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We all know the adage about optimists seeing the glass half full versus pessimists seeing the glass half empty, but does your perspective of the world really make a difference in your everyday life? Not only is the answer YES, but pessimism is a sure fire way of building blockages—not bridges—along our road to a resilient life.

Every day we have numerous instances where things don’t happen according to plan, from not getting an important phone call, to losing your temper, or not getting a promotion at work. How we interpret these events has a significant impact on the stories we tell ourselves and our level of hope for the future.

Let’s look at the 3 P’s of Pessimism— Pessimists tend to take it personally, view it as permanent and make it pervasive.

Here are two examples…

You were hoping to get a promotion at work and just learned a co-worker got the position.

  • A pessimist takes it personally~ “What is wrong with me? After all the good work I’ve done, why am I not good enough for a management position?”
  • A pessimist views it as permanent~ “There is never going to be an opportunity like this again, I’ll never get ahead here, the management is always making bad decisions.”
  • A pessimist makes it pervasive~ “I must not be doing well in my current job. Why do these things always happen to me? So much for my plans to buy a new car and go on a family camping trip!”

You just found out a friend of yours is having a party and you weren’t invited.

  • A pessimist takes it personally~ “I knew Mary didn’t really like me. I just don’t fit in.”
  • A pessimist views it as permanent~ “Guess I’m down one friendship now and probably others will leave me out too. I’ll never have good friends.”
  • A pessimist makes it pervasive~ “I’ll bet they’ll talk about me too…what a loser I am…folks at work probably feel the same way. How am I going to go to my exercise class tomorrow and face them all?”

Do you see a pattern in these scenarios? The negative self-talk is convincing, expands to become pervasive and limits your perspective. Pessimism pushes people away, which further perpetuates the negativity.

So now let’s take the same examples and see how an optimist may respond.

You were hoping to get a promotion at work and just learned a co-worker got the position.

  • An optimist would not take it personally~ “Hmm, I guess Mary must have been more qualified for the position.”
  • An optimist doesn’t view it as permanent~ “Oh well; there will be other opportunities. I’ll ask to meet with my boss and find out what skills I should develop to advance my career.”
  • An optimist doesn’t make it pervasive~ “At least I enjoy my current position and other aspects of my life are going very well. And maybe this is for the best right now; I’ll have more time to take that class.”

You just found out a friend of yours is having a party and you weren’t invited.

  • An optimist would not take it personally~ “I don’t know Mary that well, she may want just her closest friends sharing her birthday.”
  • An optimist doesn’t view it as permanent~ “This is just one party. I’ll be sure to send her a card and maybe we can make plans to get together the following week. I’d love to see her.”
  • An optimist doesn’t make it pervasive~ “This doesn’t mean I don’t fit in or something’s wrong. And, in reality the time wasn’t good for me, that’s a busy weekend and I promised the kids we would do something fun as a family.”

An optimistic attitude allows us to ask if there is another way to see things…”What else may be true?” Optimism draws others towards us, opens the door for hope, inviting creativity and cognitive flexibility.

And, the best news is that optimism can be learned! The next time you feel all is doom and gloom remind yourself of the 3 P’s—personal, permanent, pervasive—and ask if what you’re telling yourself is true. Bring your focus to what is going well, think of what you have, not what you don’t have.

Full or empty…. your choice.