Abraham Lincoln once described an a optimist as someone who “finds opportunity in every difficulty” whilst a pessimist to be someone who ‘finds difficulty in every opportunity”.
Another way to look at optimism is in terms of explanatory style. Explanatory style examines the way an individual explains their experiences, successes and failures (Scheier & Carver, 1985 In. Martin-Krumm et al, 2003). Looking at how people explain certain events, or the reason behind the athletes success or failure, we can see if they are optimistic or not. We can also use people’s explanatory style to predict biases, and future outcomes because of their expectations of success or failures (Seligman, 1991).
What is an Optimistic Explanatory Style? (Peterson, 2000)
●Positive events: internal (within persons control) stable (this reason will always be the there) and global (effects everything) causes e.g. we won the game because I am talented.
●Negative event: external (outwith person’s control), unstable (the reason is only temporary) and specific (only effects that certain situation) factors e.g. We lost the game because the other team scored a lucky goal.
So why is it good for athletes to be optimistic?
The main advantages of having an optimistic explanatory style is that you are more likely to be persistent and committed during the action phase of working towards a goal and are more likely to be able to tolerate uncontrollable suffereing (Espahbodi, Dugar & Tehranian, 1991). When someone has an optimistic explanatory style, the belief that one will have a successful performance is within their control, and the reason is stable e.g. I am a good player. Whilst they view unsuccessful performances as temporary setbacks, and the cause to be something out with their control e.g. Bad weather. Therefore, their self esteem is not effected because they believe that they are in control of the good and not of the negative.
By believing that you are had a good performance because you are talented (internal, stable, global) and not because you play in a good team, or you were lucky (external, temporary) will allow you to believe you are capable of future positive performances. Performers who have an optimistic explanatory style are more likely to believe they will succeed in the future.
There have been various studies that show the benefits of being optimistic such as:
●Better performance and less variability (football; Gordan & Kane, 2001);
Research in Seligman’s book (2006) shows that people who have a pessimistic explanatory style are:
● More susceptible to depression when things go wrong
Therefore, to sustain or promote positive self esteem, we could try to make athletes more optimistic. In 2010, I completed a study “the effectiveness of a positive psychology intervention on optimism levels of female soccer players” where I carried out 8 sessions of positive psychology sessions with 15 semi professional female soccer players in the ’Hampton Roads Piranhas’ from Virginia Beach, Virginia.
What is Positive Psychology?
Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi (2000) reported that positive psychology, “has many distinguished ancestors, and we make no claim of originality” (p. 13). It is the scientific study of optimal functioning of people, groups, and institutions which promotes positive aspects of life such as happiness, well-being, satisfaction, hope and optimism (Joseph & Linley, 2007). I created an intervention to use with the footballers based on this theory using both Seligman’s book “Learned Optimism” (2006) and “Group Psychotherapy Psychology Manual” (PPT; Park & Seligman, 2007). The intervention was devised to increase awareness of explanatory style; and to encourage player’s to look at positive aspects of self and their strengths.
The results of the study showed that scores of optimistic explanatory style increased from pre-test to post-test and there was significant difference on internality and globality but not stability (two out of the three indicators of optimistic explanatory style). For example, the explanation of ability being the cause of a positive event almost doubled on post-test whilst the number of negative events attributed to ability decreased by 50%. Additionally, the number of unstable references to performance decreased.
The players evaluated the program and indicated that afterwards, they had more awareness of explanatory styles; a positive effect on player’s thought processes e.g. made me think more positively; and think differently about discouraging situations; and were more aware of effect football has on them e.g. ‘I learned that soccer influences my every day life and attitude”.
In conclusion, by increasing and building optimism, we are less likely to have our self esteem hurt when we are faced with negative events, and our self esteem will continue to grow when we are faced with positive events. We can do this by using different activities geared towards promoting understanding about explanatory style as well as building g on strengths and positive aspects of character. Feel free to contact me about any of the activities used within the positive psychology intervention.
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Learning of childhood
Being around kids at the end of my trip made me think a lot about childhood.
At the beginning of my trip, I learned a lot of things by staying in the favela. It was the first time in a very long time, that I felt a true sense of community like we had as children. Heading back to hostel at 10pm, I saw kids still out playing and running around whilst the adults sat in groups drinking and chatting. You could hear music playing and people laughing. And actually even standing out, I still felt pretty safe.
Maybe this was also due to the pacification. In 2008, the Unidade de Policia Pacificadora (UPP), a law enforcement and social services program began. I stayed in the Cantagalo Favela and the UPP was in full force there. It was actually located right next to my hostel and there were always police officers around with their big guns. Is that off putting or does that help with a sense of safety?
Obviously I was only there for a couple of days but was able to observe. Sunday was their party day and looking out across the hill, I could see lots of celebrations. Also, in walking down the hill, I could see people partying for birthdays; different groups; fireworks going off; people drinking beer but mainly the children playing with smiles on their faces.
I believe that society has changed the way kids are brought up to extremes. In the developed countries, kids as young as 2 can play on iPads, watch shows on big TVs and are more technologically advanced than some granny's. When we were younger, we didn't have that luxury. We had books, we played on the street, we interacted a lot more because we couldn't hit behind our mobile phones. We had to use our brains to memorize phone numbers, we had to stick to plans because we made a call before left house and arranged plans, and we were able to carry out simply sums. Nowadays, life is easy. We have technology to do so many things that we don't need to use our brains to think, or our legs to walk to the library, or our creative part of brain to make up playground games.
Of course, technology is amazing. You can learn so many things like your alphabet for when you are a kid to a language when you are a teenager. The easy life. For research projects, you can just google for information, whereas before you had to go to library, put in key words, search the shelves and sometimes even wait til someone else returns the book. How much time do we save now? Maybe now we can use that saved time to be kids? To revert back to our youth and be a kid? The days of being free and playing using our creative minds, our body for activity and our social skills for interaction.
For 2014, maybe as adults we can try to be kids more. Use the list below and try to be a kid maybe once a day? Once a week?
Visit a toy store and purchase a game/toy
Play Mini golf
Finger paint old bed sheet
Watch 3 stooges
Make daisy chains
Read with torch under cover
Go on swing
Play on a roundabout
Play in rain
Play in a Forrest
Play trophy (handstand games)
Run through sprinklers
Climb a tree
Play on farm
Jump on a bed
Fly a kite
Play with Lego
Mix different colours of ice cream
Make a sand castle
Bury someone in the sand
Make snow angels
Paint by numbers
Play card games
Build a tree house
Ride a bike with stabilisers
Go home when street lights go on
What are the other things that you can do to feel like a kid?
Tracy Donachie, MSc in Performance Psychology.