It’s easy to slip into a negative rut and remain dogged down. Sometimes things in life don’t seem to be going your way and you just can’t seem to be able to dig yourself out of your hole. Yet the sooner you find ways to break out of depression and make yourself happy the better because your creative ideas and business operations depend on it.
A series of negative events can strike out even your most optimistic self if you’re not careful. Starting the New Year companies and public utilities are increasing their monthly rates, the petrol price is shifting upwards with no end in sight and the currency is on a steady decline southwards. It’s a year where economic uncertainty remains and politicians are spewing out hurtful and spiteful comments to win votes in the upcoming general election.
When you bump your car into a tree, find your juice mixer that you’ve just bought brand-new from the supermarket breaks on its first use and the kitchen sink caves in and needs to be replaced, it’s almost as if there is a logical explanation behind all this grief.
But this is a dangerous way of thinking. You can easily lead to a slippery slide downwards. Explaining behaviour through luck or karma or even astrology places the blame outside of yourself. The cause of what’s going on in your life is usually because of inner behaviour.
Martin Seligman, wrote a book called “Learned Optimism”, says pessimists can learn the skills of optimism and permanently improve the quality of their lives. He says that you can deal with your pessimistic beliefs once you are aware of them in two ways, the one being to distract yourself when they occur such as trying to think of something else or to dispute them.
If it can change the way we explain must fortune or setbacks to ourselves then we can develop a more constructive explanatory style for what is happening to us and our behaviour as well as experience the benefits of a more positive interior dialogue.
Okay, you may say that being optimistic and positive all the time sounds like that old stuff course leaders pumped into delegates at the positive self-affirmation statement seminars in the 1980s. That type of false optimism never got anyone anywhere. You could come up with as many positive self-affirmation statements as you like but the next day they’d be little help when you were suddenly confronted by issues, problems, seemingly insurmountable obstacles, negative people, accidents, loss and conflict. Where were the self-affirmations to help you then? Fat lot of use all that was.
What Seligman says is that you need to learn to argue with yourself. You can’t just take what happens at face value and give some simple explanation such as you’re out of luck or bad things keep happening to you. He says there are four important ways to make your own arguments convincing. You need to look at the evidence, find alternatives, think about the implications and their usefulness. When you say, for example, believe that you are having the worst time of your life, then you need to actually interrogate that belief and see what evidence you have. Yes, you may have lost a customer, had a price increase or had to fire an employee but this doesn’t mean that this is the worst time in your business life. It could actually mean that these are the normal problems that you would find in a difficult economy or that you are not being mindful and paying enough attention to your business. Events have many causes and you can have alternative explanations for possible contributing causes.
Once you can rationalise about what has happened to you, it’s easier then to start to re-energise yourself, calm down, relax and get perspective. This is a more realistic approach to handling life and business problems than chanting upbeat statements that don’t raise your mood or change your behaviour.
Learning to be optimistic in a realistic way is important for mental health, physical health, productivity and performance. But most importantly it is vital for the generative side of your unconscious where thoughts are formed to bring about new ideas, new ways of working, improvements to processes and discovering that combination of ideas that gives you an edge in this competitive marketplace.