The Importance of Optimism in High Performance Training

Sheryl Kline Cardiff, M.A.
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     I read an interview recently in the New York Times between Kobe Bryant and Arianna Huffington. They seemed like an unusual pair to be having lunch together, discussing their past accomplishments and brainstorming out loud what the future may hold. Their stories and inspiration, however, peaked my interest for the entire two-page spread, and the unlikely pair had something in common. They are very optimistic people, always learning from successes AND failures, forging ahead to the unknown, and never losing faith in their vision.

Optimistic people are more successful, than pessimistic ones. Martin Seligman, Ph.D. has compiled the research to prove, across many many disciplines, this is true.  Seligman found that, although pessimists are likely more accurate than optimists; this pessimism can be a great disadvantage. Here’s why. Successful people fail. Michael Jordan had bad games when he was a boy and was told he was not good enough to play on his high school basketball team. After hearing ‘You aren’t good enough.’ over and over, the pessimist packs it up and possibly moves on to something else. The optimist does not give up in the pursuit of his dream. He acknowledges defeat, learns from it, dusts off and works harder.

For the optimist, Seligman says, “Defeat is a challenge, a mere setback on the read to inevitable victory. They see defeat as temporary and specific, no pervasive.” “Pessimists”, he says, “wallow in defeat, which they do see as permanent and pervasive.”  Does this mean we will achieve elite status or accomplish every dream we have for ourselves? No, but the mindset of the optimist will allow us to achieve to the very best of our ability, and maybe a little more.

There are a couple of things you can do if optimism is not innate to you. First, control how you talk to yourself, and don’t let defeat define your you or your capability.  If you miss a shot, choke during an important event or have a bad day, accept your disappointment, give yourself a short time to mourn it, and know that you can achieve better. The defeat is not you; it was something that happened in a period of time. Second, get back to the present. Now what do I need to do/what adjustments do I need to make to get better and help make sure that this does not happen again? Another part of being present is to be conscious and in the moment of what you are doing.  There is no worry about past failures or what could happen if…  Believe you are capable and worthy of a great performance and focus on one or two things you have control over that are important to executing your task.