Good evening-I hope the storm hasn’t caused you too much inconvenience.  In my last coaching letter, I mentioned how many school shootings there have been since Columbine.  Actually, there have been at least 239 since 2014 <> .  Also in that coaching letter, I mentioned cultivating optimism.  This coaching letter is about why that’s important.

One of the very many ways in which our thinking is skewed is towards optimism.  This is called the optimism bias which means that, in so many words, we think that the odds don’t apply to us- that project will only take a few hours; it’ll be easier for me to lose weight than for other people; getting lung cancer from smoking isn’t going to happen to me.  In fact, the only people who don’t suffer from the optimism bias and are able to assess risk accurately are the mildly depressed, a phenomenon called depressive realism.

Optimism bias definitely has a downside (always believing “that will never happen to me” has obvious statistical limits), but generally it works in our favor.  Optimistic people-adults and children-are willing to work harder towards something, because they are more hopeful that the eventual outcome will be positive.  This connects with what we know about motivation, perceived self-efficacy, and perseverance.  All of these constructs are connected with success-if I believe that the outcome is going to be positive, then I am willing to put more energy into the task, and to take more risks.  In working harder and taking risks, I am more likely to be successful.  This success increases my belief that I am going to be successful in the future, thus sustaining and reinforcing my willingness to work hard and take risks.  This virtuous cycle is known as the performance-efficacy spiral; success really does build success.  This is why Rick Stiggins says that perhaps the most important function of education is to make sure that students believe that if they work hard, they will be successful-of course, you can’t just tell them that, they have to actually experience it.

Positive emotions are associated with all sorts of other positive outcomes, including health and longevity.  Additionally, positive emotions change the way we think.  Just as negative emotions such as fear, anxiety and embarrassment narrow our thinking to focus on how to get out of the situation that is causing that emotion, positive emotions expand our thinking and help us see connections that we otherwise would have missed, solve problems in new ways, and innovate more readily.  These are definitely capacities that coaches and leaders should have, and you can definitely cultivate them; the following strategies all have a research base:

1.       Practice gratitude.  I wrote about that in CL #, which is attached.

2.       Do things for others.  Helping others or working in service of a worthy cause leads to feelings of well-being that carry over for days beyond the time you spend.  Giving to charity has the same effect.

3.       Spend time with positive people.  Emotions are contagious-really.

4.       Encourage yourself and others.  Positive self-talk has a demonstrable effect on likelihood of success, on everyone from small children to Navy SEALS.  It’s one of the odd situations when the effect works even when people don’t actually believe in it.

Martin Seligman is the best known academic in the field of positive psychology.  His book on the topic is called Authentic Happiness.  I also recommend the following TED talks: optimism bias <> , happiness <> , grit <> .  You should also check out this infographic on happiness <> : keep scrolling down.

If you need anything else, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.  Yours, Isobel

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