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Both old school wisdom and modern day science say that optimism is one of the greatest indicators of how successful you’ll be.

BZZZZZZ… Shocking isn’t in?!

While we’re living on purpose, it’s important to adapt an optimistic mindset. I’m not looking to get you all horned up on the power of positive thinking, but if you’re gonna make a drastic change in your life, you have to believe that it’s possible. You have to be optimistic.

Listen, by no way am I promoting that you quit your job tomorrow to take a trip to Waikiki, and blow through your bank account, while thinking it’ll just all work out. That’s not what I’m saying. You’re gonna encounter challenges along the way – hard hurtles that hurt.

What I’m encouraging is courageous, strategic steps, while keeping your faith that things will ultimately work out. It’s not that optimistic thinking is gonna save your life, but in my eyes, it’s gonna make it a hell of a lot better.

Studies are showing that in the long run, having a positive outlook on life will make you happier, healthier, and wealthier while raising your quality of life. It’s key!

The way I see it, being optimistic means trusting that good will come of the situation. A lot of people wish they were more optimistic, but they’ll tell you that they just weren’t born that way. Well maybe they weren’t, but ultimately, science says that we have the ability to change the way that we think.

World renowned positive psychologist Martin Seligman says “Habits of thinking need not be forever. One of the most significant findings in psychology in the last twenty years is that individuals can choose the way they think.” (Check out his book Learned Optimism for more amazingness on the topic.)

That’s right! You read that correctly. Seligman is saying that you have the ability to choose how you think. We no longer need to be stuck in a death spiral of turbulently fatal autopilot thoughts. With time, and continuous diligent awareness, you can reprogram your mind to think more empowering thoughts.

You’re probably saying “How the hell am I supposed to do that!

Allow my homegirl to answer…

Positive psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky says “All that is required to become an optimist is to have the goal and to practice it. The more you rehearse optimistic thoughts, the more ‘natural’ and ‘ingrained’ they will become. With time they will be part of you, and you will have made yourself into an altogether different person.” (Check out her book The How of Happiness for more magnificence on that topic.)

Know this: If you continually practicing being optimistic, you’ll develop and condition your “optimism muscle” to automatically respond positively. You’re not gonna be the Arnold Swarchenegger of pumping optimism on week one. But keep hitting the “optimism gym” and before you know it, your natural tendency will be to react optimistically.

Seligman also conducted studies on “Learned Helplessness.

This is really cool. Like 40 degrees below zero weather, with only one layer on, cool. Like a meat freezer in Greenland, cool.

Ok. Word on the street is here’s how it went down.

Seligman took two dogs and put them into two different cages. Let’s call dog number one Spot and dog number two Lassie. Seligman then administered a small shock to the cages (in an extremely humane way from what I understand.)

BZZZZZZZ. Both Spot and Lassie are simultaneously being shocked.

Spot quickly finds the “stop-lever” and is able to disable the shocks. Lassie on the other hand is unable to find the “stop-lever” to disable the shocks. That’s because there is no “stop-lever” for Lassie. Her shocks are actually disabled only when Spot hits his “stop-lever.” So to Lassie, everything seems random because she’s got no control. Lassie learns that she’s helpless in this situation.

Now for part two. Seligman takes Spot and Lassie to a new area with a new set of circumstances. Now they both have the ability to disable the shocks. BZZZZZZZ. This time, Spot quickly learns how to escape the shocks. Unfortunately for Lassie, she’s conditioned to think that there’s nothing she can do to stop the shocks, even though there is! She curls up on the floor and gives up.  She’s essentially “learned helplessness.”

Seligman says that this principle of “learned helplessness” is evident in human behavior also. We’re conditioned to think that we’re unable to escape pain, change our lives, and advance. The solution to this suffering all start out in our minds. Instead of “learned helplessness,” we’ve gotta practice…

LEARNED OPTIMISM!

That’s why it so important to be optimistic. Don’t let your past failure predict your future success. Don’t let a few disappointing deferred dreams stop you from traveling a purposeful path. Shit happens. Don’t let it sit in the bowl forever. Flush it down, get rid of it, and clear the air for a fresh optimistic start at something new.

Seligman suggests it’s all about your “explanatory style.” Your explanatory style is the way which you explain events to yourself in your head. It all comes down to the three Ps.

  • Permanence – this will last forever, it’s permanent.
  • Pervasiveness – this will affect my whole life, it’s pervasive.
  • Personalization – this is because of me, it’s personal.

When something good happens, the optimist responds like this:

  • It’s gonna last for a long time. (Permanence)
  • It’s gonna spread throughout my life. (Pervasiveness)
  • It’s because I was able to make it happen. (Personal)

When shit hits the fan (scientific term), the optimist responds like this:

  • It’s not gonna last forever. (Permanence)
  • It’ll only affect this area of my life. (Pervasiveness)
  • This doesn’t mean I’m a moron. (Personal)

The pessimist responds pretty much exactly the opposite as the optimist to all the same situations above.

Remember: we’re gonna train ourselves to react to situations more optimistically. That takes time, but stay with it. We know it’s possible and we know it’s worth it!

*This article was originally written for Living On Purpose but was taken out before the final release. If you dig this, you’ll *superdig* Living On Purpose!

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29 Comments

  • Dawn says:

    Ahhh…optimism. Too few people practice this simple tool. Change one single negative thought…and it can lighten almost any dark situation. I think that most people are conditioned to think optimism is a sign of weakness or that it makes them seem somewhat flaky.
    I'm raising a daughter who just can't seem to do it. No matter how hard I try to help her see things from the bright side she (in her own words) just can't.
    Change one simple negative thought…it will grow.

    • Jacob_Sokol says:

      Hey Dawn!

      Thanks for swinging thru and dropping a comment. -=)

      As for your daughter, YIKES! Parenting is territory i haven't yet step foot on so i'm hesitant to border on being a backseat parent. That being said, I think the best we can do is lead by example and make our lives our message. Keep doing that and i trust she'll pick up on it one day.

      Sending you much love!! Hope you're feeling good!!

  • Sarai says:

    OMW – Sonia Lyubomirsky’s book is pretty awesome… also check out Barbara Fredrickson’s Positivity (in fact, they cross reference each other). I struggle enormously with depression, but thinking in a proactive and positive way really helps situations. I’m not saying it cures depression (don’t get me wrong here, if you’re truly depressed, you should be on meds) but it helps you move through life with much more ease than if you’re curling up on the floor like Lassie….

  • *posts after handwriting the section on the 3 P's into a pad*

    Learned helplessness seems to be not just an epidemic, its seemingly the norm. ' Ah, the country is screwed, what can we do about? ' ' Everything I did has gone wrong, what makes you think it will go right this time? ' ' I got rejected by all the girls, what makes you think this one will be any different? '

    Granted, I still have a lot to do myself in order to come my learned helplessness ( hence why I hand wrote the note on the 3 P's ) made all the more harder when a peer is constantly onto me in a condescending voice which only puts me off even further. I know I WILL overcome all this though. You could say some people are like weeds, they grow quickly while a Chinese bamboo tree will show no growth for the first 4 years then a massive growth sprout in year 5. I see myself as being in the latter category and I'm alright with that.

    Its just matter of keep nurturing yourself and keeping optimistic. That is what I say.

  • Such good info in this post. I'm finding that "living it" really does work. Granted I also get to do that in Hawaii… BUT I had to take some major leaps to get here and like you say, I also had to put my head to being creative once I landed here cuz the savings would only last so long.

    I did this thing called the Habit Course which basically teaches you to start a new habit by practicing whatever you want to do for 10 minutes a day. Not a huge chunk of time. Do-able. Its amazing how you can change your whole day by starting out with 10 minutes of positive. I actually decided to write instead of open Facebook morning… but what it has moved me to is a much bigger habit . This month, every time I catch myself thinking something negative, acting negative, or thinking less than nice about somebody else, I replace it with something positive.

    I may not be perfect at it but it has made a HUGE difference in the way I feel, the way I act and the giving and receiving of life on a daily basis.

    Thanks for the book references. And for anyone who doesn't have Living on Purpose… I do. And you should too! :)
    Aloha Wags!

    • Jacob_Sokol says:

      LOLOL!!! You mind if i borrow some of this awesome sauce for my next salad. Damn, JT? You've got me loving the love. Congratz on your journey and keep this awesomeness coming. Much love!

  • Andrew says:

    FIND the Light and all will be Right. Loving the words as usual my man. Hope all is cozy in the Meatlocker Cold in NY.
    -Andrew

  • Wassup Jacob?! Nice post man. I believe I am a pretty optimistic person for the most part but I would like to increase my level of optimistic thinking. There have been times where I really beat myself up and in result fell into a huge slump. With some age and wisdom, I began to realize that I have been able to get through every tough situation I encountered, with the help of GOD of course.

    I am on the verge of trying to start a small business and say goodbye to the cubicle life. I am currently planning and trying to map things out in my head. During this time I always get those "what if I fail" thoughts. I believe now would be a good time to start practicing some optimistic thinking because I am going to need it on this journey I am about to take.

    As always Jacob, great job! I look forward to the next post.

    • Jacob_Sokol says:

      Thanks so much Aaron. Congratz on the new dig dude.

      You know, instead of trying to *only* envision our ideal situations with positive thinking, it may be helpful to envision our worst case situations too. The kicker is, once we do that, we vision ourselves doing what we need to do to come out of those "bad" situations.

      What specific steps would we need to take? What attitude would we need to keep when shit hit the fan? How much discipline and energy would we need to have in order to make it through the tough times? And what do we need to do right now to start preparing for it all?

      I used to hate any type of negative visualization, but i think a little bit of positive programming for *if* negative situations arise could go a long wa. Food for thought, homeslice.

      Talk soon, dude!

  • Paula Berger says:

    Absolutely great read! Thanks bro!

  • Rebecca says:

    Reminds me of a book I read when I was feeling particularly down a couple of years ago. It's called Stop Thinking, Start Living. The author, Richard Carlson, talks about making the CHOICE to be happy. It sounded like such a strange idea to me at the time, but now it makes so much sense. Yes, circumstances can be less than ideal, but it's up to us how we respond to them. We can choose happiness or unhappiness. We have the control.

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  • @Joiniii says:

    Hi! I liked this post as I love all of your writtings!
    In philosophy I studied this in ethics. Human beings are the only species that can from absolutely nothing turn into something. Meaning that they can chose to be everything they can! Most of the people don't see life that way and are constantly making escuses and saying, oh but it is difficult, but it's just me when all of those are lies! It's just phsycological habituation to some habbits such as pessimism! I think it would be pretty sad if when we are capable of really everything (we are only conditioned by our biology) we would settle for being less than we can! I hope I made myself understood!
    Thanks for the awesome guidance jacob!
    Wish you the best! I'm Joana by the way ;D

  • Nice- I've always been an optimist but recently doing 2-3 minutes of gratitude work every morning + every night right before bed has really helped me focus on the awesome things I have in my life, and therefore leading me to believe that there's more coming.

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