Positive Psychology

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Most of us have negative loops going around in our mind, often as warning signs of danger attached to a different point of view or a different way of doing something. Sometimes these negative thought patterns paralyse our initiative and stop us from connecting positively with other people and even ourselves.

We can make a catastrophy out of something that really is not that bad when we think about it. In order not to be victimised by our debilitating negative thought patterns we might need to become aware of how we think and then look at different ways of interpreting that situation.

For example:

EVENT: I say 'hello' to someone and they ignore me
CATASTROPHY THOUGHTS: I think they do not like me, think they deliberately ignored me, think they are 'stuck-up' and betraying the friendship I thought we had. I think I never want to see them again or be friends with anyone.
RESULTING FEELINGS: I feel lonely, angry, let down, depressed and hurt.

Alternative interpretation:

DE-CATASTROPHY THOUGHTS: They did not hear me, they were thinking of a problem, something important is going on, they must be in a hurry. We will catch up later.
RESULTING FEELINGS: I feel concerned about my friend, I want to be there to support them whatever is going on. I feel I might need to speak louder in future. I want to give them a text or a ring.

The above situation may not set you off on a negative catastrophic thought pattern, it could be something else but whatever it is, if you want to be happy and well you need to pinpoint that negative thinking and 'convert' your interpretation into something that will help you to feel more optimistic and inclusive.

It is fascinating to read about Seligman and his colleagues' 12-week Optimism programme implemented with children who learned optimism and were still thriving as teenagers in spite of growing up in a very challenging home environment (Seligman et al, 1995). Through analysing 'adverse' situations, the beliefs attached to them and noticing the consequent moods a person can pinpoint their pessimistic explanatory style and begin to Distract, Distance and Dispute these ideas (Carr, 2004).

  • Distraction would involve saying 'STOP', snapping a rubber band on the wrist or possibly writing down the pessimistic thought process as it occurs.
  • Distancing would mean taking a bigger view and realising that beliefs are not facts.
  • Disputing through an inner dialogue asking four important questions:

(a) What evidence do I have? Is there evidence that my interpretation might not be true?

(b) Would there be a way of attributing the event to external, specific and temporary causes?

(c) Even if the Adversity cannot be re-interpreted, will it matter in the long run, a month or a year from now?

(d) If there is no evident proof one way or another, which explanation would be the healthiest one for me to believe for my own well-being?

It seems that the teaching of Optimism skills often is combined with Social Skills training and has been shown to decrease stress and anxiety in trained teachers who receive coaching while implementing Optimism and Social Skill teaching to children and adolescents.

Whether we know it or not it seems that Hope and Optimism are crucial for human survival and well-being. Viktor Frankl, the famous psychiatrist who survived a Nazi death camp observed that those prisoners who lost faith in the future lost their will to live and soon died (Frankl, 1959). We might be optimistic in one area of our life and pessimistic in another (Lyubomirsky, 2007) and that is okay as we might not need to be competent in every area of life.

Earlier 'negative' experiences might have taught us not to get involved in certain activities and relationships but the person who wishes to increase their positive emotions, mental and physical health and thrive might find great benefit in learning to de-catastrophize and take off their 'rejection gogles' in exchange for a more optimistic interpretation of adverse situations in their lives.

Cunningham, E.G., Brandon, C.M. & Frydenberg, E. (2002) 'Enhancing Coping Resources in Early Adolescence through a school-based Program teaching Optimistic Thinking Skills',
Anxiety, Stress and Coping, 15(4), pp.369-381.
Frankl, V. (1959)
Man's Search for Meaning, Washington: Square Press
Seligman, M. (2006)
Learned Optimism, New York: Vintage Books
Seligman, M., Reivich, K., Jaycox, L. & Gillham, J. (1995)
The Optimistic Child, New York: Vintage Books.
Tyson, O, Roberts, C.M. & Kane, R. (2009)
Australian Journal of Guidance and Counselling,19(2) pp. 116-130

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