How to be more optimistic!

Do you think it is possible to learn to be optimistic?

Imagine if you could make just one or two tweaks to the words you use to reframe how you see a setback or even an achievement so the result you gain is increased confidence, self-esteem and a sunnier outlook on life?

Surely worth a read, what have you got to lose?

I ask you to be curious for just a few minutes today.

In the book ‘Learned Optimism’ Martin Seligman talks about how pessimists give up more easily and get depressed more often. There are hundreds of studies showing how optimists do much better in school, college and at work. He goes on to explain how these experiments show optimists exceed the predictions of aptitude tests, their health is unusually good, they age well, and may even live longer. And he has developed some techniques to help undo lifelong habits of pessimism. This newsletter is not even the tip of the iceberg, just a signpost to the iceberg if you like!

How you think about events, in the context of good or bad, is defined as your explanatory style according to Seligman. He goes on to explain there are 3 elements to your explanatory style: permanence, pervasiveness and personalisation.


People who give up easily believe the causes of the bad events that happen to them are permanent: These bad events will persist, will always be there to affect their lives. People who resist helplessness believe the causes of bad events are temporary.” – Seligman, Martin – Learned Optimism (2006)

In other words those who give up easily might fall into a trap of “learned helplessness,” believing they can’t control bad events. They see these events as permanent. However, those who persevere have a “growth mindset.” They believe bad events are opportunities to learn and grow, and therefore temporary.

What does this look like in the real world? Take being made redundant. If an optimist is made redundant they will see this as a temporary bump in the road, not what they had planned perhaps but they will overcome this. A pessimist however might believe that their entire career is over, permanently damaged.

On a smaller scale this could be something as small as burning the dinner. You think “I am a terrible cook!” You believe your cooking skills are permanently bad. An alternative could be “Ugh! That was a mess! Next time I will need to pay more attention or maybe try a different recipe!” This is an optimistic example because although the outcome was the same, a burnt dinner, the viewpoint is that this is a one-time setback and temporary.

If you think about permanence as about how long will this last. With bad events and outcomes the key is to make them temporary.

Try to avoid “always and never” and exchange them for “sometimes” and “lately”.

  1. My opinion is always the last to be asked for. (Pessimistic)
  2. I never get promoted. (Pessimistic)
  3. Diets never work for me. (Pessimistic)


  1. Sometimes my opinion is the last to be asked for. (Optimistic)
  2. I have not got promoted lately. (Optimistic)
  3. Diets don’t work for me when I eat out. (Optimistic)

Using qualifiers limits the meaning and words like “sometimes,” “a little,” or “only” can make a statement less absolute. Qualifiers limit the meaning and words like “sometimes,” “a little,” or “only” can make a statement less absolute.

Permanence is important because failure, in any disguise, makes everyone helpless, even if only momentarily. It hurts, even for just a millisecond. However for some people the hurt and pain can hang around for much, much longer. Days, months or years…………..

And as we embark on asking people to fail more in the workplace, to try new things and not be afraid to fail, then this opens up a whole new debate around employee wellbeing and how we support those with a less optimist explanatory style. Maybe teaching learned optimism has a place in the work environment before we embark on the journey of making failing safe for employees? What would be the down side?

So how can we use permanence to build our optimism?

When good events and outcomes happen, optimists explain these to themselves in terms of a permanent cause. They use their traits and abilities as the cause along with a frequent smattering of “always”.

Here are some examples:

“I’m always lucky.”

“I’m creative.”

“My competition is no good.”

Essentially the optimistic style of explaining good events is the opposite of the optimistic style of explaining bad events.

If a good event then make it permanent, if a bad event then make it temporary!

I hope you found this interesting and if you would like daily reminders of positivity then please follow our page Clarity People Ltd along with some tips all related to managing and recruiting great people.