Negative thinking is something we all do. The difference between the person who is primarily optimistic and the person who is primarily pessimistic is that the optimist learns to become a good debater. Once you become thoroughly aware of the effectiveness of optimism in your life, you can learn to debate your pessimistic thoughts.
The most thorough and useful study I’ve ever seen on how to do this is contained in Dr. Martin Seligman’s classical work, Learned Optimism.The studies done by Seligman demonstrate two very profound revelations: 1) optimism is more effective than pessimism; and 2)optimism can be learned.
Seligman based his findings on years of statistical research. He studied professional and amateur athletes, insurance salespeople, and even politicians running for office. His scientific studies proved that optimists dramatically outperform pessimists. So what Norman Vincent Peale had been saying for years in his books on the power of positive thinking was finally proven to be scientifically true. Peale had based his books on testimonials and supportive biblical passages.
The problem with that was that the people he needed to reach the most—skeptics and pessimists—were precisely the kinds of people who would not be anxious to take anything on faith. But once you’ve digested the remarkable writings of Seligman, you can go back and readPeale with a new sense of excitement. If you don’t accept his religious references, it doesn’t matter—the personal testimonials are stimulating enough to give his writing great power. Although his most famous book is The Power of Positive Thinking, I have derived much more motivation from Stay Alive All Your Life and The Amazing Results ofPositive Thinking.
If you are now skeptical about your power to debate your own pessimistic thoughts, keep in mind that most of us are already great debaters. If somebody comes in and takes one side of an argument, we can usually take the other side and make a case, no matter which side the first person took. Debate teams have to learn to do this. Team members never know until the last second which side of the argument they will be debating, so they learn to be prepared to passionately argue either side.
If you catch yourself brooding, worrying, and thinking pessimistically about an issue, the first step is to recognize your thoughts as being pessimistic. Not wrong or untrue—just pessimistic. And if you are going to get the most out of your bio-computer (the brain), you must acknowledge that pessimistic thoughts are less effective.Once you’ve accepted the pessimistic nature of your thinking, you are ready to take the next step. (This first step is crucial though. AsNathaniel Branden teaches, “You can’t leave a place you’ve never been.”) The second step is to build a case for the optimistic view.Start to argue against your first line of reasoning. Pretend you’re an attorney whose job is to prove the pessimist in you wrong. Start off on building your case for what’s possible. You’ll surprise yourself.Optimism is by nature expansive—it opens door after door to what’s possible. Pessimism is just the opposite—it is constrictive. It shuts the door on possibility. If you really want to open up your life and motivate yourself to succeed, become an optimistic thinker.