Positive Thinking is Choice!

Imagine you are in a great restaurant. You get served great food, have a great conversation and time with your partner, and the ambience adds to the beauty of the place. You have spent a beautiful evening there. As the dessert is being served, the waiter spills some coffee on your shirt. Will you go there again?

Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman describes exactly this situation in his TED talk. He points out that:

We actually don’t choose between experiences; we choose between memories of experiences, and even when we think about the future, we don’t think of our future normally as experiences. We think of our future as anticipated memories.

Do you remember a similar situation? Maybe you have worked on a small project over weeks, and the final presentation went poorly. Here are three possible conclusions; which one is the closest to your thinking?

  1. The work you have done was not good.
  2. It is not worthwhile to do this kind of work as people don’t appreciate it.
  3. You might think that the work you have done was great, but you haven’t been able to present it well.

We all have an individually different preference for recalling negative experiences. Your future behaviour will depend on what you have concluded in this situation.

  1. If you went for this option, it might discourage you to take on similar challenges in future. It means the situation has affected your self-confidence. As you may imagine, a single bad event may affect your  career; particularly if it stops you from seeking new challenges that inevitably would develop your skills.
  2. This type of thinking might leave you disengaged and demotivated (at least for a while) with your work or your colleague. This again can have a profound impact on your career and your aspirations to gain more responsibility and leadership.
  3. Keeping the conclusions very specific, as in this case, is the best thing you can do. Now you can take some very specific action. First, you can decide to repeat the presentation, admitting that you haven’t been able to get your point across. This requires courage, but it will be rewarded provided you prepare well for the next presentation. It will also help you to prepare better for any future presentation – again, a good thing.

You can see easily from this simple example that some conclusions of negative events will close doors to opportunities while others will open new doors. Drawing too broad, negative conclusions can diminish your self-confidence. As you have seen in this example, what you conclude and how to deal with it both lie in your hands.

Let’s have a look at a technique of Positive Psychology to help you thinking positive after negative experiences.


“We are all faced with a series of great opportunities brilliantly disguised as impossible situations.”
Charles Swindoll


“It’s not the adversity itself, but the way we deal with it that determines our fate.”
Shawn Achor, Author of “The Happiness Advantage”


Martin Seligman - Learned Optimism


~~~ Learned Optimism – from adversity to opportunity ~~~

One of the founders of Positive Psychology is Martin Seligman. His books are classics in this field. Here is a simple yet very powerful tool to deal with your own insidiously negative beliefs. These beliefs are often the foundation of stagnation in our lives.

A – Adversity My presentation didn’t go well.
B – Belief I really am a lousy presenter – this always happens.
C – Consequences I will never hold a presentation again (taking away opportunities to shine and learn).
D – Disputation Ask yourself when did you have a good presentation? At uni I held this presentation which received great feedback.
E – Energisation I am not really a bad presenter. I have just been under prepared this time. I should seek to hold a presentation again very soon and get prepared better.

M. Seligmans ABCDE method

AAdversity: An event that occurred and that we can’t change

BBelief: Why we thought the event happened and what we think it means for the future. Is it a short term and local adversity or is it permanent and pervasive?

CConsequences: What are the consequences of this belief?
DDisputation: Your belief is a belief – not a fact! If something adverse happened and you think that’s typical, start disputing your belief. Are there other interpretations? Dispute with yourself or ask your spouse or a friend to do it.
EEnergisation: How did the disputation change your thinking? Reflect on how your thinking has changed and which options you see now.


Positive Attitude ebook


~~~ 7 tips to deal with adversity ~~~

1 Don’t wallow or fester - When you are in a hole stop digging. Don’t wallow. The person you damage most is yourself. It also is very disempowering as you are not actively thinking about solutions but rather looking back and staying passive.

2Don’t drive looking into the back mirror - Ask yourself: “What can I learn from this situation? And how will it help in the future?” Answering these questions will help you to focus on the future rather than the past. You can’t change the past, but you can change the way you see it and how it can help you create a better future for yourself. Leave the past behind you and focus on the future.

3Be the actor and the director - Try to see adversity from a different angle and with a different lens. Ask yourself how else can you view the same events. Tell a more positive story about what happened to you. Ask yourself: “How will I see the same thing in six months time or a year or two?” Not getting the promotion might get you started on additional qualifications which may lead to a more senior role than the one you were hoping for. See your life as an adventure or a movie with yourself as the hero.

4Talk, talk, talk to someone, friends, family. Talking about issues is a good way to deal with them. It seems that our mind runs in circles until we talk about issues. They fester and engage our mind. When we start talking about issues our brain starts getting emotionally past it. Talk without bitterness. Talking will help to get an outside view and ideas to the issues you are facing.

5Don’t generalise – One of the worst things you could do is to generalise a negative event. Don’t think you are not good enough just because you didn’t get the promotion, don’t think you will never get a promotion and don’t think you are stuck forever.

6If adversity strikes, think about what you can learn from it and do better next time. Then talk to your manager and ask his opinion on what you can do better in the future. Accept the feedback. It is someone else’s view on the same situation and it can give you valuable insights. The more you are willing to accept, the more the other person will tell you. This is a great opportunity to find out how others see you. Apply all your listening skills to find out as much as possible.

7Confirm with yourself that you can do better. Find similar situations in the past where you worked towards a goal and achieved it. Now use this to confirm with yourself that you can do better next time.

Common to the above tips is to not take adversity as a permanent setback, looking from different views and asking others for their ideas and views. Learn from the setback, confirm you can do it better and then start doing so!

Learn to be an optimist
Martin Seligman – Learned Optimism

If this exercise resonates with you and you want to know more, get the book, it’s widely recommended. You can also take the online test first to assess your optimism/pessimism type.

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