The Psychology of Optimism

I've been thinking a lot about the work of Carol Dweck about two contrasting mindsets-- the first is the growth mindset where we think that intelligence and other ability is malleable.  And if we keep working at it we will do better. 

The second is what she calls a fixed mindset--where we think talents and intelligence are pretty much a given. Fixed.  And when I hit a setback it means I'm not as smart as they tell me. 

When I'm in a growth mindset (I've been calling it a "stretch" mindset--I'm willing to stretch) and I experience a setback it's just a motivator to keep experimenting and learning. Keep working. One school which had great gains in student learning gave out the grade "Not Yet" instead of the traditional D and F. 

When I think about this notion it helps me make greater sense of the research on optimism and pessimism.  That work by Martin Seligman helps us see the impact of the story we tell ourselves, on our effectiveness, when we run into a setback. 

And these two streams of research together are helping me notice my ways of thinking, and guide my thinking and my actions more consistently toward an optimistic, stretch/growth mindset.  I realize I enjoy life more when I'm
there--but the research also points to consistently better performance from that spot. 


Which produced this quick flip-chart sketch recently in response to the question "what about realism?"   Life confronts us with realities. But consciously or unconsciously we can choose the story we tell ourselves about those realities and the action or reaction we choose.

And perhaps the best (and funniest) exploration of these ideas is the Shawn Achor TED talk. 


Turning Point

She had spent
Most of life
Anxious and agonizing--
As it turned out.
She even sensed
It at the time,
The senseless
Waste of all
That energy.
So she decided
She would stop.
And did.
That was
The turning point.

 Judy Brown, June 25, 2005
P 60, The Art and Spirit of Leadership