Optimism is a Skill

Xperience Growthblogposts

Optimism is among the most important mindsets necessary to win.

We’re optimistic when we believe that the future will workout in our favor. This core belief produces more internal resilience, which leads us to try harder – especially as pressure builds.

A study on baseball found that optimistic Major League pitchers  allowed fewer runs in late innings. Similarly, optimistic batters are proven to get more hits in late innings during close games. In short, optimism allows them to perform better when it counts most, regardless of the “success” or “failure” they experienced earlier in the game.

Here’s the best news… optimism is a skill. It can be learned.

Research suggests people do have natural bends towards pessimism or optimism. So, if you fall into the pessimism camp, fear not! Optimism – and all the benefits – are available to you!

Martin Seligman is maybe the most prominent founder of the positive psychology movement. He’s done extensive research around optimism. What’s interesting is that he came to this work through the back door.

Early in his career, he was a leading researcher on helplessness. In fact, he found that animals and people can learn to be helpless, give up, give in. So, he set up experiments to learn about the conditions necessary for people to become helpless.

Through multiple experiments, he learned that he could force helplessness on roughly 2/3 of the participants. Yet, in 1/3, no matter what he did as in the study, they would not succumb.

He found that the common thread of the non-helpless 1/3 was optimism.

Fascinated by this group of optimists, he learned what qualities made them optimistic. Further, he realized that just like people can learn to give in to helplessness, optimism can also be learned.

Seligman’s optimism framework… the 3 P’s of optimism:

Permanence: How long will it be around?

Pervasiveness: How much does it affect?

Personalization: What control do I have?

We need optimism the most when we are under external pressures. When things are going well, most of us feel optimistic.

Let’s look at the 3 P’s in the context of an external challenge.


How long will it be around? Optimistic people realize that hardship is not constant. It’s temporary. The sun WILL come up tomorrow.

Ask yourself: what’s my evidence that this situation will resolve, fizzle, work itself out? What will it look like when it resolves, however it does? When you can envision a future when the situation is resolved, you’ll have a deep understanding of the impermanence of the challenge.


How much does it affect? Optimistic people know that the challenge is isolated. It does not bleed out beyond the circumstance. In other words, the challenge you’re facing does not have additional meaning about who you are as a person. When we keep our ego out of the equation, we can isolate the challenge and then use our resources to meet the demand.

Ask yourself: what resources do I have to meet this challenge? What qualities did I use to meet a similar challenge before? When we recognize the resources and qualities we have we’ll know that the challenge does stretch to the core of who we are.


What control do I have? We have control over our thoughts, what we feel and the actions we take. Optimistic people feel a sense of agency over themselves. With agency and control, they can feel a sense of confidence in the future.

Ask yourself: what empowering thought do I choose at this moment? When I think that though, what do I feel? What is the best action I can take to meet the demands of this challenge and grow from it?

The skills of noticing the permanence, pervasiveness & personalization of a challenge are the skills of optimism.

Regardless if you have a natural bend towards this path or to a pessimistic path, you can skill-up, learn to cultivate optimism and reach your goals with greater enjoyment along the way.