How to be optimistic regardless of the situation: use the 3 Ps

A few years back I read a book called “Learned Optimism”. It argued that
optimism is something you can learn. It’s a good book, but what it really
comes down to are the three Ps: Personal, Pervasive, and Permanent.

Pessimistic thinkers (a category I fall into too often) tend to think that
set backs are personal (it’s my fault I failed the test), pervasive (I am a
bad student), and permanent (I will never be a good student). Optimistic
thinkers treat setbacks just the opposite: they don’t think they are
personal (I bet everyone had a hard time with that test), pervasive (I do
well normally on tests) or permanent (it’s only the first midterm, I can
make up for it later, and in the worse case I can drop the course and take
another in the summer). Likewise, optimistic thinkers tend to think
successes are personal (I did well on that test because I worked really
hard) pervasive (I am going to ace this term) and permanent (I always do
well in school) while pessimists don’t think successes are personal (I must
have gotten lucky to get such a good mark), pervasive (I will likely do
badly in my other courses) or permanent (I still am not a good student).

As an exercise, if there is an area where you want to be optimistic, try
applying the three Ps. You can use it to undermine your pessimism and
amplify your optimism. For example, if you want to lose weight, but are
pessimistic about doing it, look for areas where you are applying the three
Ps. Look for statements like “I am” or “I will never” or “Everytime”. They
are all signs of the three Ps. If you are pessimistic about losing weight,
you might think “I am a fat such and such” (personal), “I am not good at
getting dieting and exercising and anything to do with that” (pervasive)
and “I will never be able to get in shape” (permanent). You need to tackle
that thinking by looking for examples where you can see the opposite, where
you can find reasons to be optimistic. For example you might think instead
“I am not a fat person, I am someone who was once fit and I can be again, I
can be that person I once was and there is nothing stopping me if I put my
mind to it”, (personal) and “there are lots of good eating and fitness
habits I have already: I just need to work on expanding them” (pervasive),
and “body weight is something anyone can change, there is nothing permanent
about it if I put my mind to it” (permanent). In going from being
pessimistic to optimistic you need to attack your negative way of thinking
using the three Ps and replace that with a positive way of thinking, also
using the three Ps. Once you can do that, it will be easier to motivate and
energize yourself to actually make the changes that align with your new way
of thinking.

New years and New Year’s Resolutions are coming up. Use this to help you.
All the best to you. You will do great: I am optimistic about that.
Sent from my BlackBerry Handheld.

4 responses to “How to be optimistic regardless of the situation: use the 3 Ps

  1. Mauricio de Sa

    Excellent! Thank you Bernie for all goodness you posted throughout the year. Your blog has introduced me to more interesting subjects and readings than I could possibly imagine. I work at IBM as well, and often see you at the mobility centre. I was always shy to introduce myself, but I’ll try in the new year 🙂
    I wish you a great 2011 filled with good health and peace. Cheers,

    • smartpeopleiknow

      Hi Mauricio! Drop by in the New Year and say hi and we can have a chat. In the meantime, happy holidays!

  2. I tend to go with both high and low. One of my sayings not sure if I incepted it or it came from somewhere is “Expect the worse and hope for the best, but don’t be on the edges”

    Knowing or expecting the worse is part of risk management and is a very useful skill. Especially if you can find ways of mitigating them so they’d be reduced.

    Hoping for the best practically means you know how it is supposed to end up (i.e. setting a goal). Without it you just become wishy-washy.

    Finally, not being on the edges allows me to actually function in the real world. This is the part that would define the person.

    If you are too close to the pessimistic edge, then you’re going to be a worry-wart and hold everyone back (e.g. airport security)

    If you are too close to the optimistic edge, you’re going to lose all sense of reality (e.g. most people that vote based on promises by politicians), or you may just try to get to that point by any means possible (e.g. Hitler)

    I try to keep myself in the middle with a few directives which I follow similar to the 3 virtues of a programmer.
    – hurt no one (either myself or others)
    – have fun (life is too short not to)
    – grow (thinking for yourself, using common sense etc)

    And thinking of your 3 Ps the above 3 would help out. For example in terms of exercise (which personally I don’t like to do anyway). I just play some dancing games on the Wii instead.
    a) I hurt no one
    b) I have fun
    c) I lose weight (sort of a growth :D)

    And if I apply the 3 virtues of a programmer
    a) Laziness – This is the least amount of work I can do
    b) Impatience – This gives me immediate feedback (score wise)
    c) Hubris – Gotta beat my last score or unlock every secret.

    Anyway hope your NYR’s are good. I personally just try to GTD rather than having NYRs.