How many times have you found yourself going from zero to 180 over a comment, perceived slight or challenging event only to discover later that the situation was not even close to what you had initially perceived? The truth is that most of us have done so. In retrospect our reaction is embarrassing – if only to ourselves. The real question is how often we allow ourselves to go to this no good, very bad place and do we want to do something about it?
In my last blog I talked about the research done by Dr. Martin Seligman regarding learned optimism. His findings are powerful and deserve greater elaboration. When we are faced with a perceived slight at work or home we may jump to the conclusion that the other person doesn’t like us or questions our viewpoint or skill. If we would just take a deep breath and consider the possibility that the other person 1) did not understand 2) is preoccupied with something in their own life 3) is tired or even ill 4) may simply be on a different wave length, it would go a long way in helping us be happier more optimistic people. When we jump to personalizing a perceived slight without giving the other person the benefit of the doubt everyone loses. Actually, when we really get down to it, rarely is it about us. Even if the slight was intended it says much more about the other person’s sense of inadequacy or frustration than about us. Taking the slight on as truth automatically starts a chain reaction of negative thinking and we are better than that!
If a slight actually does occur it’s important to keep it in perspective. Some people automatically go to the next level and begin to generalize the slight as yet another example of others (the world) continuing to dump on them. They crave sympathy and can go through all kinds of gyrations to get it. If this happens it’s important to remember that empathy is a good thing but sympathy is not – in fact it is downright debilitating. If we are the ones to jump to generalizing after a slight we can become so good at it that within seconds we create a signed, sealed and delivered opinion about ourselves that further erodes our own self worth.
How do we know if there really is an issue about our behavior or attitude that would benefit from a change? The answer is quite simple really. Do we experience repeated examples of comments and behaviors from others that appear the same? If so, is it something that is standing in the way of our own well being? If we discern such a pattern we could ask someone we trust for their honest opinion and then truly listen, without interruption or justification, to what they have to say. Self improvement is a wonderful thing. It says to the world that we are still growing and becoming all we can be.
We can choose one of two paths. The pessimist who reacts defensively to an isolated incident, depletes our energy and expects the world to make him happy or the optimistic who is full of energy and ideas, chooses to look for the pony in the pile, and sees any challenge before him as an opportunity for growth. The choice is ours. The good news is that optimism really can be learned.
Have a great few days!