To Be or Not to Be OPTIMISTIC?

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By Krumma Jonsdottir

The story of optimism is just like the story of eggs. Anyone aged 40+ remembers the days where eggs were on every family’s breakfast menu. Then suddenly, doctors, scientists, and the media told us to stop eating all these eggs if we did not want to die prematurely!

Nowadays, it is ok to eat some eggs if we have a healthy and diversified diet.

For optimism, it is quite the same. Not so long ago, mental wellbeing was the absence of mental illness and optimism. An optimistic person was said to be in denial of the pain and the dark side of life. Then came the occidental happiness wave, and everyone had to be happy and optimistic.

Fortunately, scholars have now come to the agreement that optimism is a crucial element of wellbeing (just like eggs 😊), yet we must look at both sides of the coin: We need to be self-aware, self-regulated, and agile to experience the benefits of flexible optimism.

So what is optimism, and how do we work on optimism as positive psychology coaches?

Let me start with a couple of questions to give you some insights.

Question*AB
  1. Think about the last time something bad happened, like a rejection or a mistake (spilling your coffee all over your shirt just before a meeting).
    • How did you react?
    • What did you say to yourself?
I did it again, I always mess up.
This time I was not prepared, I did not get it right.
  1. Your intelligence is something very basic about you that you cannot change very much.
YESNO
  1. In uncertain times, I usually expect the best. 
NOYES

Question 1 looks at your explanatory optimism*.
A = You tend to generalise and look at this event as confirming a permanent negative state. You believe the past can predict the future.
B = You tend to be optimistic and isolate the incident. The past does not predict the future.

Question 2 Mindset*
A = somewhat fixed mindset
B = somewhat growth mindset.

Question 3 Dispositional optimism*
A = optimistic
B = pessimistic.

Dispositional Optimism is an attitude reflecting how you look at a given situation, and the fact that you generally expect that all will go well. Martin Seligman’s Explanatory Style is a more complex concept of Optimism, as he looked at how people react to events that happen to them. 

People who explain bad events with external (not caused by themselves), unstable, and specific causes are described as optimistic.

So why am I adding Mindset in here?

Martin E.P. Seligman has done thorough work on our capacity to learn to become optimistic or, as he says, flexibly optimistic. For us as coaches, we start off by exploring our goals and dreams and, in many cases, we start by working together on our self-awareness. Knowing where you stand when it comes to optimism is therefore important for both parties to progress accordingly. Knowing your mindset is another element that helps us evaluate how easy it will be for you to challenge the status quo and, if needed, change your habits.

The benefits of optimism are proven to be many: increased health, productivity, resilience, and even life expectancy. So am I saying you must be optimistic? NO. To be pessimistic? NO. To be realistic?

Well, it depends!

When you are in love and on your wedding day, it is certain you will be blindly optimistic and even if I try to convince you, you would not believe me that 40% of all marriages do not have a happy ending .

However, when you fly off on your honeymoon, you would want your pilot to be a pessimist, to the point where they will double check all their duties are completed and secured.

In other words, we can learn to become more optimistic, visualize success, and see opportunities in every problem. At the same time, being able to anticipate a worst-case scenario and set up a smart action plan is key to our overall wellbeing and performance.

Let me now leave you with some questions:

  • When is optimism helpful at work or at home?
  • How can it contribute to success?
  • When could pessimism be appropriate?

*a single question per construct is given as an example. Full questionnaires available upon request. 
To understand more about optimism and how it can be applied for positive psychology coaching, check out our ICF-accredited Positive Psychology Coaching and the Strengths-Based Approach course.

Krumma Jonsdottir

Krumma Jonsdottir

With over 20 years of experience in international hospitality management, training and mentoring, Krumma is a leader and coach focused on facilitating optimal functioning and multidimensional well-being within and between teams, organizations and people.

Based in Paris, Krumma has worked in almost every country in Europe and in the United States. She is profoundly optimistic, highly skilled in complex problem solving, and her top 3 strengths are Love of Learning, Fairness, and Zest.

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