There are specific behaviors that one can consciously practice to gain optimism. In the opening to a multi-part podcast, Steve explores two of these behaviors: worst case scenario and valuing partial solutions. Consider how you can model these for your learners and guide them through exploring their own application. These are days that can test our optimism.
Steve [Intro]: 00:01 Hello and welcome to the Parent Wellbeing and Student Learning During School Closures Edition of the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast. With the extended closing of schools, we as parents have entered into a new territory regarding what we have known as “school learning.” With this and future podcasts, I’ll look to share my experiences as a teacher, educator, parent, grandparent, and continuous learner.
Steve : 00:34 Building optimism, part one. Several years ago, a book titled “The Power of Optimism” by Alan Louis McGinnis triggered new understanding for me. I had always approached optimism as a trait. In other words, people were optimistic or they weren’t. McGinnis instead identified 12 behaviors that can be consciously practiced. His work was reinforced by a book called “Learned Optimism” by Martin Seligman. It made sense, if there was such a thing as learned helplessness, a person could develop a set of helpless behaviors, then it seems I could learn to be optimistic. Learned optimism. I’ve attached a YouTube video for you on the book learned optimism in the lead into this blog. So McGinnis identified this list of 12 behaviors as being behaviors I could consciously practice and implement to increase my optimism. He stated, one, optimists are never surprised by trouble. They value partial solutions. They believe they have control over the future and they plan regular renewal.
Steve : 02:03 Optimists have heightened powers of admiration. They interrupt their negative trains of thoughts. They are cheerful even when they can’t be happy. Optimists have an almost unlimited capacity for stretching. They built plenty of love into their lives and they share good news. Optimists use their imaginations to rehearse success and they accept things that cannot be changed. In this first podcast, I’m going to address just the first two items on McGinnis’ list. I’ll come back in a later podcast to visit other items on his list. Number one, optimists are never surprised by trouble. This was probably the most surprising item I’ve found on McGinnis’ list. It surprised the most. I had imagined that optimists kind of walked around with their heads in the clouds ignoring problems, but instead I found that optimist are actually highly skilled at using a strategy called worst case scenario. You see, they explore, what’s the worst thing that could happen. And then they have a plan either for tackling that worst thing or for changing their plan.
Steve : 03:25 The thinking goes like this. What if I enrolled in this more challenging course at school? What’s the worst thing that could happen? I guess it would be that I could fail and have to make it up next year or enroll in a less challenging course next year. Maybe the worst thing is I’ll have three less credits and what’s the impact of that? Does it mean I might have to go to summer school? If I need to go to summer school, can I handle that? If it means I didn’t graduate on time, that’s probably a risk, a worst case that I’m not going to take. And I would change my plan and my strategy. You see worst case scenario improves risk-taking. If I know that I have a plan for what I’ll do, if the worst thing happens, then I can put all my energy into causing the desired outcome that I want.
Steve : 04:35 You see pessimists never think through what the worst case scenario is and therefore they are always worried and concerned about what the worst thing is that might happen and that concern disrupts them from putting their energy in to reaching the positive outcome that they desire. Suppose your sixth grade, middle schooler is pondering whether or not they should try out for the jazz band as they enter the middle school. When you play through what’s the worst case scenario, the worst case scenario would be that I don’t make it as I think that through, if I don’t try out, for sure, I’m not going to make it. And if I do try out and I don’t make it, what will my plan be. If my plan is that I’ll continue to practice and get better and try out the following year, or my plan is not being in the jazz band, I will look at another activity that leaving Mike decide what that activity will be. So now I’m going to begin to practice and I’ll walk into that jazz band tryout, knowing that should the worst case scenario happen, I have a plan that I’ll be able to implement. That’s likely to give your child the confidence going into the tryout.
Steve : 06:02 The second item on McGinnis’ list is that optimists value, partial solutions. You see most big problems or huge goals are made up of little items that are achieved along the way. When the pessimists thinks of solving one big problem and they come up with an initial strategy or plan, they frequently say, “yeah, but.” “Yeah, but that’s not going to do this, or yeah, but that’s not going to solve this.” And because they can’t answer their yea, but questions, they don’t get started or move further. The optimist knows that if they accomplish one of the pieces, they can celebrate it and that pushes them on to accomplishing the next piece. Task by task piece, by piece, they move towards the achievement of their goal. I had a great example of this years ago, when a friend of mine who was a minister in an inner city church, decided that she was going to open a food kitchen to feed hungry and homeless people.
Steve : 07:14 And initially she raised enough money to be able to open her soup kitchen every Wednesday afternoon. And so she announced she was ready to open every Wednesday afternoon. And I have to tell you the question was in my head, but fortunately I didn’t say it out loud. What are people going to do about the other days of the week? But some people did ask her and her answer was, I don’t know, but I’m figuring eating one day a week is better than not eating at all. And from the day that she opened that soup kitchen within a month, she was open three days a week. And within that first year, she was open six days a week with a carry out meal that people could take with them on Saturdays. You see, she valued parcel solutions. And she jumped in and got started without knowing how she would be handling the most difficult pieces further down the road.
Steve : 08:11 And today that soup kitchen serves about 5,000 meals a month. It’s similar to a student who begins studying in a course and looks at the difficult material in the back of the text. They’re seeing that difficult material and not knowing how they’ll do it. And it stops them from being successful on the initial piece of work. It’s a student seeing everything that needs to go into an art portfolio in order to apply to a university program and stopping from accomplishing their very first piece that will start off their portfolio. It’s seeing a report that needs to be written and being unable to start the report because you’re seeing the problem of the entirety, knowing that there’ll be problems you’ll face along the way, not knowing what those problems are and not having a plan to deal with them. While we’re discussing optimism, it’s important to understand that one must keep balance in mind. It’s being optimistic and at the same time being realistic in knowing the hurdles that are necessary in order to
reach the goal, but not to be overcome by those hurdles.
Steve : 09:38 Can you find ways to share with your children where and when you practice looking at the worst case scenario and celebrating partial solutions? You might identify a time when you were less than optimistic and you had to consciously think through the optimistic behaviors that you had to implement. Consider how you might ask the questions that assist your learner in examining what is the worst case scenario? What is the worst thing that could happen considering the goal or problem that they’re about to tackle? In most cases, students can realize that that worst case scenario while initially is frightening, frequently, isn’t fatal. As your learner is planning some larger project or event, assist them in identifying what the first partial solution will be and how they might celebrate it, and then plan for the next piece consciously practice your optimism. Thanks for listening.
Steve [Outro]: 10:58 Thanks again for listening, you can subscribe to Steve Barkley, ponders out loud on iTunes and Podbean. And please remember to rate and review us on iTunes. I also want to hear what you’re pondering. You can find me on twitter @stevebarkley or send me your questions and find my videos and blogs at barkleypd.com.