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The Three Ps of Pessimism

Updated: Mar 30, 2021

(pssst! If you want to listen to this instead of read it, skip to the bottom of the blog for the audio!)

Being optimistic is not about fake positivity, ignoring harsh realities or putting a smile on everything. Even the most optimistic of people have days where they are sad, lonely, angry, scared or exhausted. Optimism is the feeling of hope or confidence that things will be good or work out ok in the future. It’s believing – often in spite of the evidence of the past – that things will work out ok.

Martin Seligman, often referred to as the Father of Positive Psychology, advises looking at whether you have an optimistic or pessimistic mindset by looking at the ‘3Ps’. Do you view events as permanent, pervasive and/or personal?

Personalization is thinking that the problem is yourself, instead of considering other outside things that have caused it. Realising outside factors have caused a bad situation allows us to reduce the blame and criticism we put on ourselves AND it prevents us from thinking it is only happening to me! It stops us thinking ‘this always happens to me’ about events like traffic jams, broken phones and lost keys. It helps us create a better perspective. If you find that you often take bad things personally and/or think that they are wholly because of your actions, a good counter is to create a list (mental or physical) of all the contributing factors, divided into internal and external. Ask yourself are these issues also causing problems for other people as well as you?

Permanence is thinking a bad situation will last forever. ‘I will always be in debt!’ ‘I will never be able to escape this shitty job’. Those who think setbacks are temporary have improved ability to accept and adapt for the future. Invest some time in trying to realistically analyse when you think this bad situation could be over. By really thinking about what you can do to help it finish more quickly, you’ll also feel more in control.

Pervasiveness is thinking a bad situation applies across all areas of your life, instead of only happening in one area. People who think bad situations are pervasive feel that all areas of their life are impacted. It’s taking that one negative area and acting as though that applies to everything. You know the good old be grateful trick? This is a great situation for it. Either just think of the positive things, or actively choose to be grateful for them, that have nothing to do with this bad situation.

When you find yourself responding negatively to life events, checking in with the 3Ps can really help you transform your perspective. That doesn’t mean that the life event isn’t negative in and of itself, but focussing on the fact that it is temporary, impersonal and limited in scope can help you stop thinking about it so negatively.

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