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Teach Yourself to be Optimistic

Posted by Bob Corlett on December 9, 2012

It’s often said that optimistic people are born with the tendency to see the glass as half-full. That may be true. But there’s another truth that’s more important: Optimism is not just an innate trait — it’s also a skill that can be learned. And optimistic people are happier, more productive and better performers.

Jason Selk,  a consultant who was director of mental training for the St. Louis Cardinals during their 2006 season (the year they won their first World Series championship in 20 years) offers four easy-to-learn and highly effective skills to learn how to be optimistic.

  1. Develop a relentless solution focus (RSF). Within 60 seconds of having a problem-focused thought, replace it with solution-focused thinking. This is the first step to learning optimism, says Selk. It takes practice, but once one gets into the habit of adopting an RSF, it makes success inevitable. The link between optimism and success comes down to expectancy theory, which says: Whatever you focus on expands. Expectancy theory has proved over and over again that when people focus on problems, their problems actually grow and reproduce. Focusing on solutions generates more solutions.
  2. Find one improvement to the situation. Learning to be solution-focused is easier than being relentless and consistent about it. Here’s a tool for becoming relentless: Anytime you catch yourself focusing on a problem, negativity or self-doubt, ask yourself this question: What’s the one thing I can do differently that could make this situation better? This technique is known as “replacement thinking.” Replacement thinking is a way of seizing control of one’s mind — in this case, negative, problem-centric thinking — and erasing those thoughts.
  3. Acknowledge any improvement in the current situation. Most people want a solution that produces complete resolution. That’s like trying to climb a mountain in one step, says Selk. Learn to see any improvement in the situation as a solution. When people become accustomed to looking for improvement, it trains them to focus away from the problem and toward the solution.
  4. Recognize your “done wells.” Get in the habit of recognizing your “done wells.” Take a few seconds per day to ask the question, “What have I done well today?” This simple gesture reinforces optimism on a daily basis.

Selk says that mastering these four simple techniques will make an enormous difference in your performance, workplace attitudes and happiness.

Topics: Career Advice