Think you're too much of a pessimist to ever change? Not so!
I used to be pretty pessimistic. It didn’t come naturally — optimism is actually more hard-baked into my wiring than pessimism. But after life dealt me a couple of rough hands, I quickly concluded that rough hands were all life had to offer … for me, at least.
It wasn’t until I started taking matters into my own hands (quite literally, with martial arts training) that I started to realize that for the most part we make our own luck.
Sure, bad things can — and do — happen to everyone, but I started to realize that what mattered most in life wasn’t my circumstances, but my response to them. To be honest, I took the hard road to this realization. Years of complaining and negativity only reinforced my pessimism and misery until I finally got sick of it myself (long after everyone around me did). So I started actively changing the way I responded to life — first in my outward response, then in my inward response.
According to Ladders, I unknowingly tapped into something that has been well-studied — the difference between the explanatory styles of pessimists and optimists.
Those who explain things one way are better salespeople, have less depression and are more motivated than those who see things the opposite way. The good news is that if you can recognize your language pattern, you can do something about it and actually change how you respond. It’s about a thing called your explanatory style, and Dr. Martin E.P. Seligman has conducted more than 600 studies that prove that optimistic explanations get you the good stuff, while pessimistic ones will often end exactly how you predict them to — badly.
Optimism is better in both your explanatory style and your overall life. Even if you’re not a salesperson, you’re always selling someone on something — it’s called persuasion. And you can’t persuade someone to do anything, whether it’s buy a product or take a walk with you, if you can’t answer their objections. And that requires the ability to see infinite possibilities.
This is the key difference between pessimists and optimists. Pessimists don’t see possibilities — they see life as permanent and pervasive. So when they get dealt a bad hand, they believe — like I once did — that not only is that hand permanent, but also that being dealt a bad hand by life is pervasive. It’s unchangeable.
Optimists, on the other hand, see life in terms of options. When life deals them a bad hand, they find the options to get out of it — and to avoid a similar fate in the future. If the options aren’t readily visible, an optimist will use his or her imagination to create possibilities where they don’t seem to exist.
If you had told me four years ago that I would be a certified personal trainer running group fitness classes in parking lots, I would have died laughing. “Impossible,” I would have scoffed. And at that time it would have been impossible, because I believed it was.
But when I started seeing possibilities instead of certainties, life suddenly opened up in front of me. Where I had seen only walls, I now saw doors (and sometimes windows) to go through those walls. Sometimes I drew them in myself and opened them up like magic … but it wasn’t magic. I believed I could do it, so I did.
It isn’t an easy road to take, believe me. There have been a thousand times that I’ve bitten back complaints and felt bitter about it, or that I’ve faked enthusiasm until it became real. But every single second was worth it, because instead of a life filled with bad hands, I’m now living a life of infinite possibilities. And it all started the day I stopped complaining and started trying to see that glass as half-full. If I can do it, so can you … and you should.