Thursday, February 16, 2006

Separating Yourself from Your Problems

How good are you at separating yourself from your problems? Martin Seligman, author of Learned Optimism, suggests that this is yet another thing that optimists can do better than pessimists. Here are some of the distinctions that Dr. Seligman makes between the two groups:

Pessimists tend to see their problems as ...

Optimists tend to see their problems as ...

Permanent

Temporary

Personal

External

Pervasive

Specific


Note that sometimes pessimism is the more prudent perspective to hold, such as when the cost of potential failure is extremely high. But being pessimistic out of habit isn't always in your best interest.
So, if you're bothered by incessant a pessimistic attitude and negative self-talk, try this:

  • Try looking at your situation as temporary and not permanent. "This, too, shall pass" is a good thing to keep in mind.
  • Try recognizing that while the problem you're facing may be negatively affecting you, it's not about you - even if it's still yours to remedy.
  • Try defining the problem as specifically as possible, so that you can recognize parts of the situation that are not the problem. Challenge the assumption that the problem is yet another example of a more pervasive set of problems. (It may well be, but don't just assume that it is.)

Don't worry if the shift doesn't come easy at first. Like anything else of import, sometimes it takes practice. So practice. Practice being optimistic. And if positive thinking seems too big of a leap for you, start by practicing non-negative thinking.

Help the problems you face feel more manageable, more doable, and less burdensome by separating yourself from your problems and you'll have far more energy to deal with whatever problems do come your way.

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