Choosing Between Optimism and Pessimism

4 min read

Choosing Between Optimism and Pessimism


On my run this morning I was reflecting on you, my readers and asking myself “What do they need?”

What do you need?  You, the real estate professionals who serve your clients ethically, accept the discomfort of entrepreneurship, continuously learn both internal and external skills and adapt to this crazy world that we are all living in.

With the most recent wave of COVID, many people are struggling right now.  That might be you, it might be someone close to you and inevitably, it is some of your clients and colleagues.

Writing a rah-rah article right now doesn’t feel right and won’t help, yet my sense is that some of you need a shot of something positive and inspiring.

These thoughts led me to my bookshelf and there, dancing on the shelf, begging to be picked up, was Learned Optimism by Martin Seligman. I first read this book during my coach training over 15 years ago.  I reread it about a year into the pandemic, a time that I was digging deep into mindset to help myself, my family and my clients find a way through this crazy mess.

In his book, Dr. Seligman abdicates that we can change our perspective from pessimistic to optimistic and that doing this will help us be healthier, happier, and more successful.  This might be an important idea for many people right now.  One of the reasons that people are struggling with mental health during this fourth wave of COVID, is that we may be starting to lose hope for a return to the world we know and love.  Perhaps COVID and its social restrictions are more permanent than we hoped.    There, I said it.  It sucks.

I don’t actually think it’s true, but I am no longer as sure.   None of us are.

So how can optimism help us be healthier, happier, and more successful?  And is now the time to work at this? 

I think so. If we don’t need it for ourselves, it might help us support other people.

He calls the difference between optimism and pessimism our explanatory style.   And, he says it is learned.

There are three characteristics that differ between the two explanatory styles:

  1. Permanent (pessimist) versus Temporary (optimist)
  2. Generalized (pessimist) versus Specific (optimist)
  3. Internal (pessimist) versus External (optimist)

Let’s look at some examples in real estate.

Permanent versus Temporary:

Example: Imagine you have been talking with a seller prospect for several months, you have performed your listing presentation and he has decided to list his property with another brokerage.

The pessimists internal voice, “I always lose out on listings – why even bother trying to find sellers prospects if I can’t earn their listing in my presentation?”    Permanent

The optimists’ internal voice,” This is disappointing, but I will get the next one.  This is an opportunity to review my presentation and make some improvements.”  Temporary

Generalized versus specific:

Example:   You are presenting your buyers offer in competition with 10 other offers.   The listing agent hasn’t been communicating with you and you are frustrated with the process. In the end, the sellers accept a different buyers’ offer, and you feel like you weren’t treated fairly by the listing agent.

The pessimist concludes that listing agents who under list homes don’t treat buyers’ agents fairly and you don’t want to do any more offers.  Generalized

The optimist is also disappointed but recognizes that this one agent might be treating buyers’ agents unfairly but many listing agents are ethical and have a process that is transparent and fair, and they look forward to getting their buyer into a home soon.   Specific

Internal versus External:

Example:  You’ve been working with some buyers for over six months, and you’ve had 6 unsuccessful offers.   It’s been a long and tiring process and now the buyers say they have changed their mind and are going to rent instead.

The pessimist would think that it had something to do with them.  I wasn’t good enough, I didn’t push hard enough, they don’t like me.   Internal

The optimist would recognize that the buyers just weren’t committed to buying a home and this is likely why they have been unsuccessful up to this point.  They would feel disappointed but at the same time, relieved that they wouldn’t be wasting any more time.   External

I think we would all agree that the optimist is going to be happier and more successful from the above examples.   What about dealing with COVID?

Permanent versus Temporary:

Pessimist: there is going to be another wave and it might even be worse.  We are never going to get back to normal.

Optimist:   this current wave is challenging but it seems to be moving us closer to herd immunity and the scientist are really learning a lot about vaccines.   Soon we will begin to get more freedom and have fewer sick people in our community.

Generalized versus Specific

Pessimist:  there will continue to be new variants and they will defy our vaccines.

Optimist:  this variant is challenging the vaccines, but scientists are learning to adapt the vaccines and they will be able to protect us from new variants.

Internal versus External

Pessimist:  Why is this happening to me.  I’m tired and fed up with it all. I can’t deal with it anymore.

Optimist:  COVID is a challenge for all of us and I will keep trying to find a way to live a meaningful life.

Shifting from Pessimism to Optimism

Albert Ellis developed the ABC model for cognitive therapy, and it can help us find a way from pessimism to optimism.

Ellis’ premise is that A – activating event doesn’t lead to an emotion but to a B – belief and that this belief leads to C – consequences (which could be negative emotions).

Beliefs are often buried in our unconscious and therefore unknown to us but if we create awareness around those beliefs, we can question them, adapt them and shift to a more optimistic view.

To learn more about Ellis’s ABC model, go here.