The ABC of Optimism

20 December 2013

Significant life challenges can be managed and tolerated far better, by simply developing optimism for a good outcome or a more positive future.


Learn an optimistic response


For those of us who are not innately optimistic, life experience provides the lessons. We get blindsided by another disappointment. Followed by a good sook. Then something clicks and we push on. Sometimes it is a distraction. At other times things are turned around by actively challenging our negative thinking. There is no doubt that learned optimism is hard won and we can save ourselves unnecessary emotional angst, periods of low productivity and even depression, by learning to make optimism an automatic response.


The Simple ABC Formula changing pessimism to optimism


Martin Seligman, in his book “Learned Optimism” provides an anecdote to pessimism by the application of a simple ABC formula.  He recommends taking the distressing situation (A) and identifying the thinking you have adopted in response (B). The final step is changing the thought process (C), either by actively distracting yourself or by challenging your distorted thinking. Seligman explains that those of us who are not naturally optimistic, tend to personalise the distressing situation, perceive it as lasting longer and/or see it as more pervasive (by affecting broader aspects of our lives) than is the reality. This is the process by which optimism can be learned.


Seligman’s simple formula can be used as an anecdote to the helplessness experienced by people in difficult circmstances, such as those at a cross road in their relationship. When facing a family law financial or parenting problem, as with other potential life altering events, it is imperative that destructive emotions not be allowed to take hold. A positive attitude about achieving a brighter future is after all the first step in making it happen.