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A Glass Half Full

I thought it might be useful to look at the topic of optimism.

‘Learnt Optimism’ seems to be a new buzz phrase, and it’s great that this is being focused upon in these times of radical change in the world around us. We know that an optimistic outlook - ‘my glass is half full’ thinking has so many benefits to our health and wellbeing, and also to our performance and our abilities to step out in faith and to give things a go.

It’s great to be reminded that we can teach ourselves to become more optimistic. But this is not a new idea. Through his extensive research into cognitive behavioural patterns, Aaron Beck (an American Psychologist considered to be the founder of cognitive therapy) way back in the first half of the last century identified this idea, although it may have been ‘presented’ slightly differently - fundamentally it was the same idea.

Beck developed his style of therapy based upon his beliefs that a person's experiences very much depend upon their cognitions or thoughts. Beck identified that most individuals’ distress originates from common thinking errors. He encouraged his clients to memorise these commonly identified thinking errors, and he postulated that, in doing so, his clients would be able to identify these tendencies within themselves, thus giving themselves a choice - to continue in these patterns or to exchange them for new more positive ones. The result being that the client would choose to look at their ‘glass’ differently. 

Let’s have a look at some of the most common thinking errors/tendencies:

  • All or Nothing thinking: Placing experiences in one of two categories; these being in opposition to one another – e.g. absolutely awful or ‘no good’ vs. completely immaculate or ‘perfect’.
  • Overgeneralising: Making sweeping statements or inferences e.g. ‘I cannot control my anger’.
  • Discounting the positives: Deciding that if something good happens, that it can’t possibly be anything valid or important – e.g. refusing to take pride in getting good grades because ‘everyone gets similar grades or probably higher than me’.
  • Jumping to conclusions: Focusing on one aspect of a situation, and making a judgement based upon what that aspect means e.g. ‘I haven’t heard from my friend recently’ – therefore concluding – ‘because they don’t like me and I’m a useless friend’.
  • Mind Reading: Believing we know what another person is thinking, usually with very little evidence e.g. ‘I know she is thinking that she doesn’t like me’ - evidence - because she has never spoken to me.
  • Fortune-telling: Believing that we know what the future holds, and ignoring all other possibilities e.g. ‘I haven’t heard back about my uni application yet’ – foretelling – ‘I won’t be offered a place now or even I’ll never get offered a place anywhere’.

Have a look at these and honestly reflect on how many of these thinking patterns you have engaged in. It’s ok - we all do it! And we all have the capacity to be distressed by our thoughts. The idea here is to become aware of them, and then we have a choice - to see our glass differently.