I have written here about Dr. Martin Seligman. He and his colleagues realized in the 1960’s that focusing on what was going wrong in people’s lives didn’t help them get better. In one of the books he has written,, Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Life, Dr. Seligman makes the point that being optimistic isn’t something we turn on and off. When a bad thing happens an optimistic person doesn’t gloss over it and say, “No worries! Things will work out!” A natural optimist will know that hard things that happen are transient and external .
This perception is an incredible epiphany.
If a guy asked a girl out and she says no, he goes home and looks in the mirror and says, ” I will never get married.” This is a feeling of permanence.
If we are driving and someone is rude, a pessimist might feel that all drivers cut us off. That is an example of pervasiveness.
When once again we don’t fulfill our exercise goals, we could say “I am just not athletic”. That’s an example of personalization.
Dr. Seligman calls these three labels of negative thinking, “explanatory styles”. Instead of looking at events in our lives as a neutral occurrence, pessimists use one of these three ways to explain the event. An optimist works to control his thoughts to know that challenges aren’t permanent, or pervasive, or doesn’t personalize. Through his research and data Dr. Seligman says that we can recognize our negative thoughts and train ourselves to analyze whatever is triggering us–using these explanatory styles as a tool. Retraining our brains is the key.
Carrie Roberts, Brigham Young University’s Women’s Golf Coach talks about how we can program our brains to protect ourselves:
“In college I was introduced to Dr. Richard A. Heaps, a psychologist here at BYU. He taught me that the happiness I sought wouldn’t just come; I needed to create it. He also taught me that controlling my thoughts would enable me to take the actions necessary to create the happiness I wanted. He taught me that every thought and action I had each day needed to lead me toward the happiness I desired or the things I wanted in life. It took some time, but I began, as Alma said, to have “my soul . . . filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain!” (Alma 36:20). I also learned that to think and act for myself, I could use my agency—as we all can—to build an armor to protect myself against the devil’s greatest tools of self-defeat, discouragement, and the belief that I just wasn’t born good enough for God’s love.”
We can reach this tranquility Carrie Roberts talks about as we work to control our thoughts. Recently a friend told me the sign that hung in her home as she was growing up:
“Where your concentration goes, your energy flows and that’s what grows”. For good or bad in our lives, that is true.