The Fantastic Life

Converting Pessimists to Optimists


Michael Josephson says to see tomorrow for the second part.  Well, he never published it.  SO, I wanted to clear my e-mail and did my own research. You get a nice story and some follow up in greater clinical style discussion.  Hope you might find a gem or two for your personal life.

When I talk about batteries included I mean for yourself.  Bring your own batteries to every relationship AND who you hang out with.  Make sure you hang out with people who bring their own batteries.  If not, you will find you will be giving them your stored energy and that is not good over time.

Tying this all in – being an optimist is part of batteries included.



The Fantastic Life Rule #12: Get a Win
One win can lead to another, it doesn’t have to be huge to be a win.  It’s about being in the position to win, moving toward what you want.  Not further away.  Pessimism will hold you back.


Converting Pessimists Into Optimists

LIFEies 18

What Will


Every full life has its bright days and its dark days, its triumphs and defeats, its calm and stormy seas. All these high and low experiences could justify viewing the past through the lens of gratitude or disappointment. And the way we characterize our history will determine whether we look toward our future with hopeful expectations or anxious trepidation.

Scientists tell us we are born with, or soon develop, a natural “set point” toward positivism or negativism. Those lucky enough to start with a positive disposition have a great advantage. Their optimism not only causes them to interpret their experiences in ways that makes them happy, it also makes them healthier and more successful in relationships and in achieving their goals.

What’s more, optimists tend to persevere in the face of adversity while pessimists tend to give up, certain they can’t win.

Sadly, pessimists greatly outnumber optimists. Some rationalize their handicap by labeling people who see the world through rose-colored glasses as naïve or foolish; others pride themselves on being realists – and they are. It’s just that their reality is painted in shades of black and gray while the optimist sees vivid colors.

Many pessimists wish they could rid themselves of the burden of negative thinking but, true to form, they are sure they can’t change.

Not so! says Martin Seligman, the father of positive psychology. Anyone can become an optimist simply by learning to think about their reactions to adversity in a new way. His book “Learned Optimism” is worth reading, but in a nutshell, the pessimist can change his spots by three strategies: distraction, diversion, and disputation.


ABCDE model (Learning to be Optimistic)

Learn to be optimistic using a technique based on Albert Ellis ? Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy. Professor Martin Seligman has elaborated on this in his book ‘Authentic Happiness’

This is a method for building optimism by recognizing and disputing pessimistic thoughts. The key to disputing your own pessimistic thoughts is to first recognize them and then to treat them as if they were uttered by an external person, a rival whose mission in life is to make you miserable.

  1. Become more aware of your conscious thought processes and begin to treat them as if they were being uttered by an external person whose goal in life is to make you unhappy.  (Distancing)
  2. Distract yourself from the thoughts ? i.e. don’t allow yourself to think about them by directing your mind elsewhere. The rubber band technique is useful. Distraction is the best technique if you have to perform a task and it would be unhelpful to think about it.
  3. Dispute the beliefs. Disputation is the most important technique here and involves checking out the accuracy of the beliefs about ourselves that are encouraging us to feel pessimistic.  When we dispute we use the same techniques which we use to argue with other people.

Once you recognize that you have a pessimistic thought that seems unwarranted, counteract it by using the ABCDE model.

A stands for adversity
B for the beliefs you automatically have when it occurs
C for the usual consequences of the belief
D for your disputation of your routine belief ? using facts and logic, not wasteful thinking on affirmations.
E for the energization that occurs when you dispute it successfully (this simply means to pay attention to how you feel (e.g. lighter, more energized) as a result of disputing your negative thoughts)

By effectively disputing the beliefs that follow an adversity, you can change your reaction from dejection and giving up to activity and good cheer.

Exercise ? During the next 5 adverse events you face in your daily life, listen closely for your beliefs, observe the consequences, and dispute your beliefs vigorously. Record all this on a piece of paper.  Once you have done this on paper a few times you can then simply go through the process in your head.


You gave a presentation and didn’t use your allocated time and stumbled in a few places.

I’m really bad at public speaking.  I always make a mess of it.  I really ought not to do it again because I’ll just be as bad.  My boss must think I’m not up to the job.

You turn down appointments to speak and therefore let your fear get the better of

you. If you speak again you are very nervous and apprehensive and therefore much more likely to make mistakes.

I haven’t had much experience of giving presentations.  That was only my third.

The head of department spoke for less time as well and no-one was bothering about it.  A number of people asked me questions and were interested in what I was saying.  Kevin even said he liked my slides and he isn’t one to say positive things to people.  I might not have been that fluent but I was ok and if I can conquer my nerves I should be better next time.

There are 4 different ways to make your disputations convincing:

Evidence ? shows that the negative beliefs are factually incorrect. Most negative beliefs are overreactions. So ask ? what is the evidence for this belief??  (This is not just about affirmations or repeating positive statements it is about employing logical arguments.)

Alternatives ? ask yourself if there are alternative ways to look at the problem which are less damaging to yourself. Focus in particular on causes which are changeable (e.g. you were tired), the specific (e.g. only this instance), and the non-personal (other people’s contribution to the problem).

Implications ? even if you still take a negative view of what you have done you can still decatastrophize. E.g. even if you did put your foot in it at the interview and didn’t get this job what are the implications for other jobs or the rest of your life?

Usefulness ? question the usefulness of your belief. It can be helpful here to realize that even negative situations can in the long run work out well. We can also realize that some of our beliefs about the world (e.g. that it should be fair) though laudable lead us to be unduly negative.



A second source:

Seligman’s Method of Learning Optimism

According to Martin Seligman, anyone can learn optimism. Whether currently an optimist or a pessimist, benefits can be gained from exposure to the process of learned optimism to improve response to both big and small adversities. A test developed by Seligman is used to determine an individual’s base level of optimism and sort them on a scale. Being in the more pessimistic categories means that learning optimism has a chance of preventing depression, helping the person achieve more, and improve physical health.

Seligman’s process of learning optimism is simple, and trains a new way of responding to adversity. Namely, the person learns to talk themselves through personal defeat. It begins with the Ellis ABC model of adversity, belief, and consequence.[6] Adversity is the event that happens, belief is how that adversity is interpreted, and consequences are the feelings and actions that result from the beliefs. This is demonstrated in the example below:

  • Adversity: Someone cuts you off in traffic.
  • Belief: You think, “I can’t believe that idiot was so rude and selfish!”
  • Consequence: You are overcome with anger, yelling profanity at the other driver.

This is a somewhat graphic example, but should present a good idea of what each component of ABC looks like. In the journey to learning optimism, one must first understand one’s natural reaction to and interpretation of adversity. In order to do so, learners are asked to keep a journal, for two days, of small adverse events and the beliefs and consequences that followed. Next the learner simply returns to the journal to highlight pessimism (e.g.,  pervasiveness: “it doomed me…”) in their written descriptions of the events.

Seligman adds to the ABC model, making his model ABCDE. D stands for disputation, which centers around providing counter-evidence to any of the following: the negative beliefs in general, the causes of the event, or the implications. D also means reminding oneself of any potential usefulness of moving on from the adversity. Disputation for the above traffic example might sound like this: “I am overreacting. I don’t know what situation he is in. Maybe he is on his way to his daughter’s piano recital and is running late. I’m sure I have cut people off before without meaning to, so I should really cut him a break. I am not in a hurry anyway.”

Over time, responses like this can change feelings to be more hopeful and positive. Successful disputation leads to energization, the E in the ABCDE model. One is energized, and should indeed try to actively celebrate, the positive feelings and sense of accomplishment that come from successful disputation of negative beliefs. Disputation and Energization (celebration) are the keys to Seligman’s method.

Teaching children learned optimism by guiding them through the ABCDE techniques can help children to better deal with adversity they encounter in their lives. In addition to the same value adults can get from learning optimism, if children are taught early then the thought process of disputation becomes ingrained in them. They do not have to focus on being optimistic, but rather optimism becomes automatic and leads to a more positive life for the child.[dubiousdiscuss]


Learned optimism techniques can be very practical to apply to anyone’s life, and are used frequently today in any area that applies psychology. Some examples include parenting, business, therapy, and education.

Learned optimism is prevalent in business because more optimistic workers are more successful workers. Seligman’s focus in business is on “the personal wall” that is each individual worker’s constant point of discouragement. This could be preparing reports or making cold calls to potential clients. Putting the ABCDE model into practice allows workers to respond to this “wall” with a readiness to conquer rather than to feel dejected. Additionally, the ASQ—Attributional Style Questionnaire—is often used to measure optimism of job candidates during the interview process by asking the participant to write down causes for situational failures. Participants then rank the causes based on given criteria, and this helps businesses to know from the beginning whether the job candidate will be a high or low performer in his/her projected role based on his level of optimism.[4]

Learned optimism is also a tool used to combat depression during cognitive behavioral therapy. Patients may be depressed in part because they have a pessimistic outlook. Rather than perceiving adversity as a constant thing that cannot be overcome, and taking personal blame for that adversity, patients come out of cognitive behavioral therapy with the belief that they can control how they respond to adversity. A shift toward optimism is a shift away from depression, and that is what makes Seligman’s techniques so useful in cognitive behavioral therapy.



Skip to content