If you want to lead an optimistic life, learn to argue with yourself. The secret of optimism is not positive thinking. It’s non-negative thinking, according to Martin Seligman in the book Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life. When bad things happen or when you face adversity, if you can argue effectively with your beliefs, you can lead yourself to hope and action instead of despair.
It surprised me, but it was also refreshing to learn that optimism is not about positivity. Another way to put it is, it’s your unchallenged thoughts that can lead to pessimism. I was also surprised by how amazingly simple the practice is to build an optimistic mindset. While I’m already an optimist, there’s always room for improvement, and I like the fact that this is a simple skill I can share with family and friends.
Know Your ABCs for Analyzing Your Thinking
According to Seligman, you can analyze your explanations of bad events using the ABC model. Let’s walk through the ABCs:
- Adversity – This is the bad event or challenge you face.
- Belief – This is your default thinking or belief about the bad event or challenge. It’s your explanation and interpretation of why things have gone wrong.
- Consequences – This is the impact of your beliefs. It’s what you feel and what you do, as a result of your belief or interpretation of what happened.
A simple way to think of the ABC model is, what happened? … why do you think that happened? … and how does that make you feel and act, as a result?
Seligman refers to arguing with your thoughts as disputation. It’s the key practice for building your optimism. It works by countering your negative thoughts and rumination. To dispute your negative thoughts, you can practice with your ABCs.
To practice with your ABCs, identify the adversity, your belief and consequences. Next, dispute your beliefs. Notice how disputing your beliefs changes your consequences. For example, if you originally explained your adversity with beliefs that were permanent, personal, and pervasive, the consequences are you feel paralyzed and want to give up.
When you explain your beliefs in the opposite way, temporary, external, and specific, you create hope, which leads to action.
4 Ways to Improve your Disputation
According to Seligman, there are 4 ways you can dispute your beliefs more effectively:
- Evidence – Ask yourself, “”What’s the evidence you have for and against the belief?”
- Alternatives – Ask yourself, “Is there another way to look at the adversity?”
- Implications – Ask yourself, “What’s the impact?”, assuming that your negative explanation is right. Check whether you are making mountains out of molehills.
- Usefulness – Ask yourself, “Will thinking about the problem now, do any good?” If now is not the time, then either do something physically distracting, schedule a time to think things over, or write the negative thoughts down and deal with them when you’re ready.
My Related Posts
- Change Rumination or Pessimism to Defeat Optimism
- 3 Stories for Improving Your Thinking, Feeling, and Doing
- Master My Stories
- Secrets of Self-Esteem
Photo by Nicholas_T.