The Strength of Optimism

A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.
Winston Churchill

In the last few years recent happenings such as the economic downturn, global conflict, war and the outbreak of disease has tested many a self proclaimed optimist’s ability to remain positive and upbeat. In the face of such uncertainty and in some cases serious adversity, remaining optimistic, can sometimes feel impossible, challenging or even insincere.

In our work, we define the strength of Optimism particularly in the workplace as being about “remaining positive and upbeat about the future and your ability to influence it to your advantage.” People who have this as a significant strength tend to look first for what is right in people, situations, plans and projects and tend to hold a belief that in the vast majority of cases, things will work out for the best.

Martin Seligman, the founder of positive psychology and one of our greatest influencers in this work defines optimism as being about the way we process and think about our setbacks as well as our victories.

Those who have an ability to process events with what he calls an optimistic explanatory style believe that:

“It’s temporary”, “I can change it”, and “it’s this one situation….”

Pessimists think the opposite.They have a tendency to attribute the causes of adversity to forces that are:

  • Internal – “This is all my fault”
  • Universal -“This affects absolutely everything”
  • Immutable -“This isn’t changeable”

Our tool Strengthscope® actually measures the strength of optimism and the extent to whether this is an underlying quality that energises you and whether it isone of your significant 7 strengths.

If you do have this in your top 7, it’s highly likely that it shows up in one or more of these ways:

  • You don’t let isolated negative events affect your positive view of the world
  • You expect to do well in challenging situations with a high risk of failure
  • You look for the positive when things go wrong, rather than focusing on the negative

Here is what it can sound like when it shows up effectively in a workplace setting:

“Even when I am going through a tough period, I always feel that things will work out somehow. I am typically upbeat and don’t stay down for long… I just look for the learning that I can take out of the situation…there is always an upside and something good that can surface from a negative event..”

“My positivity backed up with evidence is infectious and people buy in to what I am saying… I help people see that they can make a difference by looking at what has worked for them in the past. I help them shift their thinking…”

The good news is, that if optimistic thinking does not come naturally to you, it is a style that you can practice and cultivate. Optimism is essentially a muscle that you can build and strengthen by examining new ways of interpreting and thinking about events. There are many benefits to having a more optimistic explanatory style.

Research tells us that it can lengthen your life, determine how you overcome life’s obstacles, build resilience and manage the risks of developing depressive disorders and other mental health issues.

So if an optimistic mindset feels less than second nature to you here is one tool you could try that will help you to cultivate it when faced with a setback or challenge, that might typically send you into a downward spiral of pessimistic thinking.

Obstacles to Opportunities

Think about a challenging or difficult situation you are facing. Instead of travelling done the pathway of negativity thinking about the situation, consider how you can reframe it,

  1. What are the advantages associated with the situation?
  2. What are the opportunities presented to you, the team and the organisation by the present situation?
  3. What new beliefs or thinking can you have about your situation?
  4. What positive and productive ideas do you have about overcoming or managing the situation? Which aspects of this are in your control?

If optimism is a natural strength for you, think about how you can use or develop it in new and different ways to strengthen and stretch it so that you and others benefit from its use more widely:

What opportunities are there for you to bring a healthy dose of optimism and new thinking to adverse and morale-sapping experiences faced by your team/organisation?

In what ways can you use your optimism to build a stronger network of collaborators who can support you in achieving your goals?

For more information about how using strengths can help you to unlock the energy and productivity in your organisation contact us at

[email protected]

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