The science – An optimistic explanatory style (way of thinking) is strongly related to wellbeing and performance.
The solution – Learning to be more optimistic in your thinking will likely increase your wellbeing and performance.
Some people are ‘glass half empty’ people, and chances are you know a couple. On the other hand, some are ‘glass half full’ and chances are you know a couple these people as well. Most people sit somewhere in between, and their views of things are impacted by a range of situational and personal dispositional factors.
Optimistic individuals are positive about events in daily life. In the research carried out regarding this perspective, positive associations have been found between optimism and physical and mental wellbeing. Optimistic people tend to be more resilient to stress, and are inclined to use more appropriate coping strategies. Here is just a brief snapshot of some of these research findings:
- Optimists have better immune functioning and fewer illnesses, and recover from illness and injury faster.
- A pessimistic explanatory style is significantly associated with mortality – 19% greater mortality over 30 years.
- Optimists are more rational and realistic than pessimists.
- Pessimists are less resilient in difficult circumstances that optimists.
- Optimists use more problem-focused strategies, information seeking, and positive reframing.
Let’s look past these more general findings and look at one particular area: sales. To quote Peter Schulman:
Studies conducted with two insurance companies, for example, found that sales people with optimistic explanations went on to sell significantly more insurance and were less likely to quit than those with pessimistic explanations. The optimistic salespeople sold 35 percent more insurance than the pessimists. Also, the pessimists were twice as likely as the optimists to quit by the end of their first year.
Other academics (e.g., Weiner, 1985; Badovick,1990) have also found a relationship between optimistic attributions and sales performance. Why do optimists sell more than pessimists? One important clue to the answer is how the individual handles adversity. As mentioned above, optimists use more problem-focused strategies. Another reason is that people want to do business with people they like. And that means happy, upbeat salespeople are more successful than their sour colleagues. Optimism is helpful not only because it leads to projecting a happy attitude, but also because it results in confidence – one of the most crucial selling skills. Expectations of success or failure are often self-fulfilling prophecies.
The moral of this story is that ability and motivation are not always enough in the absence of optimistic expectations, particularly in situations that require persistence to overcome adversity, such as in jobs like sales. The links go from optimism increasing wellbeing, to increased wellbeing positively impacting performance (such as sales or productivity). Luckily, there are plenty of books and courses available to teach how become more optimistic – it’s a skill that can be learned.
For more information:
Seligman, M. E. P. (2006). Learned optimism: How to change your mind and your life (2nd ed). New York: Vintage Press.
Schulman, P. (1999). Applying learned optimism to increase sales productivity. Journal of Personal Selling and Sales Management, 19, 31-37.