How to Improve Optimism

There are a few ways to improve your optimism, but one of the best methods is the ABC technique which looks at cognitive distortions (or wrong ways of viewing things)

Three central cognitive distortions that tend to underpin the way we understand our experiences are personalisation, pervasiveness, and permanence. We can learn to be more optimistic by uncovering and dealing with these distorted perceptions.

Personalisation can be thought of as an internal vs. external assignment style. So, if something terrible happens, a pessimist will attribute it to an internal factor. They will see failure or setback as their fault; something is wrong with me, they personalise the outcome. Optimists externalise instead; they aren’t to blame; the circumstance was beyond their control, and next time things may work out better.

Pervasiveness describes the global or specific element of adversity or a negative event. A global or pervasive attribution is pessimistic and closely related to catastrophising. “I did a terrible job; I’ll never be hired again.” Or “I didn’t get selected for this role; nobody likes me”. Someone who views an undesirable outcome as pervasive will also be more inclined to believe that a setback also impacts other aspects of their lives. “I lost my wallet…My whole life sucks!”

Permanence is about whether we view a negative situation as fleeting or lasting and unchangeable. A pessimistic person will think something like: “I’ll always be a terrible dancer. It’s just who I am.” A positive person will think something like: “I probably didn’t dance so well because my leg is currently hurting, but I’ll be back on top soon.” The key takeaway is that the situation or circumstances are not fixed or unchangeable. Maybe work is hard at the moment, but that doesn’t mean you are forever at the mercy of this tough environment because things can always get better.

How to become more optimistic – The ABC technique

We can change how we make sense of the different things that happen around or to us by challenging these cognitive distortions using the ABC technique. This is called our Explanatory style.

The acronym ABC refers to:

Adversity – something negative that happens in your life.

Beliefs – how you behave or think about that negative event

Consequences – negative outcomes from your thoughts or actions.

Relearning your own ABC process is about becoming more aware of these cognitive distortions or pessimistic explanatory styles, confronting them, and replacing them with more optimistic and adaptive thoughts. Simply understanding these relationships is often the first step to changing the way you think to a more hopeful one (Saelid & Nordahl, 2017).

The critical takeaways are 1) that who you are and how you think and behave is not set in stone, and 2) What happens to you is not as important as how you choose to modify how you interpret, think and feel about that situation. You can start today on the road to a more optimistic you.