creating sustainable results in growth and performance
optimism is linked to higher achievement. However, amongst those
undertaking legal studies, optimism is linked to lower grades and pessimism to
higher grades (ie just the opposite). Pessimists
have an underlying attitude that their experiences will usually (or always)
be negative and they also believe failures are their own fault.
Unfortunately, pessimistic thinking is linked to depression.
That is, the more pessimistic someone is, the more likely they are to
suffer from depression. Depressed people are actually much better judges
of reality. For instance they are better at judging when something they
are doing is useless. So the more realistic someone is, the more likely he
or she is to become depressed!
Pessimism is also bad for health. Pessimism makes people
more liable to die of heart disease once they have it as well as more
likely to get cancer in the first place. Indeed, among a sample of lawyers optimism was the best predictor of general
well-being, even better than hardiness (emotional resilience). A study of law
students found that those high in optimism at time 1 had more active immune
systems at time 2 and that this was partly due to their having more positive
moods, perceiving less stress and not using avoidance methods of coping.
In a study of male Harvard undergraduates that started in the 1940s,
high amounts of optimism at age twenty predicted good health at
sixty-five. Meanwhile, those who were highly pessimistic at twenty often
had left no forwarding address by the time those questionnaires rolled
around at age sixty-five.
Optimism (generally) appears to have a strong beneficial effect on
physical and mental health. Optimists are positive thinkers. There are several ways of "thinking positively". One is having thoughts
with a positive content and attributing good and not bad events to self, which
happy people tend
to do. Another is having a good sense of humor, which enables people to "see
the funny side of things", having an ironic view of life, which makes bad
things seem good.
Most people have a positive view of the world, but some have a more
positive view than others. Most people believe they have far more control
and more skills than they actually do have. For instance, the majority of
drivers consider themselves more skilful than the average driver. Over 95%
of new college/university students believed they would graduate whereas the
actual failure rate is about 25%. Most people believe they have far more
control over their lives than is actually the case.
Many lawyers will immediately label this way of thinking "self-delusional".
Yes indeed, but the most recent research points to the benefits of
self-delusion! This self-delusion has been found to be healthy,
resulting in more success, better health and longer life than those
who are actually realistic! (On the other hand, yes it can lead to rash
experimentation which may be one of the reasons the majority of lawyers tend towards
the pessimistic point of view.)
Pessimism is connected with a belief that an event is beyond
control. Perceptions of helplessness and poor coping were also
associated with the inability to attribute any real meaning or
purpose to the conflict or problem situations. Such a perception is associated with a high
distress factor, a predisposition to depression, and a wide
diversity of health risks. It is also linked to low self esteem and
poor self confidence.
In a study by the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, the medical histories of
839 people were tracked over 30 years. They had all completed a standard
personality test between 1962 and 1965, measuring their optimism. There
were 124 optimists, 197 pessimists and 518 in between. Their death rates
were compared and every 10-point increase in pessimism was associated with
a 19 per cent increase in death rate. Similar studies have been done more
recently on the role of optimism in high-risk pregnancies, speeding
recovery from heart by-pass surgery, and as part of the treatment for
teenagers who take drugs. In all these studies pessimists tended to do
Scientists have proved that we can change our brain responses by
conscious effort. We can actually condition ourselves to trigger a
particular chemical pattern in our brains so that we can change our
attitudes and our thinking in positive ways. Thus, even if you have a
habit of focusing on the negative, with practice you can change that
Taking control of how you respond to your thoughts and what thoughts
you focus on can make all the difference between happiness and
unhappiness. An excellent first step is simply to acknowledge the negative
feelings respectfully – they are not the cause of your feeling bad but
rather signposts to your negative thinking. Then focus your energies on a
substitute. Optimists, you see, use their imagination to rehearse success.
Indeed it has been discovered that the most successful individuals from
all walks of life do this routinely. Not only do optimists imagine a rosy
future, they remember their successes much better than they recall their
failures. They dwell on the pleasant. They skip over, although they don’t
ignore, their shortcomings.
This called "positive illusion". You see it in world-class competition
of all kinds, for instance. The world champion goes into competition
believing he or she will succeed. Top ice skaters, skiers, gymnasts,
divers, and other performers imagine themselves completing their programs
flawlessly. They are all optimists. As well as working very hard to
achieve their peak form, they anticipate success. They don’t hope for it;
they expect it.
The power of positive illusion occurs in the worlds of commerce,
politics, and art as well. Research on the process by which people become
effective and inspiring leaders uncovered one trait all great leaders
possess. This "unwarranted optimism" is the ability to see a
positive future even in the face of contradictory evidence and appears to
be a strong component of top leaders.
Optimists believe that any difficulties or setbacks are temporary,
specific to just that experience, and not their own fault. They believe
they are in control of their lives. The happiest people believe this
whether or not it is true. In other words, the most effective way to
increase your happiness is to ‘act as if’ you are in control. Researchers
found that those who believe that they are in charge of their destiny are
happier, healthier and more productive than any other group of people.
Yet their lives are not really any different from those who do not feel
in control. Even for those working in the same kinds of jobs, the ones who
saw it as a positive experience and felt in control of their lives had 28%
more life satisfaction, according to one study. In fact, in the late 1980s
researchers at UCLA found that those who score high on "mental health"
actually have more illusions than others! Some of the most common
illusions of the mentally healthy are:
* overly positive views of themselves
* convenient ‘forgetting’ of negative facts about themselves
* ‘unrealistic’ optimism about themselves
* ‘unrealistic’ optimism about the future in general
* ‘abnormal’ cheerfulness
It seems that the pollyannas of this world have better health and
certainly have more happiness. So do you want to have those kinds of
‘illusions’ or would you rather stick to hard realism and die sooner than
the deluded fools?
There’s more. Optimists are more successful in all areas
of life. Recent studies show that optimists excel in school, have a better
love life, make more money, and have better health as well as living
longer! Optimists also do better in the face of stress. They take action
sooner; break big problems into smaller, more manageable ones; stick to
their goals longer; and believe others can help. All this - and they are
Surely there is a down side to optimism? Well, not really. The only
likely harm of optimistic thinking is when we use over-optimism to shield
ourselves from reality. Optimists tend to overestimate the likelihood of
success so unrelenting optimism is not a perfect solution. Therefore it is
better to be pessimistic in the planning stages but optimistic at most
Remember that, even though optimists bite off more than they can chew
(so that they can end up with broken dreams and unrealistic desires), they
still end up healthier and happier than pessimists! So which perspective
is correct? The answer is neither. You can make a case for each side.
What’s really important is not which way of thinking is correct but
which is most beneficial. Having an unrealistically positive view of
ourselves seems to be directly linked to greater success. So, you get to