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Latest on Optimism

31 Dec

Optimism is a powerful learned attitude, attitude = cognition + emotion, that predicts many successful life outcomes. Recently I came upon a TED video that is quite intriguing. It really is worth the time and is quite thought provoking, as is new research.


Optimism #5: Optimistic vs. Pessimistic Management

16 Jul

For those of you are not tired of hearing about optimism, consider that optimism is largely an attitude. An attitude is a combination of thought and feeling.

Becoming a manager/leader is ultimately an exercise in self-development, a life-long journey of making yourself a better person. The benefits to you are self-evident. What is perhaps more important are the benefits to your peers and direct reports.

There is a compelling body of evidence that emotion is contagious.

If you believe as I do, that emotion is the energy that propels human behavior then you understand that the direction of that propulsion is to some extent controlled by the value of the emotion (positive or negative).

Over the years, I have noticed some managers seem able to make any managerial technique work effectively, whereas others cannot make even the most rudimentary managerial tool work.  Emotional contagion is the first creditable explanation of this phenomenon I have seen.

“And this before all, to thy own self be true, and it must follow as the night the day, thou cans’t not then be false to any man.”  – W. Shakespeare

Food for thought

For those intrigued by the nature of optimism, begin the journey by going to:


Optimism #4: The Small Kindness vs. the Micro-Insult

9 Jul

“In life, it’s not the elephants that get you, it’s the ants.” – Yolande L. (my mom)

“Optimism is the tendency to expect the best possible outcome or dwell on the most hopeful aspects of a situation, defined by how we self-talk to frame events.”     – Martin Seligman (paraphrase)

Now that you know how to improve your “outlook” by altering how you talk with yourself, consider the results of these behavior changes on you.

As we cruise through our lives, occasional small kindnesses and micro-insults happen.

There is accumulating evidence these small events have a disproportionate effect on our mood and thus on our performance.  In an earlier blog I mentioned firing a client because working with him left me exhausted and dispirited.

In general, optimists not only think in a positive manner, they speak and act in a positive fashion.  These behaviors give us an emotional boost.  They also shape our expectations.  I love to work with people I look forward to seeing.

Working with the pessimist: Negative overt talk, a micro-insult, unhappy body language, always expects the worst, the absence of those kind words such as thank you, I appreciate, etc. etc. etc.

Consider this: We create the environment around us.  Who do you want to be interacting with?  Who do you want to be?

TAKE NOTE: Last weeks blog had an incorrect address to Beyond IQ 

The correct address is:

Optimism #3: The ABCs of Becoming Optimistic

2 Jul

“If you cannot measure it, you cannot improve it.” – Lord Kelvin

“Optimism is the tendency to expect the best possible outcome or dwell on the most hopeful aspects of a situation, defined by how we self-talk to frame events:

Bad events are temporary setbacks,

Isolated to particular circumstances and

Can be overcome by effort and abilities”   – Martin Seligman

In any change effort, begin with measurement, in this case of yourself. Consider the ABC model of measurement. An event occurs, is it an Adversity?  Then ask yourself, how have your labeled this event, what is your Belief about it? Finally, what are the Consequences of this event, what is your emotional reaction to it?  Log these, this is your self-measurement tool.

Your change tool will be to modify your self-talk.  Seligman says we need to learn to mentally argue with ourselves – to create reasonable explanations as to why we should change.

Let me share an example: the honking, swearing driver.  For many years my social director mentioned to me I was really swearing at her, as the other driver could certainly not hear me.  This provided motivation.  So I began to count, from 1 to 10, when the situation (Adversity) happened.  This slowed down my emotional reaction and gave me time to think about my explanation (Belief) of other drivers (stupid) and why was I getting so upset (Consequences).

I convinced myself being upset by people I didn’t know was not too smart.  So, I started to deep breathe. This cooled me down emotionally and my brain began to function.  Then I simply repeated my mantra “Don’t let strangers upset you.”  It took many trials, it eventually worked and  generalized to other situations.  Whoopie!

In change plans, start with something simple, learn how to do it and then work gradually toward more difficult issues.  Only rarely do people see me upset.

For an in-depth discussion of how to improve your optimism goto: Beyond IQ and Scroll to Section 4: Let’s begin with optimism.


Optimism #2: How Optimism Works “In Your Head”

25 Jun

Understanding the nature of optimism helps us to understand how we can assess our level of optimism-pessimism, and how to become more optimistic.  For this section I have used the work of Martin Seligman’s  classic book: Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life, with particular attention to pages 40 – 53.  Be advised, the book is pretty academic (tedious).

The essence of this concept is that we talk to ourselves and explain our experiences.  These explanations have three dimensions:

Permanence (always vs. temporary)

The boss is a SOB (pessimism)

The boss is in a bad mood (optimism)

Pervasiveness (specific vs. universal)

Blogs are useless (pessimism)

This blog is useless (optimism)

Taken together permanence and pervasiveness are the cognitive basis of hope.  Finding permanent and pervasive negative causes of events is despair.  Seligman says “No other single score is as important as your hope score.”

Personalization (internal vs. external)

I’m stupid (pessimism)

You’re stupid (optimism)

Seligman then notes that this does not relieve people of personal responsibility.

Getting your head around these ideas can take some time, but is worth the effort if you want to understand and change yourself.  In general, the optimist chooses to explain events in a manner that allows her to exert control over these events in the future.

If your mental explanations of events in every situation are always negative and it’s your always your fault, you are experiencing a serious pattern of pessimistic self-talk.  This “learned helplessness” can become depression.

On the ABCs of becoming an optimist next week.

Optimism #1

18 Jun

Have you noticed how some people seem to always have a positive attitude and bounce back from adversity, whereas others always live on the edge of depression and use adversity to convince themselves of their shortcomings?

These outcomes result from how people self-talk to frame explanations of the events in their lives. Having a positive explanatory style is a key element of realistic optimism, and realistic optimism has a profound effect on the quality of our lives, even to positively influencing our health.

Guess what? Optimism can be learned – so what are you waiting for?  Let’s start with a simple assessment byMartin Seligman, a psychologist who has spent most of his career studying learned helplessness and optimism.  First,

go to:

Scroll down and click on the “optimism test,” then register and log in (it’s worth the effort.)  You need to take this simple test to comprehend yourself and begin to understand explanatory style.

Next week we will examine the elements of optimism.


People who don’t take risks make about two big mistakes a year

People who take risks make about two big mistakes a year,

–       Peter Drucker


Eye Contact

28 May




Several weeks ago I linked to a TED video entitled Your Body language Shapes Who You Are. This is an example of how powerful initial conditions can be if they positively alter our perceptions of ourselves.

Recently the New York Times had an article on the power of eye contact in person-to-person interactions. Yet another study supporting the two preciously cited aspects of effective performance: Initial conditions and changes in self-perception



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