As we are confronted almost daily with a word that many have grown tired of hearing – UNPRECEDENTED, I find myself recalling the wisdom of Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride – “You keeping using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” Whether you are in agreement with the application of this dreaded adjective or not, New Year’s is a traditional time to take stock and make decisions.

Please know that I am not opposed to using any New Year, even as 2022, bears down on us, as a time to make positive changes. The intent of my humble musings is to encourage commitment to action, regardless of the date on the calendar.

Allow me to share an insight from an earlier career working in fitness centers, both as a sales consultant and a trainer. The die-hard “gym rats” (not a term of derision, to my way of thinking) always dreaded the first couple of months of the New Year. Scores of “newbies” would descend on the equipment, monopolizing the machines while grunting and groaning in search of that elusive, fit individual hiding deep within them. By the end of February, however, most of the smoke had cleared, and we were back to the “old faithful” regulars at the gym.

This fanaticism is rampant in the ads on TV, radio, and the blogs/tweets/updates on the Internet. Lose weight, transform your business, embrace success, take charge, be all you can be, etc., etc., etc. And you are all but guaranteed success in any of your endeavors as, after all, it is the New Year! It’s all New! You can have a Fresh Start! It has to work, right?!

Well, yes and no. Bless those dear souls who, with all the integrity and resolve they can muster, make these Resolutions. I recall a tweet from someone just before the arrival of the new year that noted they had 2 days left to achieve the results they had committed to 363 days before! Well-intentioned, yet not likely to be realized in the next 48 hours!

So, you may well ask, what’s my point?! Simply this: To borrow a well-known phrase from Madison Avenue, “Just Do It!” Start it right away, whether in the shadow of the New Year’s fireworks, the excitement of spring blossoms, the oppressive heat of the dog days of summer or the grey skies in the dead of winter. Yes, even while experiencing these “unprecedented” times! To quote the title of one of my favorite books by Barbara Sher, “It’s Only Too Late If You Don’t Start Now!”

And, once you’ve started, stay with it! I remember a Nike™ T-shirt emblazoned with this pithy phrase – “Just Doing It.” Two steps forward and one step back (the way I typically advance) is still a net gain of one step. Remember that success is more often the result of “grit” than anything else (another favorite blog of mine on what I call the “secret sauce for success”).

Make your resolution, whenever and however you can and, once you have done so, whether these times are unprecedented or not, get caught “JUST DOING IT!”

snowman

As the holiday season bears down on us all, the pressing questions for the job hunter/careerist are: Should I take a break? Is anything really going to happen in the job market before the New Year? Don’t I deserve a respite from this brutal process and relax by the fire with eggnog?

Well, YES and NO. To be sure, taking some time during the holidays to enjoy the delights of the season and appreciate those around you is an excellent idea. This is certainly NOT the time to pull out the plastic and run up a tab with the retail industry, but having a sensible, enjoyable holiday time with family and friends is something you DO deserve.

That being said, please allow me to make a case for maintaining a certain level of activity between now and the waning din of the noisemakers on the first day of the New Year.

  1. There is no better time to network.

The holidays represent an extraordinary number of opportunities to see and be seen by family, friends and folks from all over. It would be foolish to not consider all of this “face time” as a resource to increase what I like to term “Positive Visibility.” Please understand the importance of your attitude and approach, however. Nothing can put the damper on a festive gathering more quickly than someone who is pumping the crowd for job leads, seeks to opine on their sad employment situation, or who has the “deer in the headlights” look of someone whose career is stalled! Be sure to focus your contact with others in a positive manner, seeking information, advice and referral to investigate and consider alternatives. Remember that most individuals truly would like to help, but are at a loss on how to be of assistance. Allow them the luxury of simply giving advice rather than 1) feeling pressed to deliver that killer contact for you or 2) staring through you to someone, anyone on the other side of the room. My experience has been that, in such cases, most people will choose Door Number 2!

An additional word of warning: be sure that your solicitation of “next step” options and advice is not the first question on your list, nor is it the only item of conversation. Ease into these topics. Ask how they are doing, what is new in their lives. Show honest, genuine interest and concern for them as people, not as networking contacts. Also, help them realize that you are in the investigation mode, not desperate for a pay stub or a lead to that next great promotion.

  1. Many decision makers are at home, not on the road.

One of the challenges of job search and networking is navigating through the maze of individuals who need to participate in any decisions being made. In mid-August, for example, it is often difficult to get the right people in the same room (or even in the same state) long enough to give their opinions, since Smitty is at Myrtle Beach and Ms. Jones just left for New England. This is not as true during the holidays!

Indeed, many people will be staying nearer to home, traveling less and becoming more accessible. This is certainly true in the present world events! Although staffing issues may not be at the top of the holiday list, there are still decisions being made, perhaps even more quickly due to the availability of decision-makers. In addition, the end of the year is often the time when budgets are being reviewed and finalized, and new business plans are starting to take shape. Remember: The best time to get connected is always the present!

  1. Your competition may be reduced.

This is one of my personal favorites! Many of your fellow careerists may decide that this is simply not the time to think career at all (for all of the reasons we recounted earlier) and mothball their power suits until the New Year. As a result, there is high potential that your competition will dwindle. Why not take advantage of this “thinning of the field” to forge ahead? As others decide not to take any action until early next year, your well-placed voicemail, LinkedIn update, tweet or short e-mail may improve your standing. In addition, it’s much more effective to maintain a level of activity than attempting to ramp up again on January 2nd!

  1. Most individuals are more open to being helpful at this time.

Admittedly, this will not always be the case. Certainly I would not recommend an intense networking contact at the checkout counter on Christmas Eve! It is true, however, that many are more full of the “milk of human kindness,” more willing to share and provide honest insights and assistance to a well-placed question or request. Particularly when you engage them as someone seeking to learn from them, not press them for “answers” to your career issues.

  1. Pace yourself!

Now that I’ve made my unassailable arguments for burning up the snow-covered pavement with your career development, I want to introduce the other side of the issue – we ARE in the Holidays! Be sure to take time to care for you and yours, to be thankful for what you do have, to count your blessings. And perhaps, even sip a flagon of eggnog at least once in front of a crackling fire! Sounds good, doesn’t it?!

Happy Holidays and best wishes to you and yours!

Here’s a humble introduction, dear readers, to what I like to call The 3 E’s of Employment, as well as the significance of getting to the final “E”.

E #1 –  EXPERIENCE

How do you get experience? By doing it, of course. We are constantly gathering experience in one area or another. It is often a requirement for a position – “5 years experience in a related business setting,” etc. Doing things over and over again will creates experience. You can then tell people, “I have 10 years experience in retail management,” or in whatever you have been doing. My critical question here is – “Just because you have done it before, does it mean you want to do it again?!” Many would be pleased to eliminate what they have done from consideration of what they want to do next in their career. Translation – “Been there, done that, have the T-shirt.” Experience has value, but it’s simply not enough.

E #2 – EXPERTISE

Expertise comes from experience. In most situations, if you do something long enough, you get good at it. That’s Expertise, whether it is in use of specific software applications, calming upset customers or trouble-shooting an ailing piece of equipment. You can’t help but improve if you do it day in and day out.  So, all of this Experience you are compiling will eventually promote some level of  Expertise as well. But wait! Just because you are good at it, does this mean that you must do it for the rest of your working life (I think you know the answer!)? I have solid math skills, but trust me, you don’t want me to do your taxes! Just as is the case in Experience, Expertise has limited value as well.

E #3 – ENTHUSIASM

NOW we are talking! Enthusiasm (the etymology is Greek, literally en theos, or “in God”) is where we all should be targeting our energies. Similar to what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (chick-sent-me-hi) calls “Flow,” Enthusiasm has us so involved in what we are doing that we often lose track of time and space. To describe it simply as work does not do it justice! We are, to use a highly quoted word, “engaged” in what we are doing. It has value to us, employs much of what I have called  in earlier blogs our “Best Stuff,” feels significant and worthwhile. And, when combined with the first two E’s, creates the Perfect Storm of Employment.

Look at what happens when we put these 3 E’s together – I do it a lot, I am good at it , and I am passionate about it!

What a great way to work (if we can even call it work)! The practical application of this should be a wake-up call to both employers and employees.

Let’s seek out opportunities for all of us to get the most out of our working relationships.

And banish “Hump Day” from our calendars!

Reverse shift

A cartoon I have in my files shows two forlorn individuals dressed in tattered business suits walking down the street. One turns to the other and opines,I think it IS who you know . . . and I know YOU!”

Although networking is always a key topic in job search and career development, precious few of us really enjoy the process very much. We do, however, grudgingly admit that it must be done if we want to get anywhere in our work and life.

I have discussed at some length WHY networking is important and even provided some guidance on WHAT to do with that precious contact when you land it. Seeking information, advice and referral is the key to developing longer-term, mutually productive relationships that create “win-win” relationships rather than bold-faced influence peddling.

Let’s discuss HOW to make this magic happen. And, at the same time, to suggest a counter-intuitive technique to increase your opportunities, something I like to call “Reverse Networking.” What is this, you may ask? Before I answer that question, let’s talk a bit more about the WHY behind such a back-to-front technique.

Some time ago I read an extraordinary book, Working Identity by Dr. Herminia Ibarra. She cited a somewhat obscure reference to a 1973 research project by a then sociology graduate student, Mark Granovetter, who discovered that most of the jobs discovered by networkers (people seeking contact), came from individuals with whom they had very infrequent contact. Granovetter called this “the strength of weak ties.” The numbers are staggering: of people finding work through personal contact, 17% found jobs through people they knew well (strong ties), 55% found their new positions through individuals they did not know as well (weak ties) and 28% were successful through contacts that they barely knew or had not had contact with in years (weakest ties). This means that over 8 of 10 opportunities came from people that they would not typically consider! Granovetter also found that these people often found better positions for more money. The application for career and personal development is obvious!

Ibarra’s chapter titled “Shifting Connections” talks about this phenomenon as being critical in career change, although I would argue that it is equally useful in employment search and career development. If we continue to connect only with people who know us well, we get caught up in what Ibarra termed as “blinds” and “binds,” keeping us away from new experiences and opportunities.  If you continually run in the same circles, you will keep running into the same folks, the same ideas, with little opportunity for Serendipity, the surprising and exciting opportunities that seem to come out of seemingly inconsequential events. This is what Dr. Richard Wiseman, author of The Luck Factor, talks about when he says that “lucky” people not only maximize chance opportunities, they create them!

How does this relate to networking in general, and “Reverse Networking” specifically? We typically think of networking from the center out, starting with people we know well, are comfortable with, know of us and about us and network out in concentric circles to the outer fringes. There’s nothing wrong with doing this, by the way. However, I suggest adding Reverse Networking to your repertoire as well. The “reverse” theme implies just what it says – let’s start from the outside and work our way in!

Sounds good, eh? There is a potential glitch in the plan, however: To quote one my clients when faced with this concept, “If all of the good leads are in these ‘weak ties,’ how do you find these people?”

A great question! Well, I think I may have found them for you! Who has not seen you in a long time? Or, with whom have you lost touch from your deep, dark past? Your list could include: old neighbors, former coworkers, high school and college teachers, college roommates, distant relatives, former bosses, acquaintances from service groups, associations, hobby organizations, places of worship, etc. If you have not spoken to someone in some time and that person is likely to remember who you are, that’s a good place to start. The use of social networking applications like LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, etc. can be particularly helpful in finding out “whatever happened to…?”.

One more word of warning, however. If you aren’t well versed in the science of networking (that is, seeking Information-Advice-Referral, not working them exclusively for your personal advantage), DON’T CALL ANYONE! Be sure you know how to connect with people positively and effectively, establishing solid, active contacts for collaboration and shared insights. Otherwise, you will soon find your email in spam, you will be “unfriended” and your calls blocked (and rightfully so!).

Please allow me to add one more insight:  Remember that your “weaker ties” have “weaker ties” of their own!

Dizzying, isn’t it?

Those of you who have never experienced the classic detective show “Columbo,” starring Peter Falk, are missing out on an extraordinary resource for your career development. I can see him now. Rumpled raincoat, stub of a cigar, tousled hair and knitted brow, driving around in his old Peugeot looking befuddled. Yet, from 1971 to 1978, in 55 episodes and 14 specials, Columbo always seemed to crack the case wide open. What in the world, you may say, does this have to do with me and my employment search?

Quite a bit. Let me introduce you to what I like to call the “Columbo style” of job hunting – four key principles that you can apply to increase your opportunity for success.

Columbo always had insight into what was really happening.

If you recall, the episodes started by showing us “who done it,” someone who had carefully prepared an airtight alibi. No one thought that person could have possibly committed the dastardly deed. No one, that is, but Lieutenant Columbo. Somehow or another, he seemed to have an inside track on the events before him.

You also have insights. You know that many of the better opportunities are hidden from public view, will never be acknowledged in the traditional market (Internet, newspapers, recruiters, etc.). You also know that contact with others to seek information, advice and referral can be a powerful and highly successful way to tap into this hidden market. Furthermore, you know that most of the individuals you network with are inclined to feel that the only way they can help you is to either provide you with the Lead of a Lifetime, or hire you themselves. If they can do neither, they feel that they have nothing to offer. You, however, understand that through networking with others, they can become more informed about you and your interests and can begin to connect the dots between your skills and abilities and opportunities they may encounter in their work and life. Not to mention what you can learn from them!

Columbo never tipped his hat on this insight.

He never barged right into the obvious “Where were you on the night of . . .?” questions. He often spent considerable time talking around the issues at hand, to the point of having conversations that seemed totally unrelated to what was really important. One of his typical questions, “What did you pay for those shoes?” even became a famous catchphrase for comedians and impersonators, even though he uttered it only once.

How does this relate to the job search and career development? Just because you understand more about the process of networking than your contacts doesn’t mean you should approach them that way. For example, you should not start out by saying something like “I know you think the only way to help me is to offer me a job, but I know that you’ll come up with contacts, advice and insights that you’re unaware of that will really help me.” Such a lead-in is a recipe for failure. You want to start with friendly, conversational topics that tap into the individual’s interests and activities, then move on into seeking his or her perspective on things. I have a solid article on this very topic called “PowerNetworking Questions” you may want to read.

Columbo was willing to be confused to get the answers he needed.

As a matter of fact, more often than not he appeared to be totally perplexed. Of course, that gave the criminal false confidence that this disheveled character was no threat at all, a misinterpretation that the lieutenant used to his advantage every week!

You need to be confused, too. As a matter of fact, you are confused, whether you believe it or not. According to Barbara Sher in Live the Life You Love, most people are natural problem-solvers, relishing the opportunity to figure things out, give advice and share their perspective. You can use this “I don’t know what I am doing” technique to admit to your contact that you are not sure what your next steps should be, wonder if your resume represents you properly, are not at all sure you are identifying the best fit for your skills, etc. Most individuals will rise to the occasion of your “confusion” and provide assistance.

Columbo was always seeking to “put two and two together.”

As he managed to extract the facts from the criminal, he took full advantage of these gems to bring the offender to justice.

The application? OK, I admit that you’re not trying to catch a murderer or throw the keys away on a blackmailer, but you are seeking to get the key information necessary to take action towards a meaningful, satisfying career. That is where you need to be constantly investigating, considering and applying what you learn as well as continually tapping into the people and resources that are all around you to be successful in your career development.

Skip the raincoat. Forget the cigar. Comb your hair. But stay confused!

It worked for Lieutenant Columbo!

Adding Optimism to your Toolbox…

Posted: March 11, 2021 in career

Optimism is a “gift that keeps on giving.” Not surprisingly, research has shown that optimistic people tend to be more well-adjusted, handle pressure better, tend to perform better, have less health issues, etc. We all know people like this, individuals who always see the opportunity, the up side of a situation, the glass as half full. I once heard a comedian say, “I don’t care if the glass is half empty or half full. I just want to know who is drinking it, and do I have to pay for all of it?!”

With all of the positives coming from an optimistic approach to life, the question remains: Can anyone, even those who are not predisposed to “look on the sunny side” become more optimistic?

According to Dr. Martin Seligman, the answer is a resounding “YES!” He started with early behavioral research that demonstrated the existence of “learned helplessness” – an attitude of giving up, taking no action out of the belief that nothing would improve anyway, so why bother? Rank pessimism is the result. Admittedly, some levels of pessimism can be useful (thinking through “worse case scenarios,” for example), but left unchecked it becomes a recipe for disaster.

Seligman shares his findings and his recommendations for reworking our “explanatory style” in his excellent book Learned Optimism. As helplessness can be learned (by and large, children often start out naturally optimistic and hopeful), so we can all “learn” optimism. His prescription for this change in our approach can be addressed through a process characterized by the letters ABCDE.

  1. Identify the ADVERSE event or situation.
  2. Understand what your initial BELIEFS are about the event.
  3. Lay out the CONSEQUENCES of taking direct action as a result of these beliefs.
  4. DISPUTE these beliefs to challenge their accuracy. Or, DISTRACT yourself from focusing intently on these natural responses to avoid a “knee-jerk” response.
  5. ENERGIZE yourself to take positive action based on your new interpretation of the situation.

Over the course of time practicing these techniques, the disputation and energization towards a more positive response can become more rapid and effective, even becoming your “default” response.

At this point, Congratulations! You’ve LEARNED OPTIMISM!

Here’s a humble introduction, dear readers, to what I like to call The 3 E’s of Employment, as well as the significance of getting to the final “E”.

E #1 –  EXPERIENCE

How do you get experience? By doing it, of course. We are constantly gathering experience in one area or another. It is often a requirement for a position – “5 years experience in a related business setting,” etc. Doing things over and over again will create experience. You can then tell people, “I have 10 years experience in retail management,” or in whatever you have been doing. My critical question here is – “Just because you have done it before, does it mean you want to do it again?!” Many would be pleased to eliminate what they have done from consideration of what they want to do next in their career. Translation – “Been there, done that, have the T-shirt.” Experience has value, but it’s simply not enough.

E #2 – EXPERTISE

Expertise comes from experience. In most situations, if you do something long enough, you get good at it. That’s Expertise, whether it is in use of specific software applications, calming upset customers or trouble-shooting an ailing piece of equipment. You can’t help but improve if you do it day in and day out.  So, all of this Experience you are compiling will eventually promote some level of  Expertise as well. But wait! Just because you are good at it, does this mean that you must do it for the rest of your working life (I think you know the answer!)? I have solid math skills, but trust me, you don’t want me to do your taxes! Just as is the case in Experience, Expertise has limited value as well.

E #3 – ENTHUSIASM

NOW we are talking! Enthusiasm (the etymology is Greek, literally en theos, or “in God”) is where we all should be targeting our energies. Similar to what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (chick-sent-me-hi) calls “Flow,” Enthusiasm has us so involved in what we are doing that we often lose track of time and space. To describe it simply as work does not do it justice! We are, to use a highly quoted word, “engaged” in what we are doing. It has value to us, employs much of what I have called  in earlier blogs our “Best Stuff,” feels significant and worthwhile. And, when combined with the first two E’s, creates the Perfect Storm of Employment.

Look at what happens when we put these 3 E’s together – I do it a lot, I am good at it ,and I am passionate about it!

What a great way to work (if we can even call it work)! The practical application of this should be a wake-up call to both employers and employees.

Let’s seek out opportunities for all of us to get the most out of our working relationships.

And banish “Hump Day” from our calendars!

Virtual Egg Nog?

Posted: December 2, 2020 in career
Tags:

As the holiday season bears down on us all, the pressing questions for the job hunter/careerist are: Should I take a break? Besides, we’re socially distancing, anyway! Is anything really going to happen in the job market before the New Year? Don’t I deserve a respite from this brutal process and relax by the fire?

Well, YES and NO. To be sure, taking some time during the holidays to enjoy the delights of the season and appreciate those around you is an excellent idea. This is certainly NOT the time to pull out the plastic and run up a tab to summon the Amazon van, but having a sensible, enjoyable holiday time with family and friends is something you DO deserve, even if it’s virtual.

That being said, please allow me to make a case for maintaining a certain level of activity between now and the waning din of the noisemakers on the first day of the New Year.

  1. There is no better time to network.

The holidays represent an extraordinary number of opportunities to connect with family, friends, and folks from all over. It would be foolish to not consider all of this “face time” as a resource to increase your “Positive Visibility.” Please understand the importance of your attitude and approach, however. Nothing can put the damper on these times more quickly than someone who is accosting others for job leads, or who has the “deer in the headlights” look on the Zoom screen of someone whose career is stalled! Be sure to focus your contact with others in a positive manner, seeking information, advice, and referral to investigate and consider alternatives. Remember that most individuals truly would like to help, but are at a loss on how to be of assistance. Allow them the luxury of simply giving advice rather than 1) feeling pressed to deliver that killer contact for you or 2) providing you with a lead to your next job. Help them to help you by seeking insights, not solutions.

An additional word of warning: be sure that your solicitation of “next step” options and advice is not the first question on your list, nor is it the only item of conversation. Ease into these topics. Ask how they are doing, the masks they prefer, what is new in their lives. Show honest, genuine interest and concern for them as people, not as networking contacts, particularly as many may be in the grip of pandemic anxiety. Help these kind individuals to realize that you are in the investigation mode, not desperate for a pay stub or a lead to that next great promotion.

  1. Many decision-makers are at home, not on the road.

One of the challenges of job search and networking is navigating through the maze of individuals who need to participate in any employment decisions being made. There are times when it’s difficult to get the right people in collaboration long enough to give their opinions, since Smitty is at Myrtle Beach and Ms. Jones just left for New England. This is certainly not true during most holidays and even more so now!

Although staffing issues may not be at the top of the holiday list, there are still decisions being made, perhaps even more quickly due to the availability of decision-makers. In addition, the end of the year is often the time when budgets are being reviewed and finalized, and new business plans are starting to take shape. Remember: The best time to get connected is today, not tomorrow!

  1. Your competition may be reduced.

This is one of my personal favorites! Many of your fellow careerists may decide that this is simply not the time to think career at all (for all of the reasons I recounted earlier) and mothball their power suits and polished resumes until the New Year. As a result, there is high potential that your competition will be less. Why not take advantage of this “thinning of the field” to forge ahead? As others decide not to take any action until early next year, your well-placed voicemail, LinkedIn update, tweet or short e-mail may improve your standing. In addition, it’s much more effective to maintain a level of activity through the end of the year than attempting to ramp up again on January 2nd!

  1. Most individuals are more open to being helpful at this time.

Admittedly, this will not always be the case. Certainly I would not recommend an intense networking contact on Christmas Eve! It is true, however, that many are more full of the “milk of human kindness,” more willing to share and provide honest insights and assistance to a well-placed question or request. Fine tune your networking muscles and keep exercising them.

  1. Pace yourself!

Now that I’ve made my unassailable arguments for keeping on with your career activities as you watch Hallmark movies, I want to introduce the other side of the issue – we ARE in the Holidays! Be sure to take time to care for you and yours, to be thankful for what you do have, to count your blessings. And perhaps, even turn off your cell phone and sip a flagon of eggnog in front of a crackling fire! Sounds good, doesn’t it?!

Happy Holidays and best wishes to you and yours!

bicep

As is often the case when we encounter truths, the concept of “strength-based organizations” seems to be obvious. Why would any business ask their people to do something in which they are less than an expert? To cite a quote (inaccurately, I am sure) from a Marcus Buckingham article I read years ago, “Companies should stop trying to make people things they aren’t and use them for what they are.”

So true, yet many organizations are struggling to simply stay afloat, much less seeking to devote the time and energy they would like to in developing the talent of their workforce. What’s the answer?

Here’s the shorthand for this quandary – YOU discover where you excel, what inspires and enthuses you, what causes YOU to lose track of time and space, etc., and then find a way to do it for a company! If it doesn’t exist there, maybe it’s time to start looking. Or, if you “in transition” (what I refer to as “Free Agency”), invest time in discovering your “Best Stuff” (another one of my terms, and an area where I may be of assistance) and find somewhere to do it!

This can create a Win-Win scenario for all involved. The employer gets the very best Return On Investment from you as a worker, and you won’t be calling Wednesday “Hump Day!”

Image

“Forget Your Troubles” was written by Ted Koehler in 1950 and memorialized by Judy Garland. In the context of career development and personal growth, this seems easier said than done. Job Search, Career Advancement, Life, etc. is full of discouragement, rejection and an abundance of “No’s”.

Come on! “Get happy” just doesn’t cut it.

Actually, however, it’s pretty good advice. Research by psychologist Martin Seligman (author of two books on my reading list in http://www.goodreads.com, Learned Optimism and Authentic Happiness) has shown that “getting happy” can actually be done! As a new graduate with a bachelor’s degree in psychology in the 60s, Seligman assisted in behavioral research using animals to determine how they learned to avoid unpleasant situations. Without going into the details (don’t worry, the subjects weren’t hurt!), conditions were created where the animals were unable to avoid a stressful situation. In other words, regardless of what they did, they experienced an unpleasant response. It reached the point where they would do absolutely nothing, since what they did changed nothing! This was described as “learned helplessness” – in humans, something we may call “pessimism.” Seligman eventually started to wonder that, if we can “learn” to be pessimistic, maybe we can learn to be optimistic, too (enter his first book, Learned Optimism).

Now some of us seem to be naturally optimistic, able to see the glass as half full. I’ve always liked the comment of the comedian, “I don’t care if the glass is half empty or half full, I just want to know who was drinking it and do I have to pay for all of it?!” Quite honestly, these cheerful types can annoy me at times. Aren’t they paying attention to what’s happening? At times, I naturally fall on the side of the pessimists – that seems more realistic to me. Then, when things happen, I’m either absolutely right (“I knew it wouldn’t work!”) or pleasantly surprised (“Wow! I didn’t expect this!”).

This mindset is not very successful, however, and my faith walk has been very helpful here (I speak from personal experience.) Seligman did research on pessimism and came up with three distinct dimensions for pessimism: permanence, pervasiveness and personalization. Here is how they work:

Permanence means when something goes wrong, it will stay wrong, never to correct itself. Learn to live with it, because it’s here to stay. When you fail at something, the results of this experience will affect you for the rest of your life. Deal with it.

Pervasiveness means when something goes wrong, it’s only the beginning. There is more to come, so you better get used to it. When one company does not return your calls, no one will. You may as well give up. To quote a song by a favorite bluesman of mine, Buddy Guy: “I wonder where the next one’s coming from?!”

Personalization means that when something goes wrong, you deserved it because of what you did or who you are. Don’t expect anything nice to happen to you because you are not worthy of such an experience. You didn’t get that promotion because you are a rotten human being, lucky to be employed at all.

These statements sound over the top, don’t they? Yet many of us practice them regularly. By the way, if you register with Dr. Seligman’s website, http://www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu, you can complete an assessment to identify your scores on these factors, along with all sorts of other measures. You do need to register, but the assessments are free.

I don’t want to stop here, however. Seligman, a major contributor to what he calls “Positive Psychology,” offers a step-by-step approach to retooling your thinking (challenging what has been called “stinkin’ thinkin’”). To do this process justice, you really should read his books, but here is the process in abbreviated form. The five steps follow the alphabet – ABCDE.

A – Adversity: This is the offending event. I was just turned down for the promotion I was counting on.

B – Belief: My natural response, what this situation makes me think. I’m not a good candidate, I’ll probably end up being a greeter at a large retail establishment. I may as well get fitted for an apron now.

C – Consequences: How my beliefs translate into actions. Since I’m obviously not a serious candidate for any quality position, I might as well give up and take a paper route.

D – Disputation: Here is where the “magic” can start. I challenge B and C. Am I really a waste of space, with no real options? Seligman says that we need to learn to argue with ourselves. His Learned Optimism book gives some very practical guidance on how to do this.

E – Energization: This is where you turn the “argument” with yourself into renewed action. I am not a waste of space. Although I regret not getting this opportunity I’ll find out why, improve my performance and redouble my efforts until I’m successful.

There will be days when you just don’t feel like it. That’s normal, especially for those of us with pessimistic tendencies. Do it anyway. “Fake it until you make it.” You can make a habit of practicing your new optimistic outlook, even if it isn’t your natural style. I have! You’re likely to be very pleased with the results.