How to turn a pessimist into an optimist

It’s a golden oldie in the positive psychology world, but I still swear by Dr Martin Seligman’s process on how to turn a pessimist into an optimist (check out his book Learned Optimism).

Dr. Martin Seligman's "Learned Optimism" teaches us how to turn a pessimist into an optimist

Dr. Martin Seligman’s “Learned Optimism” teaches us how to turn a pessimist into an optimist

The founding idea is that pessimism is escapable if you know how.

Dr Seligman points out a simple causal relationship between what we think and what we feel.

Our thoughts dictate how we feel. Our feelings influence how we act. Our actions have consequences. Those consequences create a new set of thoughts. The thoughts we have again and again over time become the beliefs or the mindset that create the lives we lead.

The good, in fact, the absolutely great news, is that we can learn how to turn a pessimist into an optimist.

By doing so we can improve a whole range of life, health and success outcomes!


  1. Think of a situation that is current but not drastic. Describe it in a few sentences.
  2. Is your description factually accurate? Re-write it until you have the most neutral possible description.
  3. Write a list of all the thoughts you have about this situation and yourself in this situation.
  4. Go through and highlight the most powerful negative thoughts. Making a list of evidence for and against these beliefs.

Ask yourself:

  1. What is the effect of the negative beliefs in terms of how I feel, what I say and what I do?
  2. What would happen if I changed them to something more empowering? [You may also like to note the effects of positive beliefs you’ve identified in terms of what you feel, say and do.]

Check in with how you feel in your body, mind and spirit after this disputation.

Repeat this process with any subject matter where you want to change your mindset.

Notice when you’re making sweeping negative statements. In fact, that’s a hallmark of pessimistic thinking and won’t serve you.

Read more: What is a mindset?