I am a learned optimist. Of course, that does not mean I have always been a pessimist. As Singaporeans, we have been brought up to have a healthy skepticism of things, and to critically appraise situations from many angles, and make plans for the future using different scenarios, which would include worst-case ones.
I am grateful to be introduced to Positive Education and to be interacting with advocates of positive psychology and in the process, consciously imbibe the culture of optimism.
In a recent workshop organized by the Centre for Optimism, https://www.centreforoptimism.com/, Founder and Chief Optimism Officer, Victor Perton pointed out that the difference between pessimists and optimists is “time”. Optimists believe that given time, all things will work out well in the end and that good things will happen.
Optimism is associated with a healthier life. The Science of Optimism tells us that healthy longevity is based on genetics, wealth and possibly geography. To quote studies at the American Heart Association, the trait most associated with healthy longevity is optimism. Pessimism, anxiety and negative emotions adversely affect our organs. Optimists sleep better and conversely, if you sleep longer and better, you will also be more optimistic.
Victor Perton highly recommends a practice called “My Best Self” in his workshop. The method involves a visualization of you in 1-5-10 years hence. We are asked to assume we have accomplished everything we plan to do and spend ten minutes writing about that day in our life. Then spend another five minutes reflecting on that future day. Practising this exercise now and again has proven to boost people’s positive emotions, happiness levels, hope, improve coping skills and elevate positive expectations of the future.
When we surround ourselves with optimistic people, we are likely to also be optimistic. Former CEO of Disney, Bob Iger listed ten principles of leadership in his book, “The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned from 15 Years as CEO of the Walt Disney Company”. Number 1 on his list is optimism. Iger writes that being and staying positive is one of the most important qualities a leader can have.
“If you walk up and down the hall constantly telling people ‘The sky is falling,’ a sense of doom and gloom will, over time, permeate the company. You can’t communicate pessimism to the people around you. It’s ruinous to morale.”
Optimism, to him, is about believing in yourself and your employees’ abilities.
The other nine leadership traits highlighted by Iger include courage, focus, decisiveness, curiosity, fairness, thoughtfulness, authenticity, relentless pursuit of perfection and integrity.
Those who aspire towards leadership are reminded that strategy and optimism have to go hand-in-hand, and while we may draw up scenarios that are future-oriented, it will be good to ensure they are positively expressed. Also, we cannot be an innovator unless we are optimisics. Victor Perton reminded us that it was after 15 years and 5,000 prototypes that James Dyson finally perfected his bagless vacuum. Resilience and optimism are intricably linked.
Some of us are born optimists. The rest of us have to work at it. Here are 12 methods from the list advocated by the Centre of Optimism:
In life, the realistic optimist knows tragic things can and do happen. Recognising how we respond to events is often the difference between a positive or a negative outcome. We can’t change the fact that a tragedy has taken place, but we have choices about how we respond, of how we can support someone we care for in moving forward after a tragedy.
For a very comprehensive guide to supporting someone you care about in their time of grief, please read Christy Roberts’ article here: https://www.centreforoptimism.com/Grief-How-Should-an-Optimist-Comfort-and-Support-the-Grieving
The key pointers are as follows:
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