Saturday, June 13, 2009

What Is This Thing Called Optimism?

This month's Redbook brings us Marguerite Lamb's excellent article about optimism. Link here.

While happiness is a feeling, optimism is a belief about the future. Lamb cites extensive research showing that our expectations about the future determine whether, for example, we will persevere with a difficult task or give up.

People who work hard, who keep at it, are optimists. Pessimists expect bad outcomes, so they are more likely to quit.

How do you become more optimistic? Lamb's sources recommend that you learn to act as though you are optimistic. In other words, do not give in to your pessimistic sentiments. Pretend that you are an optimist. Ask yourself what an optimist would do, and then do it.

If you think that nothing you do will make any difference, do something. Assume that eventually something will work out. If your first course of action does not solve the problem, pretend you are optimistic and confident and try a second one.

Of course, this basic principle differentiates coaching from therapy. When therapy assumes that you need to resolve your basic issues, come to terms with your traumas, and rewrite your personal history before you can tackle your everyday problems... it is telling you to act as though you are a pessimist.

And the more you act like a pessimist, the more pessimistic you will become.

After all, Freud invented this form of therapy, and Freud was a chronic pessimist.

Coaching, if it is done right, will assume that you are NOW competent to deal with your problems. Not surprisingly, when a coach shows confidence in your ability to solve problems you will also start feeling that you can solve them.

A good coach should always assume that you haven't been solving your problems because you didn't know how... not because the problems are insoluble or because you have been rendered incompetent by the aftershocks of trauma.

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