Saturday, November 3, 2012

Learning Optimism- The Nitty-Gritty

Yesterday I shared a short review of the book Learned Optimism. Today I want to tell you about the tools I've taken from this book and applied to my daily confrontations with adversity. We all react to adversity in a way that's been fashioned over time. Our thoughts solidify into beliefs over many years. We may find ourselves reacting in a way that is so natural, it may seem there is no way to change what we believe, even if we recognize the way we think is hurting us. The awesome truth is we CAN change our minds!

I've often felt paralyzed by the long-turning broken records in my head. Now I take those thoughts and break them open, examining what's deep in the grooves, discarding what I can discredit. I do this with tools I collected in Learned Optimism. When I find myself faced with adversity, and the resulting belief is negative, here's how I break it all down and reason my way toward optimism.

  • Evidence- what backs up this negative belief? What are the facts? Be a detective!
  • Alternatives- what else could be happening besides my negative belief? Is there a less destructive way to view this situation? Is there anything changeable to focus on? Something specific and non-personal?
  • Implications- even if my negative belief IS true, what are the real implications of that belief? 
  • Usefulness- what good will it do to believe these negative thoughts? Will this belief help me? 
  • Energization- what will happen if I change this belief? What's the payoff of optimism? 
Now I'll give you a real-life example of these tools in action.

I forgot to pay a medical bill in time. The result is a notice of collections during a time when there is no extra money.
Resulting Belief
I'm so stupid and forgetful! I can't believe I didn't pay this bill on time. At this age I should know how to budget! I'll never pay this bill off. Surely my credit is ruined. How could I be so irresponsible?
I'm in tears. I'm panicked over money. I'm mad at myself. I'm ashamed of myself. (Time to dispute!)

  • Evidence- The bill IS late. It IS in collections. My credit WILL suffer if I can't pay this. I DO typically pay bills on time. I HAVE been going through a rough time. My mind HAS been on other things, like a sick child. I AM responsible for caring for this child. 
  • Alternatives- Maybe I'm not stupid. Maybe I've been overly tired from caring for my child. Maybe my memory is lapsing due to stress. I've not asked for help, and maybe I should.
  • Implications- Even if I am forgetful, there have got to be ways to still get things done. Even if I can't pay this entire bill, I will pay what I can, and I will not lose my home over one late medical bill. Credit is fixable. 
  • Usefulness- I have been overly tired and forgetful. I can use this realization to learn to ask for help. I can also seek out tools to remind me to pay bills. I can call the biller and ask for a reduction in payment, or more time. 
  • Energization- If I implement a budget tool and ask for help, I'll be more effective. I will pay my medical bills on time. I can feel good about the ways I'm becoming more responsible. I can show my kids how to withstand the stress of medical bills and have a happy life.
There you go! That's how I've been learning to fight off my negative thoughts, replacing them with factual, reasonable assessments, and plans of how to move forward! I actually keep track of such exercises in my Self Care journal. Usually I can work through the dispute in my head. Sometimes I have to write it all down and really take my time. Other times I do this aloud, with my husband, or with my kids! I think this is a great skill set to hand to our children, especially if they've learned some pessimism from our modeling. All we can do is try to be better. And I think it's reasonable to believe the effort will pay off. 


  1. I get caught up in the whole "expect the worst, be surprised when the outcome is not as bad as you anticipated." It's exhausting.

    1. That actually does work for me sometimes. I use that when we're going to an event, like an art show. Or even shopping for shoes. I expect the worst meltdown, and usually get a slight meltdown, or sometimes no meltdown. But never the worst! Never the worst! :)

  2. Replies
    1. Thanks for popping over, Lori! Are you still interested in this book?