Why is is that some people thrive in times of uncertainty whilst others stumble? Why is it that yet others see possibilities during times of challenge when others see only problems?
Certainly, mindset plays a role. The founder of the positive psychology movement and author of the international bestseller Learned Optimism, Martin Seligman, conducted significant amounts of research exploring how adopting a more optimistic mindset cultivates greater personal and career success, improved quality of life, and enhanced relational effectiveness. And even more compelling from his research was that optimism can be taught.
Being more optimistic (and pessimistic) is a way of interpreting life’s events. And like any ‘interpretation’ we can chose how we interpret those life experiences, just like we can choose to select a comedy or a horror film at your local DVD store (if you still frequent one!).
In his book, Learned Optimism, Seligman offers three lenses for considering how we choose to interpret life’s many events, called the “Three Ps” – Personal (Self), Pervasive(Context), Permanent (Time). The outcome of a specific life event – whether is was a positive or negative outcome – will determine how we typically utilise the “Three Ps”.
For example, if we experience a negative outcome we might choose to interpret that event as being only partly due to us (lessening the Personal aspect), only related to that specific situation (reducing its Pervasiveness) and dependent on that specific time (making it Im-Permanent). Conversely, if we experience a positive outcome we might choose to interpret that event as all about our individual efforts (increasing the Personal aspect), translatable across all situations (making the outcomes all-Pervasive), and likely to be the universal outcome across multiple timeframes (creating the mental conditions for the outcome to become Permanence).
So, if interpreting life events was just about adopting the “Three Ps” towards a more positive future why is it that we are not all optimistic? And why is it that even with a more optimistic outlook some people still stumble during difficult times?
I think the answer is more deep seated than can be explained by mindset alone. Part of the answer, I think, is explained through the research of social psychologist, C.S. Snyder. Snyder is the author of the book, The Psychology of Hope: You can get here from there, and writes on the psychology of hope. According to Snyder, hope has two foundational elements:
1. Will-power – self-belief and a dedication to be the agent of your own destiny; and
2. Way-power – a clear vision of a desired future coupled with a pathway towards it.
In additional to these two elements, my own research points to a third factor necessary for cultivating life satisfaction and meaning: Want-power.
3. Want-power – cultivating the boundless persistence and tenacity available within each of us when we follow a path to what we are truly passionate about.
Put another way, Want-power involves identifying what you are most passionate about, those aspects of your life experiences that are most fulfilling and most meaningful to you, and cultivating those elements in all aspects of your life. Want-power involves living life with meaning and purpose.
When faced with life and career uncertainty (which we often are), hope can serve as an antidote for the feelings of fear and concern we experience. Consider your current life and/or work situation and the following questions:
- What do you believe to be true about you, now?
- What do you have that is unique or special to you?
- What knowledge, skills or experiences do you know that others can not take from you?
- When faced with similar situations previously, what inner qualities came to the fore to propel you through?
- What is your ideal future scenario?
- What is your direction or focus at this time?
- What inspires you about where this current life and/or work context might take you?
- Where do you notice positive and life affirming energy around you, and how can you best cultivate this energy?
- What are you passionate about and what comes naturally to you?
- What motivates and drives you to be your best?
- What is your life and/or work purpose?
- What do you care deeply about now?
So, when faced with uncertainty and challenge it pays to adopt a mindset of optimism and choose to interpret events in more positive and motivating ways. And its also pays to take your optimism to the next level.
Cultivate hope: Be clear on who you are and what strengths you naturally bring to the present situation; create a clear an compelling vision for what you want to occur through the situation; and, connect with what deeply motivates you and inspires you about you in the future you are seeking to create.