Applying Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace

Build your Optimism

We all suffer setbacks, but we deal with them differently. Optimists are resilient—they endure setbacks graciously and bounce back from them quickly. Because they don’t become discouraged in the face of challenges, they are able to ride out the storm.

To cultivate optimism in yourself:

  • Identify your explanatory style
  • Change how you talk to yourself
  • Make promising comparisons
  • Care for yourself and others

Identify Your Explanatory Style

Optimists think differently from pessimists. They use a contrasting explanatory style—a different way of explaining events and making sense of their lives. To be an optimist, according to Dr. Martin Seligman, pioneering researcher on optimism and author of Learned Optimism, is to see the causes of the bad things in your life as limited—in time, in scope, and in how much you are to blame for them—and to see the causes of the good things as broad in duration, in scope, and in how much credit you can take for them.

If an optimist loses a job, she will view her loss as affecting only the professional arena of her life—and even that only temporarily, and she probably won’t blame herself. On the other hand, if a pessimist loses a job, she will think of the loss as something that messes up her entire life—perhaps permanently, and she will kick herself mercilessly for blowing it. To discover whether you have an optimistic explanatory style or a pessimistic one, use the Identifying Your Explanatory Style.

How Pessimists Explain Events?

To pessimists, the bad is enduring, contagious, and their fault, while good is fleeting, limited, and nothing for which they can take credit. In Seligman’s words, pessimists see the causes of problems as “permanent, pervasive, and personal.” When something goes wrong in a pessimist’s life, he may be quick to jump to a conclusion like “I never do anything right.”

The Causes of Bad Things

Optimists and pessimists have diametrically opposite explanations for bad circumstances. To optimists, they are temporary, isolated events which they may not even have caused—flukes. For pessimists, they are permanent, or nearly permanent, patterns of defeat that will bleed over into other areas of life and for which they alone are responsible.  To pessimists, failure is contagious—failure in one area will lead to failure in another, while to optimists, success is contagious.


Taking too much responsibility for failure can be discouraging. But taking too little can deprive you of opportunities to make things better. How can you improve aspects of yourself that you never admit need improving? Try to take a realistic view of how responsible you are for troubles. Don’t blame yourself for what isn’t your fault. And don’t pass by opportunities for self-improvement.

Transform How You Talk to Yourself

You can transform pessimistic thinking into optimistic thinking by arguing with your negative thoughts, as outlined above.

First, identify whatever thoughts you may have that the bad in your life is permanent, pervasive, or personal and that the good in your life is limited in time, scope, and how much credit you can take for it. Such thoughts are the ingredients that make up a pessimistic attitude.

Challenge them with questions: What evidence is there that my problem will last forever? Have I had other problems like this? Did they last forever? How do I know the problem will bleed over into other areas of my life? Is it really very likely that this bad event is a sign from the Universe that it’s all downhill from here? Am I the sole cause of this event? Remember that pessimistic thinking over-generalizes the bad. Look for signs that things aren’t all bad and that those that are bad won’t stay that way.

Make Favorable Comparisons

Imagine yourself seated at a table with friends. In front of you is set a glass of your favorite drink—filled half way. Is your glass half full or half empty? How you see it may depend on the glasses of those around you!

If their glasses are full, you will probably compare yours to theirs and feel relatively deprived—half empty. But if their glasses are empty, you will probably compare yourself to them again and find yourself relatively fortunate—half full.

How positively or negatively you view yourself and your life depends on your point of comparison. Knowing this gives you a powerful tool for increasing your optimism. You can make yourself feel optimistic and contented by comparing your circumstances to those of others not similarly privileged.

Increasing Your Optimism – Boost your drive, determination and ambition to succeed

Care for yourself and Others

Optimism does not come entirely from within. One secret to optimists’ resilience is that they typically develop trusting relationships that provide them with support in time of need. The burden of internal stress and external trouble can be crushing if you must bear it alone. Confiding your struggles to a supportive friend eases their weight and gives you the peace of knowing that if worse comes to worse you have someone to fall back on.

But the benefits of friendship don’t come just from having others care for you. Caring for others and helping them in their times of need gives you an emotional lift and provides you with a sense that you are a part of Something that is superior than yourself. Of course, spending time with friends is also fun, and having fun is a great way to relax and focus your attention on the good things of life!

Confiding Your Struggles

If you are under severe stress or have been consistently stressed over a long period of time, you may be in danger of falling into depression. It may help to talk about your stress with a counselor or other mental health professional as well as with friends or family members.