which refers to a favourable wind blowing ships into the harbour.
Late 14 Century, ‘opportunitie’, "fit, convenient, or seasonable time," from Old French opportunite (13 Century) and directly from Latin ‘opportunitatem’ (nominative ‘opportunitas’) "fitness, convenience, suitableness, favourable time," from ‘opportunus’ "fit, convenient, suitable, favourable," from the phrase ‘ob portum veniens’ "coming toward a port," in reference to the wind, from ob "in front of; toward" (see ob-) + portus "harbour".
Opportunity and Optimism are related in the context of optimum outcomes.
Optimism Is Crucial To Successful Business Performance
The Origin and Meaning of the Word: ‘Realism’
1794, from real (adj.) + -ism; after French ‘réalisme’ or German ‘realismus’; from Late Latin realis "real."
The Meaning of the Word: ‘Realist’
A realist is someone who hopes for, or accepts, only what seems possible or likely and does not hope for, or expect, more. A realist sees things for what they are rather than what is possible.
The antithesis of a realist, a pessimist, sees the risk and/or danger in an opportunity and usually does not act.
“True Optimists are also very realistic in how to achieve the optimum outcome in any situation.” - Wayne Larkin
The Origin and Meaning of the Word: ‘Communication’
The English term Communication has evolved from the Latin language. 'Communis’ and ‘communicare' are two Latin words related to the word communication. ‘Communis’ is a noun word, which means common, community or sharing. Similarly, ‘communicare’ is a verb, which means 'make something common'.
Some scholars relate the term communication with an English word, community. Community members have something common to each other. Communities are supposed to be formed with the tie of communication. It is the foundation of community. Hence, where there is no communication there cannot be a community.
Communication is said to be "the creation and exchange of meaning."
Communication plays a vital role in all facets of business and personal life. 75% of people believe in-person communication is critical in business.
Ref: "The Power of In-Person Communication". Cisco. Retrieved 15 March 2014.
Communication Skills: 80% listening with empathy and rapport with 20% talking with compassion and optimism. Being able to understand the situation with understanding and clearly articulated in plain English.
New research from the fields of positive psychology and neuroscience shows that small shifts to the way we communicate can create big ripple effects on business outcomes, including:
- 25% Greater Performance Ratings
- 31% Higher Productivity
- 37% Higher Sales
- 23% Lower Levels of Stress
- 19% Greater Accuracy
Attribute to: Michelle Gielan, author of the new book ‘Broadcasting Happiness’.
(Michelle Gielan, national CBS News anchor turned positive psychology researcher, is the bestselling author of Broadcasting Happiness. Michelle is the Founder of the Institute for Applied Positive Research and is partnered with Arianna Huffington to study how transformative stories fuel success. She is an Executive Producer of “The Happiness Advantage” Special on PBS and a featured professor in Oprah’s Happiness course. Michelle holds a Master of Applied Positive Psychology from the University of Pennsylvania, and her research and advice have received attention from The New York Times, Washington Post, FORBES, CNN, FOX, and Harvard Business Review.)
What Is The Meaning Of Being An Optimistic Entrepreneur
Being an Optimistic Entrepreneur is to have positive attitudes and feelings towards what you do and towards your own future. It is believing you will be able to control the course of your own actions, even in times of adversity.
Optimism is a critical factor for becoming a successful entrepreneur and being innovative. Research studies show that optimistic people are more likely to become entrepreneurs and create brilliant innovative ideas. They continue striving towards the achievement of their goals regardless of the adversities involved.
Optimism encourages higher cognitive flexibility, suggesting that thinking more about positive outcomes enhances the ability of individuals to interpret information, recombine resources and solve problems in creative ways.
Optimistic Entrepreneurs have positive, stable moods and feel that the environment is safe. Following on from this they are happier, creative, innovative, and allow playfulness. They boost people’s morale, support people learning, trust people more and say YES more often. They have a positive Vision of the future, higher values and are more strategic. They also have higher business success rates.
On the other hand, Pessimistic Entrepreneurs have negative unstable moods leading to problematic views of the environment being unsafe. They are risk-averse, moody and focus more on processes and details. They undermine morale, blame other people for mistakes, don’t trust readily, and say NO more often. They usually have a vaguer Vision of the future, lower values and are more tactical. They focus more on money and less on people, business value and sustainability. They want cheap as opposed to the true value brought to the table hiring quality talent. They have higher business failure rates.
Ref: Yes I can! Optimistic Entrepreneurs - Medium
"Is The Glass Half Empty Or Half Full?"
Psychologists use simple tests like this to determine whether a person tends to be an optimist or a pessimist.
Pessimist (half-empty) or optimist (half-full) a test to determine an individual's worldview. The purpose of the question is to demonstrate that the situation may be seen in different ways depending on one's point of view and that there may be an opportunity in the situation as well as trouble.
"Life is a creation of the mind." – Buddha
Gautama Buddha (5th to 4th century BCE)
The Buddha was a philosopher, mendicant, meditator, spiritual teacher, and religious leader who lived in Ancient India. He is revered as the founder of the world religion of Buddhism. He taught for around 45 years and built a large following, both monastic and lay. A couple of centuries after his death he came to be known by the title Buddha, which means “Awakened One” or the "Enlightened One".
"There is nothing good or bad but thinking makes it so." – William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare (1564-1616) was an English poet, playwright, and actor in Stratford-upon-Avon. Shakespeare is widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's pre-eminent dramatist. He is often called England's national poet and nicknamed the Bard of Avon. He wrote about 38 plays, 154 sonnets, two long narrative poems. His plays have been translated into every major living language and are performed more often than those of any other playwright. He then wrote mainly tragedies until about 1608, including Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, and Macbeth, considered some of the finest works in the English language. In his last phase, he wrote tragic comedies, also known as romances, and collaborated with other playwrights.
Perspective influences everything. We do not see our lives in purely objective terms. True Realistic Optimism is a state of mind and the way you perceive the world.
What you see isn’t what you think. You need to think differently and see the world from different lenses and viewpoints to better understand the situation. This can totally transform your perspective changing the question, answer and actions you take.
Is the Glass Half Empty or Half Full?
Now let us look at the three main elements in the question: “Is the Glass Half Empty or Half Full?” The three elements in concern here are the Glass, the Water and the Empty Space.
There Is An Answer To All THREE Elements
"Is the Glass Half Empty or Half Full?" is perceived to have only two options: either the glass is half empty (Pessimist) or half full (Optimist).
We do not see other options or possibilities that transcend the question. And it is the framing of the question that creates a narrow perspective, false assumptions and outdated beliefs. We no longer see the reality and possibilities before us. We must first understand it is the wrong question based on false assumptions. Opportunities in business are everywhere. However, we often do not see them, even though they are ‘in plain sight’. Cases in point: Apple Inc, Uber, Airbnb, etc are game-changers.
There are infinite possibilities before us. We are an extension of space itself. The universe does not separate things and judge itself as we do. Things only have the meaning we project onto them. In this context of universal reality, the question ‘is the glass half empty or half full’ is simply wrong and cannot be judged because we are not seeing the truth of what reality is – energy from space manifesting itself into the water and the glass. It is the same thing vibrating at different frequencies. We separate and judge things rather than seeing the inherent beauty and possibilities.
This idea is unfamiliar to most people under the influence of 21-century versions of late outdated 17-century Newtonian physics (The Mechanical Clockwork Universe), influencing us to automatically assume the 'container' view regarding objects and bodies in space. However, the Newtonian world with its separation of the two was wrong as we have discovered in the modern-day science of physics. In this way, the concept of 'empty space' loses its meaning. In its place are infinite possibilities.
The Misuse Of Words In Any Communication Can Be Dangerous
The true optimist is also a realist. Realism in seeing a situation for what it is which is not the act of a pessimist, although often it is believed this is what a realist is. If people are unable to see reality for what it is, they form a belief based on false logic or incomplete information, dogma, propaganda, illusion, memory error or some other misleading effects of perception. In extreme cases, they could be delusional with a firm and fixed belief based on inadequate grounds not based on rational argument or evidence.
This also applies to what people consider someone to be when they are over-optimistic. This is a misunderstanding of the word. They are being unrealistic based more on belief and faith rather than fact, a very different meaning to being optimistic.
If you are unable to see the world and the current situation for what it is, realistically, you will be unable to define the situation, problem, or opportunity correctly and your solutions will perform poorly or fail. It is like having the right solution for the wrong problem. Most managers can create the right solution and path forward for the best outcome but perform poorly or fail because they see the situation how they want to see it rather than how it is.
This is particularly true for being creative, innovative, adaptive and successful.
LEADERSHIP In The 21 Century Is Being Optimistic In Business
“What I’ve really learned over time is that optimism is a very, very important part of leadership.” – Bob Iger, Executive Chairman Disney
Robert Allen Iger (b. 1951) is an American business executive who is Executive Chairman of The Walt Disney Company. He was CEO from 2005 to 2020. Over his 15 years leading the Company, Mr Iger built Disney into one of the world’s largest and most admired media and entertainment companies, while focusing on the three fundamental pillars of his strategic vision: generating the best creative content possible; fostering innovation and utilizing the latest technology; and expanding into new markets around the world. He is the author of "The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned from 15 Years as CEO of The Walt Disney Company," a New York Times Best Seller published in 2019.
During Mr Iger’s tenure, The Walt Disney Company has been recognised as one of the “Most Reputable Companies” in both America and the world by Forbes magazine (2006-2019); one of the “Best Employers” in both America and the world by Forbes magazine (2019 and 2018, respectively); one of the “World's Most Admired Companies” by Fortune magazine (2009-2020); one of the “World's Most Respected Companies" by Barron’s (2009-2017); one of the “Best Places to Launch a Career” by BusinessWeek magazine (2006-2010); and as “Company of the Year” by Yahoo Finance (2013).
Mr. Iger has been named one of the “World’s Most Powerful People” by Forbes magazine (2018); one of the “Top Gun CEOs” by Forbes magazine (2009); one of Fortune magazine's “25 Most Powerful People in Business” (2006, 2007); one of the “Best CEOs” by Institutional Investor magazine (2008, 2009, 2010, 2011); MarketWatch CEO of the Year (2006); and “CEO of the Year” by Chief Executive (2014).
Contagious Optimism Is The New Leadership
The Right Attitude is to Lead by Example with Optimism
“The beatings will continue until morale improves.” Such as bureaucratic hierarchical environments will be improved by using forceful control, fear and punishment. This sarcasm shows the counterproductive nature of such punishment or excessive control to improve people’s performance and attitude.
“A leader leads by example, not by force.” - Sun Tzu
Remember: “Optimism in business and in your personal life is to create the "best or most favourable” conditions for ‘The Best’ outcomes that are for ‘The Greater Good’ to create ‘the best of all possible worlds’ is the optimum outcome.” - Wayne Larkin
To See the Desired Future State and Pull It into the Present
“Optimism is a strategy for making a better future. Because unless you believe that the future can be better, you are unlikely to step up and take responsibility for making it so.” – Noam Chomsky
Emeritus Professor of Philosophy Avram Noam Chomsky PhD (b. 1928) is an American linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist, historian, social critic, and political activist. Sometimes called "the father of modern linguistics", Chomsky is also a major figure in analytic philosophy and one of the founders of the field of cognitive science. Chomsky also gained a worldwide following as a political dissident for his analyses of the pernicious influence of economic elites on U.S. domestic politics, foreign policy, and intellectual culture.
Defining a true Vision, Purpose, Mission, Values and Strategy for an organisation is the essence of optimistic leadership and communicating these well internally and externally with great passion and clarity is the primary role of optimistic leadership.
It is no good being the captain of the ship and working in the engine room, not being on the bridge looking ahead and keeping the ship on course and out of trouble.
The Role of the New Optimistic Leader
To have an inspiring vision, purpose and strategy to clearly communicate this with a contagious passion to the organisation is the essence of optimism.
Leading from behind is active leadership. It means shaping your organisations’ culture and driving change. To lead from behind, you need to build a strong community that is united by a shared vision, purpose, values and goals.
The New Leader is a Facilitator
As a facilitator, you provide what is required for your teams to achieve their goals on time and empower the members of the teams. They foresee and remove the roadblock that can stall or hinder success. Enabling groups and the organisation to work more effectively to engage, collaborate and co-create as a collective. In doing so, the facilitator remains "neutral" in the discussions, encourages members to work together and builds TRUST amongst the teams focused on a common Vision, Purpose and Values.
Becoming a Great Business Facilitator
Optimists achieve more, are happier and work better together.
Change your thinking and change your World.
Three things can determine the success of someone their:
Leadership Requires Great:
- Vision, Purpose and Values
- People and Teams
- Positive Environment and Culture
Achor and the research team at the Institute for Applied Positive Research have discovered the three main predictors of your job success:
- work optimism
- provision of social support
- positive engagement
People Are Your Ultimate Success Factor In Business
People Create Business Performance
People are your greatest asset. Take people out of the equation and there is no business performance. To have the right people is the real differentiator.
Selecting the right people, putting them in the right teams and improving their value.
Most people are too fast to hire, focused on tasks, degrees and work experience rather than the cultural fit and potential to grow with the team and organisation. Culture Beats Strategy every time.
“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” - Mark Fields CEO of Ford
There is a synergistic relationship between people in business, their customers and audiences. People are multidimensional beings. Require the right environment and culture to grow and thrive.
“The thing I have learned at IBM is that culture is everything.” – Louis V. Gerstner, Jr. former CEO IBM
One of the big mistakes in organisations is believing that marketing is a department. When it is the Vision, Purpose and Values of the people aligned with the organisation and their customers.
In a world that is now so transparent and rapidly changing you have to stand for some high ideals and tell the truth well.
Take Disney for example. It does not matter where you go; their websites, speaking to their people, going to their theme parks, hotels, seeing their movies it all ‘feels’ like the Disney experience. There is no difference, gaps or conflicts in their brand no matter what point of contact you have with the Disney brand. Externally and internally the business is the same thing; the brand of your business is its persona and the persona of its people aligned. People and organisations need to be authentic, empathetic and have a rapport with the customers to be trusted.
Most companies have a huge gap between what they communicate to people and their actions. This results in an internal and external conflict. The difference between now and the past is that businesses are now more transparent. Public, customers, suppliers and employees can broadcast their views and experiences on the Internet and across social media.
Optimism can transcend traditional business processes and thinking.
When you look at the top salespeople in the world: they have empathy, when people talk to them and they are someone people trust and want to be around. They are always focussed and listen to their audience. People just feel good around them. They genuinely care about people and giving them the best solutions and value. Have the right people in your organisation and your customers will feel this about your BUSINESS. That is your true brand.
"Great vision without great people is irrelevant." - Jim Collins Author, Good to Great
People are the most important factor in success. Great leaders know how to attract, retain, and create exceptional teams. A-type players employ A+ Players.
"Getting the right people in the right jobs is a lot more important than developing a strategy." - Jack Welch
Jack Francis Walsh Jr. (1935-2020) was an American business executive, chemical engineer, and writer. He was Chairman and CEO of General Electric (GE) between 1981 and 2001. During his tenure at GE, the company's value rose 4,000%. In 2012, Welch's net worth was estimated at $750 million. When he retired from GE he took a severance payment of $417 million, the largest such payment in history.
“Innovation has nothing to do with how many R&D dollars you have. When Apple came up with the Mac, IBM was spending at least 100 times more on R&D. It’s not about money. It’s about the people you have, how you’re led, and how much you get it.” -Steve Jobs, Fortune, Nov 9, 1998
Steven Paul “Steve” Jobs (1955-2011) was an American entrepreneur, marketer, and inventor, who was the co-founder, chairman, and CEO of Apple Inc. Apple is the largest publicly traded corporation in the world by market capitalisation, with an estimated value of US$626 billion as of September 2012. Apple Inc's market cap is larger than that of Google and Microsoft combined. Apple's worldwide annual revenue in 2010 totalled US$65 billion, growing to US$127.8 billion in 2011 and $156 billion in 2012.
"If we weren't still hiring great people and pushing ahead at full speed, it would be easy to fall behind and become some mediocre company." - Bill Gates, CEO of Microsoft
William Henry "Bill" Gates III (b. 1955) is an American business magnate, philanthropist, investor, computer programmer, and inventor. Gates is the former chief executive and chairman of Microsoft, the world’s largest personal-computer software company. He is consistently ranked in the Forbes list of the world's wealthiest people and was the wealthiest overall from 1995 to 2009 (excluding 2008) when he was ranked third. In 2011 he was the wealthiest American and the world's second wealthiest person. According to the Bloomberg Billionaires List, Gates became the world's richest person again in 2013, a position that he last held on the list in 2007. As of March 2014, he was the richest.
“Problems created by the many are fixed by the few.” - Wayne Larkin
Situational Awareness As An Optimistic Tool In Business And In Life
Situational Awareness can be defined simply as “knowing what is going on around us”. Technically: “the perception of the elements and events in the environment with respect to time and space, the comprehension of their meaning and the projection of their future status.”
Situation Awareness is critical for successful decision-making. Lacking or inadequate situation awareness has been identified as one of the primary factors in errors in judgement and accidents attributed to human error.
Situation Awareness can be broken down into three segments:
- Perception of the elements in the environment,
- Comprehension of the situation, and
- Projection of future status.
Pessimism dramatically narrows down your beliefs, views and insights creating a highly distorted lens bias of the facts and opportunities in any given situation.
True optimism has a more realistic perspective on situational awareness evaluation and decision making on opportunities and threats.
Learned Optimism In Business
Optimism is extremely powerful. As a rule, optimists achieve more. It is well known that they do live longer, healthier lives. Pessimists tend to give up more easily, are prone to depression, and even get ill more easily.
“Every great journey begins with the right questions.” – Wayne Larkin
True Optimism is a state of mind and the way you perceive the world. The feeling you attach to an event or situation is in your control. Optimism is the playground of genius.
Through the lens of optimism, you see the opportunities in the world. Optimism Is not being blind to facts or delusional about the situation. To the contrary, it is about having excellent perceptive abilities with great insights and vision. And out of the various possibilities before you, the ability to choose those that will create the greatest optimum outcomes for all. True Optimists become excellent at having great foresight and seeing the consequences of their thoughts and actions on others and the world. They are then able to clearly see the best path and options going forward. The internalisation of this ‘True Optimism’ also then becomes a guidance system that operates at the subconscious level.
Optimism is a choice. It is like anything in life. Going to school, college, university, sports, arts etc you decide what you would like to do. Usually what you have a passion for or talent. Then find someone who is good at it to teach you, then study it and practice. The more you practice the better you become. You start to see dramatic improvement rapidly in your abilities. You get what you focus on and practice with passion. The emotions you have attached to an event or action are critical.
Optimism creates higher frequencies of feelings and attitudes like compassion, forgiveness, gratitude and love. Being a Pessimist or Optimist is a choice. What you focus on you will become. Optimism helps protects your heart and mind from fear, hate, anger and sadness.
Learned Optimism came out of a branch of psychology known as ‘positive psychology’. Learned optimism was introduced by psychologist Dr Martin Seligman PhD, who is known as the father of the positive psychology movement. Martin believes the process of learning to be optimistic is an important way to help people maximize their mental health and live better lives.
Martin draws on over 20 years of clinical research to show how optimism enhances the quality of life, and how anyone can learn to practice it.
Offering many simple techniques, Dr. Seligman explains how to break an “I-give-up” habit, develop a more constructive explanatory style for interpreting your behaviour, and experience the benefits of a more positive interior dialogue. These skills can help break up.
Dr Martin E.P. Seligman, Ph.D., professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania and a past president of the American Psychological Association, is a leading motivational expert and an authority on learned helplessness. His many books include ‘Authentic Happiness’ and ‘The Optimistic Child’. Dr. Seligman's research has been supported by the National Institute of Mental Health, the National Institute on Aging, the National Science Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, and the Guggenheim Foundation.
Learned Helplessness vs Learned Optimism
Learned Helplessness - The Psychological Meaning
'Learned Helplessness' is a phenomenon observed in both humans and other animals when they have been conditioned to expect pain, suffering, or discomfort without a way to escape it (Cherry, 2017). Eventually, after enough conditioning, the animal will stop trying to avoid the pain at all—even if there is an opportunity to truly escape it.
When humans or other animals start to understand (or believe) that they have no control over what happens to them, they begin to think, feel, and act as if they are helpless.
This phenomenon is called ‘learned helplessness’ because it is not an innate trait. No one is born believing that they have no control over what happens to them and that it is fruitless even to try gaining control. It is a learned behaviour, conditioned through experiences in which the subject either truly has no control over his circumstances or simply perceives that he has no control.
Examples Of Learned Helplessness In Humans
One study of learned helplessness in humans was conducted in 1974. In that study, human participants were split into three groups:
One group was subjected to a loud, unpleasant noise but was able to terminate the noise by pressing a button four times;
The second group was subjected to the same noise, but the button was not functional, and The third group was subjected to no noise at all (i.e. the control group).
Later, all human participants were subjected to a loud noise and given a box with a lever which, when manipulated, would turn off the sound. Just like in the animal experiments, those who had no control over the noise in the first part of the experiment generally did not even try to turn the noise off, while the rest of the subjects generally figured out how to turn the noise off very quickly.
Seligman and colleagues proposed that subjecting participants to situations in which they have no control results in three deficits: motivational, cognitive, and emotional (Abramson, Seligman, & Teasdale, 1978). The cognitive deficit refers to the subject’s idea that his circumstances are uncontrollable. The motivational deficit refers to the subject’s lack of response to potential methods of escaping a negative situation. Finally, the emotional deficit refers to the depressed state that arises when the subject is in a negative situation that he feels is not under his control.
Based on his research, Seligman found an important connection: the link between learned helplessness and depression.
Learned helplessness is a state that occurs after a person has experienced a stressful situation repeatedly. They come to believe that they are unable to control or change the situation, so they do not try — even when opportunities for change become available.
Learned Optimism and Learned Helplessness
A quick Google Search on ‘Learned Optimism’ and ‘Learned Helplessness’ show surprising counter-intuitive search results. With far more people interested in ‘Learned Helplessness’ than ‘Learned Optimism’.
We need to focus on learning how to become more optimistic, effective, successful and have sustainable wellbeing.
Optimism vs Pessimism
Pessimists tend to believe those bad things are simply bound to happen, that they are at fault, and that negative outcomes will be permanent.
Optimists, on the other hand, expect good things will happen to them. They tend to see setbacks as temporary events caused by circumstances. Rather than giving up or feeling helpless in the face of failure, optimists view it as a challenge that can be overcome or fixed.
Optimists and pessimists tend to differ in terms of explanatory style, or how they go about explaining the events that take place in their lives. Key differences in these explanatory styles tend to be centred on:
When things go wrong, optimists tend to lay the blame on external forces or circumstances. Pessimists, on the other hand, are more likely to blame themselves for the unfortunate events in their lives. At the same time, optimists tend to view good events as being a result of their own efforts, while pessimists link good outcomes to external influences.
Optimists tend to view bad times as temporary. Because of this, they also tend to be better able to bounce back after failures or setbacks. Pessimists are more likely to see negative events as permanent and unchangeable. This is why they are often more likely to give up when things get tough.
When optimists experience failure in one area, they do not let it influence their beliefs about their abilities in other areas. Pessimists, however, view setbacks as more pervasive. In other words, if they fail at one thing, they believe they will fail at everything.
Source Ref: Very Well Mind
Contextual Discussion Of Learned Optimism And Being Optimistic Through The Lens Of Written Works
To give context to the above, I would like to discuss and summarise some important points from the published works of three authors; Dr Martin E.P. Seligman, Ph.D and Daniel Coyle and Arleen Lorrance. I believe these are great resource books about optimism.
The Book: Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life
By Dr Martin E.P. Seligman, Ph.D.
There are a number of benefits to becoming a more optimistic person. Some of the many advantages of optimism that researchers have discovered include:
Better health outcomes: A meta-analysis of 83 studies found that optimism played a significant role in health outcomes for cardiovascular disease, cancer, pain, physical symptoms and mortality.
Study: Rasmussen HN, Scheier MF, Greenhouse JB. Optimism and physical health: a meta-analytic review. Ann Behav Med. 2009;37(3):239-56. doi:10.1007/s12160-009-9111-x
Longer lifespan: Studies have shown that optimistic people tend to live longer than pessimists.
Study: Carver CS, Scheier MF, Segerstrom SC. Optimism. Clin Psychol Rev. 2010;30(7):879-89. doi:10.1016/j.cpr.2010.01.006
Lower stress levels: Optimists not only experience less stress, but they also cope with it better. They tend to be more resilient and recover from setbacks more quickly Rather than becoming overwhelmed and discouraged by negative events, they focus on making positive changes that will improve their lives.
Study: Carver CS, Scheier MF. Dispositional optimism. Trends Cogn Sci (Regul Ed). 2014;18(6):293-9. doi:10.1016/j.tics.2014.02.003
Higher motivation and Performance: Becoming more optimistic can also help you maintain motivation when pursuing goals. When trying to lose weight, for example, pessimists might give up because they believe diets never work. Optimists, on the other hand, are more likely to focus on positive changes they can make that will help them reach their goals.
Better mental health: Optimists report higher levels of well-being than pessimists. Research also suggests that teaching learned optimism techniques can significantly reduce depression.
In one study, children with risk factors for depression were placed in a training program where they were taught skills related to learned optimism. The results of the study revealed that children with the risk factors were much more likely to show symptoms of moderate to severe depression at a two-year follow-up. However, those who had received training in learned optimism and anti-depression skills were half as likely to develop such symptoms of depression.
Study: Reivich K, Gillham JE, Chaplin TM, Seligman ME. From helplessness to optimism: The role of resilience in treating and preventing depression in youth. Handbook of Resilience in Children. 2013 (pp. 201-214). Springer, Boston, MA.
Researchers suggest that in addition to being partially hereditary, optimism levels are also influenced by childhood experiences, including parental warmth and financial stability.
Study: Carver CS, Scheier MF, Segerstrom SC. Optimism. Clin Psychol Rev. 2010;30(7):879-89. doi:10.1016/j.cpr.2010.01.006
Seligman's work, however, suggests that it's possible to learn the skills that can help you become a more optimistic person. Anyone can learn these skills, no matter how pessimistic they are, to begin with.
The ABCDE Model
Seligman believes that anyone can learn how to become more optimistic. He developed a learned optimism test designed to help people discover how optimistic they are. People who start out more optimistic can further improve their own emotional health, while those who are more pessimistic can benefit by lowering their chances of experiencing symptoms of depression.
Seligman's approach to learning optimism is based upon the cognitive-behavioural techniques developed by Aaron Beck and the rational emotive behavioural therapy created by Albert Ellis. Both approaches are focused on identifying the underlying thoughts that influence behaviours and then actively challenging such beliefs.
Seligman's approach is known as the "ABCDE" model of learned optimism:
- Adversity is the situation that calls for a response
- Belief is how we interpret the event
- Consequence is the way that we behave, respond, or feel
- Disputation is the effort we expend to argue or dispute the belief
- Energisation is the outcome that emerges from trying to challenge our beliefs
To use this model to learn to be more optimistic:
Think about a recent sort of adversity you have faced. It might be something related to your health, your family, your relationships, your job, or any other sort of challenge you might experience.
For example, imagine that you recently started a new exercise plan, but you are having trouble sticking with it.
Make a note of the type of thoughts that are running through your mind when you think about this adversity. Be as honest as you can and do not try to sugarcoat or edit your feelings.
In the previous example, you might think things such as "I'm no good at following my workout plan," "I'll never be able to reach my goals," or "Maybe I'm not strong enough to reach my goals."
Consider what sort of consequences and behaviours emerged from the beliefs you recorded in #2 Belief above. Did such beliefs result in positive actions, or did they keep you from reaching your goals?
In our example, you might quickly realise that the negative beliefs you expressed made it more difficult to stick with your workout plan. Perhaps you started skipping workouts more or put in less of an effort when you went to the gym.
Dispute your beliefs. Think about your beliefs from the evaluations of your beliefs (#2) and look for examples that prove those beliefs wrong. Look for any examples that challenge your assumptions.
For example, you might consider all of the times that you did successfully finish your workout. Or even other times that you have set a goal, worked towards it and finally reached it.
Consider how you feel now that you have challenged your beliefs. How did disputing your earlier beliefs make you feel?
After thinking of times, you have worked hard toward your goal, you may be left feeling more energised and motivated. Now that you have seen that it isn't as hopeless as you previously believed, you may be more inspired to keep working on your goals.
The Book: The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle
This a great reference on how greatness is grown and learned. How unremarkable people can suddenly make a major leap forward. How to rewire the brain to transform your life. Training our brain to be optimistic. The plasticity of our brains, training the neural pathways and the neural insulator called Myelin. We have the ability to rapidly rewire our brains to see the world in different ways.
The Love Project by Arleen Lorrance
1974 within a book chapter written by educator Arleen Lorrance. She described her unhappiness while employed at a high school in Brooklyn, New York:
"For seven years I served my sentence and marked off institutional time; I complained, cried, accepted hopelessness, put down the rest of the faculty for all the things they didn’t do, and devoted all my energies to trying to change others and the system."
"It came in on me loud and clear that I was the only one who could imprison (or release) me, that I was the only one I could do anything about changing. So I let go of my anger and negativism and made a decision to simply be totally loving, open and vulnerable all the time."
Her book chapter was titled “The Love Project”, and Lorrance was the initiator and facilitator of the project.
One way to start a preventative program is to 'be the change you want to see happen'. That is the essence and substance of the simple and successful endeavour known as THE LOVE PROJECT.
In 1913 Mohandas Gandhi published a piece about snakebites that included a thematically matching passage:
We mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. 'If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him.' This is the divine mystery supreme. A wonderful thing it is and the source of our happiness. We need not wait to see what others do.
In 1975 a newspaper in Reno, Nevada presented a remark from a local minister who was familiar with a key principle of “The Love Project”:
“Be the change you want to see happen, instead of trying to change everyone else,” is one of the Love Project Principles Rev. Ernest Troutner likes to recite when counselling couples considering marriage.
In 1976 Diane Kennedy Pike who was Lorrance’s close friend published “Life is Victorious! How to Grow through Grief” which included an enumeration of principles:
The LOVE PROJECT has become a new way of life for me, one that I can share with others. Its six basic principles for living in universal love express the core truths of all great religions in secular language. Those principles are:
- Receive all people as beautiful exactly where they are.
- Perceive problems as opportunities.
- Be the change you want to see happen instead of trying to change everyone else.
- Provide others with the opportunity to give.
- Consciously create your own reality.
- Have no expectations but, rather, abundant expectancy
Her book chapter was titled “The Love Project”, and Lorrance was the initiator and facilitator of the project. The saying under examination was a core principle.
One way to start a preventative program is to: “Be the change you want to see happen”. That is the essence and substance of the simple and successful endeavour known as THE LOVE PROJECT.
Ref: Quote Investigator