Friday, June 29, 2012

Where Did You Get Those Rose Colored Glasses?

Your Future is Whatever You Make It. So Make It a Good One.
-Doc, Back To The Future Part III

So I just finished reading Martin Seligman’s “Learned Optimism” and it is in contrast to Tali Sharot’s findings in “Optimism Bias”. Sharot focuses on nature versus Seligman’s nurture approach. Seligman’s research led to measurable proof that if we learn helplessness through life experiences, we will adopt a pessimistic view of the world and the world will live up to our dismal expectations. Armed with volumes of data to back up his theory. Seligman has come up with an approach to learn optimism. I will talk more about his suggestions in a moment. But first, let’s compare Sharot’s evidence that we are all born optimists.
The Optimism Bias Sharot found that humans are automatically hardwired for optimism. Her research indicates that the vast majority of people no matter age, race, region or financial circumstance tend to overestimate their chances of great success while underestimating their chances of suffering an illness or getting a divorce. Using an MRI to scan volunteers brains, scientists could actually see the part of the brain light up when participants described hopeful thoughts. Sharot called that area of the brain the human time machine. We can travel to the past with memories and visit the future in our imagination. The author reasoned that this mental capability is essential to survival. It allows us to save and plan for the future, work toward a goal and when we have to cope with an unexpected misfortune, we can move forward with the belief (however unrealistic sometimes) that tomorrow will be better.

So maybe there is truth in both schools of thought. Maybe we are born with a healthy dose of optimism than we start to question and dismiss it over time. Use it or lose it? If you lost it, Seligman has some advice on how to get it back.

Identify your ABC's or Adversity, Beliefs and Consequences. Seligman believes when we experience a problem, our thoughts about the problem automatically form certain beliefs and over time those beliefs become habitual thoughts. Our beliefs and feelings influence our actions and consequences.

Record in a journal for a few days and write down in detail about the adversity you face. He used "blowing a diet"  among several examples. In this case, under adversity you would put "blowing the diet" under belief you may put "I am a glutton", under consequence, you would list feelings such as "frustrated, embarrased."

After you have become aware of some of your thought patterns, Seligman has several suggestions on how to redirect them to a more optimistic light.

Physically interrupt and distract. If you catch yourself thinking about something that is not helpful, he has known people to slam there hand down on something and loudly shout "STOP". Seligman says some people carry a note card with the word stop and take it out and look at it when they become aware of the pessimistic habit, others wear a rubber band and snap themselves with it. He also suggests borrowing a technique from actors who are trying to switch emotions on demand. The technique is to physically pick up an object and concentrate on it for a few seconds, what color is it, does it smell, is it heavy? Soon you will be redirected from dwelling.

Dispute In this case, you may want to go back to journalizing for a while until this comes naturally. Add to the ABC's a D and O Identify the Adversity, Belief, Consequence than Dispute it and restate the Outcome.  Specifically when it comes to disputing, he suggests listing the evidence, alternatives and usefulness of the belief.
Here is an example: 
Adversity: Our roof is leaking and the roofer my husband insisted we use told me he didn't want the job because our roof is too steep. As a result, my husband and I had a tense exchange.I sensed that he assumed that the roofer didn't want to work with me because of how I am an overly demanding customer. 
Belief: My husband doesn't think I can handle problems or work well with contractors that he likes.
Consequence: I felt defensive, angry, inflexible and unmotivated to start the process of collecting bids and fixing the problem.
Dispute: I shouldn't assume what my husband is thinking. (usefulness) He may have just been frustrated with the situation, not with me. It is true that I have not appreciated his referrals for workman in the past, but in this case, I didn't have a problem with the roofer, he genuinely didn't want the job. When I initially called the roofer, he said there were 90 calls ahead of me and he couldn't commit to even looking at the job. (evidence) It is not my fault. I will suggest that my husband give me some additional referrals so he doesn't think I am dismissing his recommendations. (alternative)
Outcome I clearly explained the situation to my husband. He seemed to get it. I will tackle the phone calls and screening process on Monday. He suggested a few names.

Finally, Seligman recommends Distancing. Basically, put your beliefs on someone else for a moment and try this same technique. If a third party told me my husband doesn't have confidence in me or secretly thinks I am rude to contractors, I would defend myself! Why do we not dispute ugly thoughts when they come from our own minds.

This is going to take me some time to get the hang of, and I will do it for the next three days to try and establish a new habit than report back on Monday. Wish me luck!

I leave you with this question for the day: If you think your more pessimistic than what you should be, would you be willing to relearn how to be more optimistic?

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