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Brain Coach: Why Optimism Gets a Bad Rap

Optimism often gets a bad wrap. Many people think if you are an optimist, you have your head in the clouds and you are oblivious to reality. Many people prefer to say “I’m a realist.” (Few people would openly admit, “I’m a pessimist!”)

Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage and Before Happiness, offers an interesting insight on “Realists.” He notes that realism is what happens BEFORE you decide to be pessimistic or optimistic. In other words:

  • Realism LABELS what the facts are.
  • Pessimism or Optimism then CHOOSES how to interpret and respond to the facts.

Achor’s research noted that Pessimists view stress as a problem (something bad), overwhelming, or out of their control. They assume “it won’t work” or “it can’t be done” or “this is a mess.”

Conversely, Optimists view stress as an opportunity to stretch their creativity, leverage their strengths, and increase their capabilities. They assume the event can make them better—they see possibilities, come up with creative solutions, and execute on their plans with a sense of adventure and resiliency.

Achor observed that, in a Zurich-based bank during the time of the banking crisis, Optimists saw:

  • A 23% improvement in health-related symptoms (backaches, headaches, fatigue, energy levels at work)
  • A 30% improvement in productivity over the group that saw stress as a problem
  • An increase in their happiness levels

Either style—pessimism or optimism—is a deeply entrenched habit with tons of “super-highway” neuronal networks wired into our brains. The good news is that, regardless of our age, neuroplasticity assures us we can grow toward optimism.

Coaching Tip: Formula for Rational Optimism

1. Consider a situation that’s been heavy on your mind.

2. Label the facts of the circumstances. Just the facts. Avoid emotions.

3. Identify something you’re deeply grateful for (it doesn’t need to be related to the circumstances). The gratitude helps release neurochemicals in your brain and body that will boost your creative thinking.

4. Consider the best-case scenario—how you’d like things to unfold.

5. Ask yourself, “What would it take to make that happen?” And, “What would it take to minimize the risks of it not happening?”

6. Control the controllables: “What can I personally control to influence that outcome?”

7. Spend (much) more time thinking about/taking action toward what you want to have happen than what you don’t want to have happen.

Share your insights! Actions! Commitments! And if you’re interested in learning more, check out the Certified Brain-Based Success Coach Program.


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