Half-full or Half-empty?

Yesterday I saw a woman who was up for a promotion at work. She really wanted it, and had gotten to the final interview. Then she was told they were interviewing two other candidates. She told me with a big sigh, “I only have a one in three chance of getting this.” She went on to tell me how things don’t go her way, and clearly she was destined to fail this time, too. Since it’s my job to help people recognize the things they can change, we started to work on these thoughts and beliefs.
Pessimism is defined as the expectation that bad things will happen, while optimism is the tendency to expect the more favorable outcome. Classic glass half-empty or half-full question. We may be born with a personality that trends toward one or the other, or we may change due to life events, depression or other circumstances. However, we can change our thoughts and beliefs with vigilance and effort. The first step is to become aware of our tendencies, then we can subtly change them when we notice a negative pattern.
For example, my patient can continue with her current beliefs that things don’t go her way. She will then be less likely to seek and apply for a better position. She may even feel a hopeless attitude that things can’t get better, so why try? Optimism, on the other hand, creates motivation. She believes she has as good a chance as anyone else, and applies for new opportunities. A pessimistic attitude may hold us back from positive changes in our lives.
Our thoughts and beliefs also create energy that affects our moods. Think of the statement “I ONLY have a one in three chance” versus “Hey, I have a one in three chance!” One sees that two other people may win, the other recognizes that she has already beaten many others to get to this point. As you say each phrase out loud, notice what you feel, in your body and in your mood. The more negative statement may cause a subtle slump in the shoulders, and sadness. The opposite statement may lead to a smile, or a feeling of confidence. Which feels better?
Once we recognize a pessimistic attitude, the key is to substitute the opposite. I don’t mean an unrealistic belief that everything is sunshine and roses, but a subtle shift of balance in a positive direction. Instead of “nothing ever works out for me,” substitute “I have as good a chance as anyone else.” Replace “if I don’t try, I won’t fail,” with “if I don’t try, I won’t succeed.” we have choices all day long about what to think and believe. With practice, it becomes easier to recognize self-limiting beliefs and attitudes like pessimism. Luckily, we can change our thoughts and actions. Maybe my patient won’t get the promotion. But if she believes she has a chance to get a better job, she will apply again. Maybe she is a perfect fit for the next one. That is seeing the glass as half-full.

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