As spring has found us, I notice many social media posts bursting with light and colour and a sense of joy, a happy kind of anticipation. There's an atmosphere smelling of freshly cut grass, sunshowers and a 'new day' type of feeling. It reeks of positivity and optimism.
Optimisim; seeing the silver lining in your clouds, seeing the glass half full, making lemonade from lemons, seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. You get it. Having just read Martin Seligman's 'The Optimistic Child', he explains that "optimisim does not lie in positive phrases or images of victory, but in the way you think about causes."
Seligman digs deeper than the superficial level of optimism and delves into what we think are the causes of specific events. How one event may appear completely different to two people, experiencing the same thing. How one person looks at the rain and says "ain't this day miserable" while another feels joy that it's gumboots day, or a warm tea and banana bread type of day.
What Seligman teaches us is that it's what we believe to be the cause of something that determines if we are being optimistic or pessimistic. It's expressed in our narrative, and we can spot it 3 different ways. We can view a negative experience as something permanent, global and internal and general.
Permanent: "My mum is the most annoying Mum in the world"
Global: "All teachers are unfair"
Internal and General: "I failed this exam because I'm dumb"
Or, we can view the negative experience as something temporary, specific, or internal and behavioural.
Temporary: "My mum is really annoying right now"
Specific: "Ms Scott is unfair"
Internal & Behavioural: "I failed this exam because I didn't study for it"
To become aware of our automatic pessimistic responses to negative events, Seligman recommends the ABC model: Adversity, Beliefs and Consequences. Adversity, the who, what, when and where. Beliefs, what beliefs do you have about this adversity and on a scale of 0-10 how certain are you about them? Consequences, what is each feeling you experienced and how did you act? Rate the intensity of each feeling from 0-10.
Here is an example of practicing this ABC model:
Adversity: My car broke down on the way to work.
Beliefs: Everything always go wrong, 7/10.
Consequences: Annoyed, shame, stupid, anxious, 8/10. I got my car fixed and went to work an hour late in a bad mood. I didn't speak to anyone and the day just seemed to go on and on.
Now from what we've learned about pessimism, we can that see that my belief "Everything always goes wrong" is perceiving the event as something permanent, and global. This is where changing our narrative is crucial, by challenging our belief. Asking ourselves, just how permanent and global is this really? 0-10, how often do things actually go wrong? How strongly do we really believe that it is miserable?
To increase optimism, we take a positive experience and attempt to see it via a temporary, specific and internal and behavioural lens. So next time you're stuck in a negative experience, challenge the beliefs you have about it. Is everything bad? Does this really always happen?
And when something positive happens, generalise it. It may seem simple or silly to generalize the good things, but it's how we narrate the world around us that can have a lasting effect on how we feel and act.
Happy optimisitc spring!
True North Expeditions, Inc. provides adventure therapy programs and services for children and teenagers in Australia. Based in Adelaide, the TNE team writes about child and adolescent psychology, family dynamics and how adventure therapy programs can connect with struggling adolescents.