Half Full? or Half Empty?

Hi!!! And Welcome Back to Motivated Mondays! 

We’re talking about how beliefs impact resilience. 

A quick recap of last week before we continue.

We have repeatedly seen that accurate thinking is a core competency of resilience (1). Last week, we focused the common emotional consequences of certain beliefs. And I gave you a handy chart to help you parse out the connections since they can happen fast. This way, if you found it challenging to hear your inner monologue, you could take a different approach, observe your emotional consequences, and work backwards to identify your belief. I noted, that if you find yourself feeling a certain way frequently, it might point to a habitual belief (2).

We also learned that negative emotions evolved to be helpful indicators and that they sometimes point to an opportunity for personal growth. Therefore, the goal is not to eliminate negative emotions. The goal is to be accurate and ride the waves of life with emotional agility, so that we can respond adaptively in moments of adversity (1). 

Our goal is resilience. Knowing that our beliefs impact resilience (1), I continued to encourage personal awareness of and reflection on our beliefs. What did you learn during your reflection last week? 

This week, let’s examine at how beliefs impact resilience through the lens of optimism (3). 

 

Is your glass half full? Or half empty? 

Optimism or the belief that things can change for the better is core to resilient behavior (1, 3). Optimism is linked to higher GPAs, increased life satisfaction, decreased depression, decreased heart disease, increased immune response… even longer lifespan (3)! Optimistic people are solution-focused problem solvers, who take better care of themselves, have stronger social support systems, and are more resilient (3)! That’s a ringing endorsement for optimism if I do say so myself!

So, what makes you optimistic? 

Once again, it’s all about our thinking! Optimism is an explanatory style, which means that optimists tend to explain events in their lives with a particular pattern of beliefs. When optimists are confronted with a moment of adversity, they see the event as temporary and confine its causes to the particular case at hand. They also tend to depersonalize situations and explain defeat by pointing to circumstances, bad luck, or others. They do not see the setback as permanent, pervasive, or personal (3). Optimistic beliefs help you perceive adversity as a challenge and motivate action. Pretty helpful when you are developing resilience!

Pessimists, on the other hand, tend to believe that bad events will last a long time, undermine everything they do, and are their fault. They believe the adversity is permanent, pervasive, and personal. These beliefs have negative consequences, and pessimism is linked to depression, a feeling of inertia in the face of setbacks, anxiety, and poor physical health (3). Furthermore, pessimists tend to create a self-fulfilling prophecy. Since they are less likely to persist in the face of a challenge, they fail more frequently (3). 

Given this information, optimism seems to be the proper tool not only to cultivate resilience, but to create well-being. But are there any caveats? Is optimism that rails in the face of accurate thinking is helpful? No. In fact, blind optimism can have negative effects. Think about it this way, if we assume we were the cause of something good when in reality we were not, we set ourselves up for future challenges and may underestimate risk (4). 

Additionally, pessimistic beliefs can be useful in high cost decisions. Remember, there is a reason we evolved to have negative emotions. Sometimes a pessimistic belief is accurate. It can help us identify risk and/or move away from a situation where the power to create change is not within our control. So while we should be courageous and use this perspective when necessary, we need to understand that it comes at a cost (3). 

The goal is realistic optimism!

Realistic optimism is not self-deception. It is maintaining a positive outlook within the constraints of the available information in our physical and social world (4). It requires reality checks, engagement, and feedback (4). In other words, realistic optimism is accurate. 

It is important to note, that realistic optimism is not a call to forgo responsibility (3). If you believe you are not the cause of an adversity and you actually are, you will likely repeat the mistake and encounter the same adversity again in the future. Even though it may not be comfortable, it is important to recognize and own our mistakes, so we do not repeat them. 

The take away here is that inaccurate beliefs, be them overly positive or overly negative, are unhelpful. In either scenario, inaccuracy undermines resilience.

Optimism may not be a panacea, but when we operate with realistic optimism, the benefits far outweigh the consequences! Not only do we experience the advantages I mentioned above, but what we believe becomes a self-reinforcing cycle. This matters. We are creatures of habit, and our beliefs have real consequences that impact our paths not just in the moment, but long-term (3)!

How does optimism help resilience?

As individuals, we can choose the way we think and what we believe (3)! What an opportunity!!! We have seen that what we think when we encounter adversity has consequences. Since we all have setbacks from time to time, optimism is a central skill to being resilient in the face of adversity1. The belief that we can create positive change drives action in moments of challenge and allows us to grow. Optimism helps us think flexibly about problems, generate potential solutions, and motivates the sometimes-hard work to improve situations (3).

To build resilient beliefs and increase optimistic thinking, it is important to remember that our thoughts effect our emotions and drive our behaviors (1). The way we think about a situation matters a great deal and impacts our resilience.

This week, I want to expand the ABC Model (1) a bit and look at the ABCDE Model for Learned Optimism (3):

Adversity —> Beliefs —> Consequences —> Disputation —> Energization 

We do not have to believe everything we think, and disputing unhelpful thoughts can be an effective tool for change. So, this week, I invite you to continue looking at your beliefs in moments of adversity. What do you say to yourself when you experience setbacks? Is it accurate? Personal? Pervasive? Permanent? (Remember, optimistic folks do not see adversity as permanent, pervasive, or personal.) 

Are your beliefs helpful or harmful? Do you need to dispute your thinking? If you do, I encourage you to challenge your unhelpful thoughts and get flexible and accurate. Then, tune in to how you feel after you have caught an unhelpful belief and disputed it. Really check in with yourself. How is your energy now? Has anything changed? Do you feel calmer? More at ease? More energized? Paying attention to the benefits you feel after you successfully dispute unhelpful beliefs can help motivate you moving forward.

Patience is key when developing the skills of resilience, because like any skill, it takes effort and time to build. That said, your intentional, attentional action will create change over time. 

Let’s continue to challenge our unhelpful beliefs and choose flexible, accurate, optimistic thoughts to support our resilience and well-being! I hope to see you again next week for another Motivated Monday! Until then, I hope you have a great week.

Once again special thanks for the thinking and work of the following folks.

References

1. Reivich, K, Shatté, A. The resilience factor: 7 keys to finding your inner strength and overcoming life's hurdles. Random House Digital, Inc; 2003.

2. Saltzberg, J. OnSite 2 Slides. Retrieved from https://courseweb.library.upenn.edu; 2014, February 2.

3. Seligman, M. Learned optimism. New York: Knopf; 1991.

4. Schneider, S. In search of realistic optimism: Meaning, knowledge, and warm fuzziness. American Psychologist. 2001; 56(3), 250.