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Optimism, A Noble Trait That Sets You Apart!

“Attitude is a choice. Happiness is a choice. Optimism is a choice. Kindness is a choice. Giving is a choice. Respect is a choice. Whatever choice you make makes you. Choose wisely.”– Roy T. Bennet

 Optimism is hopefulness and confidence about the future or the success of something. Being an optimist doesn’t require life to be a bed of roses, or that you have an amazing childhood or that your life is already wonderful.

The truth is, we are all in a gutter of some sort at any given time. Right now, our gutter is this COVID-19 pandemic, this crisis sees no colour, gender, race, creed, country, etc it affects everyone who is alive right now. You see, we’re all in a gutter, but the difference is that some of us are looking at the stars. Looking at the stars makes you focus on the bright side of things, obviously not ignoring the dark side but choosing to focus on the bright side and that’s what optimism is all about.

I always bring science into my talks, writings and thinking to back up my message. Optimism is a fundamental way we communicate with ourselves.

For the longest time, until 1965, according to B.F, Skinner an American psychologist, behaviourist, author, inventor and social philosopher who was a professor of psychology at Harvard University from 1956 until his retirement in 1974, and everyone at the time, it was essentially believed that what we had been conditioned to be is who we become and we can’t change that. So, in 1965, Dr Martin Seligman, who is known to be one of the leading researchers in the field of positive psychology (Pennsylvania University), came out and said no, no! we can actually shape the way we show up, and that was a blasphemy when he first came up with this.

Dr Martin Seligman and Dr Steven Maier had conducted an experiment on three sets of dogs. After these experiments where electric shock was applied on two sets of dogs (the first set of dogs had no means to escape; the second had means and the third set was in a controlled environment – no electric shock applied). The last experiment, where the conditions of the environment had been changed so that all the dogs could run away from the shocks but when the shocks were applied as in previous experiments, the first set of dogs just crawled up into a ball in the corner, and continued to suffer the shocks. This is how learned helplessness theory was formed. So, Learned helplessness is a behaviour exhibited by a subject after enduring repeated aversive stimuli beyond their control. This is when a person has accepted their powerlessness – discontinuing attempts to escape or avoid the aversive or unfavourable situation even when the alternatives are clearly presented.

Martin Seligman said, “One of the most important findings in psychology in the last twenty years is that individuals can choose the way they think.” This means that if you can learn pessimism, you can also learn optimism. This led to his theory called Learned optimism. Learned optimism is more about changing the fundamental way we communicate with ourselves. If you haven’t noticed, we’re always talking to ourselves in our heads and he called that – explanatory style. This consists of the way you think about setbacks and the way you think about victories in your life. The optimistic person when they have a setback, believes that it’s temporary and that they can change it. The pessimistic believes the same setback is permanent, it’s going to last forever! Conversely, when a victory occurs, the optimistic person embraces it, believes it’s permanent. The optimistic person believes he deserves it and it will help them in other circumstances. The pessimistic person on the other hand, shrugs it off and says, “I didn’t do it, it’s just a once off situation and it’s just going to help me only in this domain of my life.”

Techniques on how to change your explanatory style – from pessimistic to optimistic orientation, using cognitive therapy developed by Steven Hollon and Arthur Freeman, you firstly need to identify the ABC’s:
– Adversity that is encountered.
– Beliefs that arise – what you think.
– Consequences – what you do.

Initially you simply record what happens. Then use two following techniques:
There are two general ways for you to deal with your pessimistic beliefs once you are aware of them.
1. The first one is simply to distract yourself when they occur – try to think of something else.
2. The second is to dispute them. Disputing is more effective in the long run, because successfully disputed beliefs are less likely to recur when the same situation presents itself again.

Now, you can start to watch yourself and identify your dominant orientation and start applying the above techniques and in time you’ll take control of your thoughts and become more optimistic, make wise choices and unleash your greatness!

Veli Ndaba is a Professional and Motivational Speaker, Life-Coach and Neuro Linguistic Programming Practitioner, Author of three books (You Are Born to Win, Your Dream is Calling You and SWITCH ON!), Newspaper Columnist and Entrepreneur. To book him to speak at your next event or to help you and your team unleash your greatness, contact him on , or +27 83 304 9773