Extensive research shows the remarkable benefits of optimism span both mental and physical wellbeing, including reduced stress, improved immune function, and increased happiness and productivity. Dr Martin Seligman’s ground-breaking work discovered the thinking style that helps people not only bounce back from adversity faster but also capitalize on their successes.

When things go badly

When faced with a setback, our negativity bias may lead us to catastrophise or see the situation as worse than it is. Try looking at the situation through the eyes of The Optimistic Thinker and ask yourself three questions:

  1. Is it really permanent? A pessimist might think “tradies are always unreliable”, “the apprentice is always so forgetful”, “costs are always going to increase”, which makes you shrug your shoulders, say to yourself “what’s the point in trying?”. Challenge yourself and check – “what’s temporary about this situation?” Not all tradies are unreliable, the apprentice is learning (and does remember his lunch!), and some costs have stabilised and are likely to stay that way for a while.
  2. Is it really pervasive? A setback often feels all-encompassing, affecting every aspect of life or business. “The contract cancellation will affect the whole business”, “the delay will set back all the projects”, “their late payment will make us default on our loan re-payments and I’ll lose the truck”. Optimists have a more balanced perspective, recognising the limited scope of the setback. They can see where a failure is specific to a project, and can point to other things in their lives that are still going well.Pervasive-Optimistic-Thinking
  3. Is it really personal? Pessimists tend to internalize setbacks, blaming themselves and engaging in negative self-talk – which is a real handbrake to performance on the job. “I’m useless at planning”, “what an idiot”, “I stuffed up the numbers again”. Optimistic thinkers, on the other hand, look for external factors that may have contributed to the situation. They don’t dodge all responsibility for their actions, but they do consider other circumstances that played a role. Maybe the client kept changing their mind, the supplier’s pricing was hard to decipher, or you rushed the quote this time so you could get on to the next job?


Thinking like an optimist helps beat defeat and boosts your mood, energy and perseverance.

When things go well

When something positive happens, avoid being a dismissive pessimist. Embrace the reasons behind the success that are permanent, pervasive, and personal. Pessimists tend to view successes as temporary, situation-specific, and driven solely by external factors. For example, “We’re ahead of schedule because we got lucky with the weather (temporary), this particular site is easy to access (specific) and the client is super chill (external).”

This type of thinking prevents you from recognizing your skills and strengths that can be applied to other areas of life. The optimistic mindset seeks the three Ps: permanent, pervasive, and personal. “I (personal) always (permanent) think ahead and adapt to changes, so I can manage multiple projects at the same time – and also still have a great holiday when the weather is dicey (pervasive).”

This style of thinking helps build positive momentum, confidence, and self-efficacy, providing you with vital energy to take on the next challenge.

The Optimistic Thinker:

  • When things go badly, ask yourself how permanent, pervasive and personal is this really?
  • When things go well, look for the reasons that are permanent (always), pervasive (everything) and personal (me).


© The Wellbeing Works 2023

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