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Ep. 10 — The first draft of the formula for optimism


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Hello and welcome to The Optimistic Perspective Podcast.

This is David The Optimist and today is some sort of a special episode because this is the 10th episode and I want to celebrate this small achievement.

In order to celebrate it, I decided to share with you something that I’ve been working on for a while — I think more than 6 months — and I have what I would call a first draft of the formula for optimism and I decided to share it with you.

But just have in mind that whatever I’m about to share with you may change or shift to something else in the next year, or in the next years, until I decide to publish it in some sort of content, which may be a book, or at least that’s what I have in mind right now.

This is the 10th episode and I’m really happy I got here and I hope I’ll be able to continue my work up until the 100th episode and even more than that, why not.

But for today we’ll be discussing about the formula for optimism.

I have in front of me some sort of a framework about this formula or, I would also say, a framework about how we get to be optimistic or pessimistic, and I will share with you every step of this framework:

  • there’s something that happens to you,
  • there’s something that you tell yourself about what happens,
  • there’s words that you use,
  • there’s all this experience that then create, on your side of the journey, create a more pessimistic or optimistic reality.

I’m going to share it with you right now.

Everything starts with an experience and this experience can be anything. It can be the fact that you were born in a certain country, or it can be the fact that you were raised in a certain neighborhood, or it can be the fact that you got to meet a certain people and not the other kind of people.

That is the experience.

To give you a simple example that is part of our daily lives, just imagine that you are out with your friends and you decide to go home because you’re tired, because you have to work tomorrow morning, whatever the reason you have and you decide to go home.

As soon as you leave the place, the restaurant, the bar, whatever it is, in 30 seconds, 1 minute, it starts raining and the rain itself is the experience.

There’s nothing you can do about rain, it’s raining, it’s there, it’s happening, it is the experience. But what you tell yourself about the rain is something that you can control.

On one hand we have the experience and then we have the story that we tell ourselves about the experience.

In this example with the rain, you can tell yourself a story in which you are negative and that may sound something like, “Oh, it started raining, I wanted to walk back home for 30 minutes but now that is raining I have to get a cab. I wanted to spend some time, thinking about some things, and it will have taken me 30 minutes, 20 minutes, whatever, enough for the walk. But I can’t do that anymore because it started raining” and that’s the negative story that you tell yourself about the experience.

On the other hand, the positive story could be something like, “Oh man, it started raining, it didn’t rain for more than a month, I’m so happy it started raining because now I can enjoy my walking experience a bit better. I was thinking about thinking some things connected to work on my way back home, but now not only I can do that but I can also enjoy the rain while doing that. That’s so amazing, I can do something related to work while I also enjoy the rain, that’s pretty cool.”

So that’s another story about the same experience, the rain didn’t change, the rain is the same but the way you decided to look at the rain, the experience you had, has changed.

So that makes a lot of a difference, the story that you tell yourself about the experience makes a whole lot of difference because that’s how it usually starts.

The challenge is that the story that you tell yourself is influenced by so many things. Is influenced by the way you used to tell stories in the past and the way these stories were influenced.

These stories that you tell yourself are influenced by the way you were raised, where you were raised, the neighborhood, the parents that you had, the relatives that were part of your lives, maybe some sisters, brothers, maybe some cousins, maybe some aunts, uncles, and the beliefs that you got from this environment that you were part of.

The story that you tell yourself is influenced by your background, by your culture, it’s influenced by so many things that unless you become aware of the story you tell yourself, you’re going to keep telling the story again and again and again and again and you’re going to leave the same life again and again and again and again.

If you’re telling yourself a negative story and you don’t become aware of it, then you’re going to keep telling yourself the same negative story again and again.

There’s one more thing when it comes to these stories that we tell ourselves and it goes beyond beliefs. It goes beyond parenting, it goes beyond environment, it goes beyond all these things — in a way it’s the foundation of all these things — and I’m talking about words and language and vocabulary.

I think it’s a bit more connected to culture than beliefs and environment and parenting.

Whatever beliefs you have right now, some of them are from your parents for sure, some of them are from your friends, some of them are from your school and teachers and so on.

But, for example, the beliefs that you have from your parents come with a certain language, with certain words. When your parents say that “money is the root of evil”, these words, specific these words, are connected to the beliefs that you have.

So for example, money, root, evil, these words are the words that your parents use to describe their belief and there’s also the same words that may be their parents, so your grandparents, used to describe their beliefs.

We kind of use words in a way to describe the stories that we tell ourselves and also the same words are in a way part of the beliefs that we have.

These words can be part of the beliefs that we have for more than 100 years because if you have the beliefs from your parents, and your parents have their beliefs from your grandparents, and your grandparents have their beliefs from your grand-grandparents and so on.

It can go back in time for a few generations.

What makes the difference in how you tell your story comes down to words — it goes past the experience itself.

The experience can be a really nice experience but if you don’t have the words to describe the experience in a nice way, in a positive way, but you have the words, that are more common to you, the negative words, to describe the experience, then it will be easier for you to use these negative words to describe the experience.

I’m not saying that you use words like “I hate the rain”. No, but you may use words such as “I dislike the rain” or “I don’t like what’s happening” because you’re more used to these kinds of words compared to “I love that it started raining” or “I’ve never seen such a beautiful rain after a whole bright and sunny day”.

Maybe you don’t have that kind of language or that kind of words because nobody spoke to you in this kind of manner, so it’s easier for you to go to the negative side of the experience.

Until now we have the experience, which there’s nothing you can do about it, then we have the story with tell ourselves about the experience and that is under your control. You can change the story yourself.

But in order to do that, you have to get a bit behind the story and a bit behind the experience and understand the words that you’re using to create your story. These words are in a way part of the environment that raised you, that brought you to the real world.

We’re going to experience story and words. Then, the words that you use are important because they kind of get to define the mindset that you have, which can be an optimistic mindset or a pessimistic mindset.

When it comes to kind of how we get to choose these different experiences, which is “I’m going to have a positive experience” or “I’m going to have a negative experience”, which is I’m going to have an optimistic outlook or a pessimistic outlook.

It comes down to the words, as I said, but I discovered in a book, it’s called Learned Optimism by Martin Selingman that there are three KPIs and there’s: pervasive, permanent and personal.

If something happens and these three KPIs are negative, which means:

  • if it’s personal, it’s how you see yourself in that story
  • if it’s permanent, it’s how the story influences your life, which makes it permanent
  • it’s pervasive, it means it’s going to influence everything around you.

If the rain starts and you go to tell yourself, “Oh man, it’s my fault that it started raining”. And then you’re going to tell yourself, “Then I won’t be able to do anything anymore because I’m all wet”. And then you’re also going to say to yourself, “And because it started draining, then I’m not going to be able to concentrate tomorrow and because of that, I can’t have the phone call with my friend and I may lose my friend”, you get into a downward spiral, then all these KPIs are negative and you go in a pessimistic outlook about life.

But if these three KPIs are good, then you’re going to tell, “Okay, it started draining, but there’s nothing I can do about it. I may get my clothes wet, but okay, it’s just rain. There’s nothing more than that.”

When you say there’s nothing more than that, it’s not going to influence any other aspect of your life. It’s just that your clothes are wet.

When you also think about the permanent side of these three KPIs, then if just your clothes are wet, then you’re going to go back home and they’re going to dry and then that’s it — it’s just an experience.

What pessimists usually do is that they take the experience and they tell the story in such a way that they multiply the experience beyond the experience itself and they create all these kind of smaller experiences that they also multiply and then they get to live a life that they see as negative, but this life that is negative is made out of so many small negative experiences that it’s hard to see the cracks in between the experiences.

If you look at it, we start from the experience, then we get to the story and we use certain words to describe these stories that are connected to our beliefs, our environment, the parenting, maybe the culture.

These words are strongly connected to these things and maybe go beyond them back to some generations ago. The way we use these words, that we have available, are going to help us have a pessimistic or an optimistic outlook, pessimistic or an optimistic perspective, pessimistic or an optimistic view about life.

Being aware of all these can help you shift to a more optimistic perspective about life.

The question would be: How can one go from being pessimistic to being optimistic?

The three KPS that I just shared with you, if you become aware of the way you tell your story and you start to use different words about your experience, to describe the experience, and you force yourself to create a new story around your experience, then eventually you’re going to build the habit to tell the story with a bit more positivity.

If you listen to the eighth or ninth episode, there I talk about how our brain is structured for building habits and how we can use the prefrontal cortex and the striatum to build these habits.

If you got to a point where you keep telling yourself the same story, using the same words, over and over again, then that’s a habit.

And you can change that.

One of the things you could do is to pay attention to the words that you’re using and then force yourself to replace the negative words of your story with some positive words.

If you go out with your friends and you have to go and it starts raining, maybe you start the story with, “Oh, I started draining. I don’t like this.” and as soon as you realize that you’ve started telling yourself a negative story, that’s when you can change the story.

I believe that’s a really important part of how you get to change the way you look at what’s happening in your life.

And making these small changes eventually will take you to a place where you can build the stories of your life in a positive way, in an optimistic way.

And I’m going to stop here.

So this is kind of a short and first draft of the formula for optimism. For sure is more than that. And for sure, I have more than that to share.

But I would leave it for when I decide to make it public and for when I have the entire big picture available, because right now, even though I may have more than I just shared with you, I still believe it’s not enough for helping people shift from pessimism to optimism in a healthy way, not in an extreme way, because I don’t believe in extreme optimism.

I believe that sometimes pessimism is good, or at least the realistic perspective is healthy and there are moments when we need the realistic perspective. So I would also have that in mind.

But for now, this is the framework, or the formula, or whatever you want to call it. For now, I don’t really have a name, but let’s say it’s formula for optimism.

It’s how I’m looking at things right now. It’s not the way I used to look at things two years ago or maybe one year ago. But after all these reading and studying and sharing some ideas with others, I reached the conclusion that what I just shared with you is how things work in most cases.

And I believe it’s really valuable. There are some studies behind it that I didn’t get to share with them because I just wanted to share the framework and the structure and the thoughts and thinking behind it.

Thank you for listening.

I hope you found value in today’s episode.

If you want to become more optimistic and learn what optimism is all about, join the Optimistic Tuesday Newsletter. Go to and I’ll send you one newsletter every Tuesday with insights about optimism.

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Thank you for listening.

With love and optimism,

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