Author: Nancy Pridgen ~ Manager of Program & Product Development for the Leadership Development Institute at Eckerd College

Optimism is a key characteristic of the entrepreneurial mindset and an important scale on the Entrepreneurial Mindset Profile (EMP®). People who score high on this scale tend to see the bright side of life. They generally expect that things will go well for them—that people will do the right things, that challenges can be overcome, and that their own needs will be met.  So if you’re more of a “Negative Nellie” than a “Pollyanna,” what can you do to cultivate positivity? Here are three practices:

Manage Your Perceptions

Martin Seligman, author of Learned Optimism, describes three aspects to a person’s “explanatory style.”  The first is “permanence.” Optimists tend to see tough situations as temporary (“Gosh, this is challenging right now, but it can change.”) versus the pessimist who views them as permanent obstacles that can never be overcome (“This is going to last forever and undermine everything I do.”).

The second dimension is “pervasiveness.”  While pessimists tend to make universal statements when something goes badly (“I’m a horrible public speaker.”), optimists make specific statements (“I didn’t give my best presentation today.”).

The third dimension is “personalization.”  When experiencing negative events, pessimists will often internalize it and blame themselves (“I never do anything right.  This is all my fault.”) whereas optimists tend to externalize blame and realize other factors might be involved (“I still have a lot to learn about this.  I can do better next time.”)

Be Aware of Negative Self-Talk

It has been estimated that the average person has close to 60,000 thoughts a day, many of which are negative.  Are you overly harsh on yourself or others? Do you put yourself down or focus on failures? Constant negative messages can damage not only a person’s performance but his self-image as well.  It’s important to keep track of your inner dialogue when faced with adversity and look for patterns. Try to interrupt these negative thoughts and concentrate on something else. Analyze the thoughts.  Are they really true? Do they hold up under scrutiny, or are you just going down a negative path without looking at the full picture. Write down your negative thoughts and replace them with positive ones.

Use Humor

With the ever increasing demands on today’s employees, work environments can be incredibly serious.  Projecting a little humor into situations that appear to be wrought with pessimism can go a long way in changing everyone’s mood.  In 1980, after losing to Jimmy Connors 16 times in a row, Vitas Gerulaitis finally beat him. Gerulaitis celebrated his win by poking a little fun at himself:  “And let that be a lesson to you all. Nobody beats Vitas Gerulaitis 17 times in a row.” Do your best to lighten things up when appropriate. Having a little fun with your colleagues can foster connectivity and a common desire to work through tough issues amicably.