Our Challenging Times
In much of the Developed World, we’ve struggled with the worst economy since the Great Depression of the 1930s. In addition, we live in a culture that has grown increasingly pessimistic in the face of multiple global challenges that seem too complex for our species to navigate. Pessimism seems a lot smarter, certainly more hip, than optimism.
The Limited, but Genuine, Wisdom of Pessimism
Of course, there are times when each of us needs to take a cautious, even pessimistic view of things to forestall disaster in our personal lives. For example, a close friend of mine, an admitted hypochondriac, has been consistently proactive by taking every possible preventative measure to stay healthy over the years. In recent weeks his vigilance may have saved his life, when he demanded that his doctors take a closer look at symptoms of a life-threatening disease that they casually dismissed.
Reality-Based Optimism Still Vital in Our Personal and Professional Lives
So, what can we say in favor of optimism? A great deal! Looking at the arc of professional and personal development over time, it’s clear that a patient, long-term optimism is vital to individual success. Tenacity and resilience, even more than intelligence, have always been the most powerful predictors of realizing one’s dreams. And consider that in the post-industrial economy, we are increasingly independent agents, working as contractors or consultants for larger organizations. We move from job to job and career to career at a pace that would have stupefied our grandparents.
Psychologist, Martin Seligman, author of “Learned Optimism” established in the 1990s that as we move from one challenge to another (the ultimate example being success at sales – and make no mistake about it, we’re selling ourselves to others every day), we need to see the present moment for its potential to leverage the future we want. Good character has always been about working constructively within the limits of our talents, accomplishments, and circumstances. However, those who keep their focus on the potential for moving forward throughout the day, always looking to see when the door to new opportunity opens, will be the ones who actually move forward. Remaining flexible and not too exacting about one’s expectations helps. Doing the networking and research required is vital.
Technique for Weeding Out Unfounded, Negative Assumptions
Here’s a practical application technique that I hope helps you sort through any unfounded negative assumptions that may be distracting you from realizing your potential:
- On a standard portfolio-sized piece of paper, put a line down the middle.
- At the top of the left column write “Negative Assumption”; on the right, “Rational Response.”
What conscious negative assumption comes to mind that is impacting your ability to move forward today? Write that down to the left of the center line. Then, write out a rational response to the right, providing feedback to yourself with the same generous spirit you would to any close friend, perhaps son or daughter, who is afflicted with an unrealistic, self-limiting assumption.
Then consider the inevitable “yea, but” response. Make it #2, under the first negative assumption. Continue with another rational response. Do the same for all the ‘yea buts’ that come to mind as far down the page you can go.
You’ll be amazed at what is revealed the further down the page you go. – This little exercise is at the heart of the Cognitive Therapeutic approach, an excellent tool for overcoming the life’s impasses, including mild depression and anxiety.
- Regaining Forward Momentum – by Dennis Ghyst, Ph.D. - August 9, 2014