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How to Change Your Mind and Your Life
by Martin Seligman, Ph.D.


Posted March 1, 2006

Optimism - Explore The Possibility

Mark Myhre

Optimism produces a better life. We can learn to be more optimistic by practicing 'possibility thinking' and 'possibility feeling.' We constantly project into the future.

We can't help it; that's part of what makes us human. Our frontal lobes - the area of the brain right behind the forehead - constantly thinks about the future. Creating, reviewing, rehearsing, and discarding various scenarios about what will happen. (And what won't happen...)

"What's gonna happen?"

"What's gonna happen?"

"What's gonna happen?"

Projecting into the future rates as normal, healthy, human behavior. If we're projecting positive, healthy thoughts and feelings.

All too often, however, those projections are NOT based on positive, optimistic thoughts. Rather, they consist of quite negative ones.

According to the world's foremost expert on optimism, Dr. Martin Seligman, everyone is born optimistic. And yet, 95% of grownups are pessimists, not optimists. What goes wrong? What turns youthful optimism into grown-up pessimism - and so often cynicism as well? The answer consists of two words - pain and shame.

As a youth, every human experiences pain and shame. It's an unavoidable part of the heritage of today's society.

Maybe the pain and shame were severe, maybe not.

A tender young seedling can be crushed (or deformed) much more easily than a full-grown tree. It doesn't take a lot of abuse - or neglect - to produce a lifetime of damage.

The nature of shame involves passing it on from one generation to the next.

The worthlessness, the 'dirtiness,' the rage that I feel becomes like a hot potato and I find myself compelled to pass it on - and always to someone weaker than me.

Just like the worthlessness, the 'dirtiness,' and the rage were given to me by my parents so I must pass it on to my kids.

And thus begins the warping, the twisting, the distorting, of my youthful optimism into the grown-up pessimism.

Shame involves a lot more, but you get the idea. It's not biological. It's not genetic. It's part of the heritage.

One of the end results of shame is that I become pessimistic and often times cynical as well. However, instead of calling it 'pessimism'. I call it 'intelligence.'

"It won't work. That's a stupid idea."

"It'll never fly."

"You can't do that."

"Nobody's gonna get the best of me! I'm too smart!" I call it 'street smarts' as I really become too LAZY to do the work of evaluating. Thinking and feeling is hard work. Cynicism and judgments, however, seem to come with almost no effort at all.

Instead of exerting the effort to carefully evaluate a situation, I become blinded by my own pessimism. I become cynical of everything but my own cynicism.

(And I must never, ever, ever question my own assumptions!) 95% of the population finds itself in this boat without even realizing it. Of course, very few people label themselves as pessimistic. In fact, we like to think of ourselves as open-minded optimists.

Why the misconception? Maybe we just don't understand the value and significance of optimism. Maybe we don't see how important it really is.

The Value Of Optimism. One study stands out as perhaps the best scientific exploration of optimism -C. Peterson, M. Seligman, and G. Vaillant, "Pessimistic Explanatory Style as a Risk Factor for Physical Illness: A Thirty-five Year Longitudinal Study," J Person Soc Psych 55 (1988): 23-7.

Three main discoveries came out of this classic paper thirty five years in the making:

1. Optimists live longer than pessimists.

2. Optimists suffer from fewer and less severe diseases.

3. Optimists are much healthier than pessimists.

Besides these obvious health benefits, optimism also implies a higher quality of life.

Quality of life - manifested as greater success, greater happiness and greater love. A life of accomplishment. A life lived full and rich. A life worth living. A life you can be proud of. A life you can sink your teeth into. These are some of the benefits of being an optimist.

Improving your optimism rates as one of the most important actions you can take to improve your life. It doesn't come automatically, though. It takes effort. It takes deliberate, conscious awareness of your thoughts and feelings. And then acting on that awareness.

Here's one starting point:

Practice your 'possibility thinking' and your 'possibility feeling.' Give yourself permission to think new thoughts and feel new feelings.

"Hey, wouldn't it be great if I got that promotion at work?"

And when the negativity creeps in -"Get real. You know it'll never happen."

"Just answer it -"Yeah, but what if it did?" "Well, it probably won't."

"Yeah but what if it did?"

And stick with it. You can always outlast that negative voice inside, if you want to. You can always get in the last word.

Try it with one thing in your life. Then try it with another. And along with those thoughts, always remember to feel the feelings that come along with your thoughts.

Possibility thinking and feeling. It's worth a shot. And what if it really worked? What if things changed? How would THAT feel?

Copyright © 2005 Mark Myhre
All Rights Reserved

Mark Ivar Myhre, The Emotional Healing Wizard, offers unique cutting-edge emotional healing tips, techniques and secrets that teach you how to deal with depression, stress, anxiety, and much more. Visit


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