CULTIVATING RESILIENCE: Optimism
Resilience is an incredibly important part of coping with the difficulties of life. Our ability to ‘spring’ back from mentally and emotionally taxing experiences, gives us more space and opportunities to live our life to its fullest. Thankfully, our ability to prevail over adversity can be trained and honed like any other skill. Even if our current resilience is low, with conscious effort and concerted practice, we can push through even the worst life can throw at us.
A truly resilient person is not someone who doesn’t feel pain, sadness, fear, anger, or hopelessness. A resilient person can find a sense of peace, and even joy, in the midst of these intense feelings and through overwhelming struggle. So cultivating resilience has various aspects: optimism, will, purpose, and social support. For this post, we’ll focus on optimism.
Adopt A ‘Optimistic Explanatory Style’ Mindset
People commonly use the glass ‘half empty or half full’ example to describe optimists, which is an accurate simple example, but there’s more that contributes to the process of optimism. Martin Seligman, known for being the father of Positive Psychology, identified three patterns of thought that persisted in resilient people through difficult situations: Permanence, Pervasive, and Personal. Optimism is a recurring theme amongst people that have overcome various life adversities.
Permanence – whether we believe that a given event will go on for a long time or not. Pessimists believe that ‘bad’ events will continue for an extended period of time. Optimists believe that once the bad event happens, it happens and it is over. The bad event is an isolated incident and does not mean good events cannot happen in the meantime.
Pervasive – how specific or universal the event is.
Pessimists believe that bad events will pervade into every other aspect of their life. Optimists believe that the effects of a bad event are limited in scope. For example, if you lose your job, you understand how it will directly affect your work life, but recognize that you still have good health or supportive relationships. Being unemployed will affect these other areas, but you understand that you are still in control of maintaining your health and friendships albeit in new ways.
Personalized – whether it is we or others who get the blame (for the bad events) or the credit (the good events). Pessimists take all the blame or believe that something is personally wrong with them for things to go wrong. Optimists either attribute failure to causes outside of themselves (bad work environment, was not the right fit) or believe it is something they are capable of improving in the future (not currently skilled enough to complete, but can learn and
Optimism is not the mindset of seeing everything as good. Optimism strives to see the good in the bad. If we are avoiding the negative and only seeing the positive, we are practicing optimism incorrectly. When adopting a optimistic mindset, we take hold of all the hardships and look deep for all the opportunities to change, grow, and improve. It is easy to be unrealistically optimistic, but practicing true optimism is difficult. If you find yourself struggling to see beyond the clouds and that there are better days ahead, reach out for help. Make your seeking an act of optimism by knowing that you will find help in someway.
Written by therapist Daniel Pak
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