How we interpret a situation and the meaning we attach to it, all comes down to our explanatory style, or the way we view the world. The most common explanatory styles are optimism and pessimism. Research shows that optimists are better able to regulate their emotions, bounce back from stressors more effectively, and even live longer than pessimists. For people who tend to have a pessimistic explanatory style, this activity can help you change your perspective so you have a more optimistic outlook.
In this activity card, you’ll:
- Evaluate whether your thinking styles lean more optimistic or pessimistic;
- Identify what thinking traps you might commonly fall into;
- Take action to replace pessimistic thinking with optimism.
The difference between pessimistic and optimistic thinking
If you have a pessimistic style, you may interpret events as permanent, pervasive, and personal. Someone with an optimistic style, however, may see events as situational, specific, and external.
Here are a few examples of these two different styles.
Pessimistic thinking style
- Permanent: “This will last forever.”
- Pervasive: “This is going to undermine everything.”
- Internal: “This is all my fault.”
- Uncontrollable: “There is nothing I can do about it.”
Optimistic thinking style
- Temporary: “This too shall pass.”
- Specific: “This has to do with what is happening now.”
- External: “This is not entirely my fault.”
- Controllable: “There are some things I can do to manage the situation.”
So how can you tell if you tend toward pessimistic or optimistic thinking?
Below are some common traps that people who tend to view the world pessimistically fall into.
- Fortune telling or future tripping: “I will mess this up.”
- Black and white thinking: “I have never been good at this, therefore never will be.”
- Mind-reading: “My boss thinks I am incapable.”
- Overgeneralizing: “I always choke before a presentation.”
- Labeling: “I’m a loser.”
- Overestimating danger: “I will make a fool of myself if I try and pitch this idea.”
- Filtering for negative: “Everyone liked my ideas except for ____ so it must be terrible.”
- Catastrophizing: “I will blow this presentation and then get fired.”
- “Shoulds”: “I should never make a single mistake when talking to _____.”
Use optimism to reduce pessimistic thinking traps.
If you find yourself caught in pessimistic thinking styles, there are actions you can take to increase your sense of optimism:
- If there’s an event coming up, or a situation you’re in, view it as a challenge, rather than a threat that you need to run away from.
- Assess what you can control in the situation. Ask yourself what small steps can lead to positive outcomes.
- Ask yourself questions about the situation rather than sit back and ruminate on missteps.
- If you’re having difficulty accessing positive emotions, take a moment to sit back and breathe.
- Perspective is important! Flip the script. To get a realistically optimistic assessment of a situation, check out the Cognitive Reframing activity in the app, or ask your coach to assign this activity.