Opening Session

Opening Session

Opening speaker answers the question: Why be an optimist?

Kentucky School Advocate
March 2017 
By Madelynn Coldiron
Staff writer
Attitude is everything, Bruce Christopher said in opening KSBA’s annual conference Feb. 24. And he should know.

Christopher is a clinical psychologist who prefers to describe himself as “attitude-ologist.” He believes that a positive attitude produces success in life, and outlined why it pays to be an optimist, or a positive person.
Research has shown that pessimists get sick more often than optimists, have a higher divorce rate and tend to make less money in life than optimists – though success does not equal money, Christopher said.

Optimism isn’t necessarily innate to sunny individuals, but it can be learned, he said. “It’s a skill you practice,” because it’s a choice. Christopher said attitude is “how you talk to yourself, how you think.” This in turn produces an emotional response, or a mood.

People he termed “awful-izers,” who go negative when faced with a bad situation – he used the example of a traffic jam – establish neural pathways and habits that escalate negative feelings. In the same situation, an optimist controls his thoughts, acknowledges he can do nothing about it and makes the best of the situation.

For educators, it’s important to realize that a person’s attitude is contagious, Christopher said: “The attitude I give to you, I get reflected back to me in performance or behavior. Imagine how you can apply that to your family, with the people you work with, students.”

That attitude is found on two levels, he noted – in the content of what is said and the feeling with which it is said. “And all the papers I’ve read on the subject indicate that the feeling level lingers longer: people remember how you made them feel even more than what you said.”

Pessimism is created when reality does not match expectation, he said, calling it “the mismatch effect.” How you deal with life when everything doesn’t go your way “is what reveals your character,” he explained. A pessimist sees failure as something pervasive, personal and persistent, while an optimist views it as something that can be changed if it reoccurs, is temporary, and can be learned from.

Christopher shared with conference attendees “the secrets” of being an optimist. Those who are optimists “leap through their fears,” he said. “When I think of an optimist, I don’t think of someone that’s afraid, do you? I think of someone who’s leading the charge at the head of the pack. But the opposite is true; it’s counterintuitive. Optimists are people who are terrified, but they do it anyway. They’re brave because they’re afraid.”

The natural inclination is to stay in a comfort zone and turn away from the fears that are at the edge of that zone. But if you take a calculated risk and break through fear, “you have a tremendous release of energy … and your comfort zone expands in size and volume – it gets larger, and this is what we call confidence,” Christopher said. “Confidence is the behavioral expansion of your comfort zone. When you leap through your fears, your fears disappear.”

A somewhat surprising secret of optimists is that they actually find freedom in failure, he said. “They fail all the time. Want to know why? Because they’re trying so many new things. They’re OK failing because they know failure is the stepping-stone to success.”
View text-based website