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How to Become a More Optimistic Student

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This article is sponsored by ESCP Europe.

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Philippe Gabilliet, author of "Eloge de l'optimisme" (Saint-Simon, 2010), MEB Academic Dean & Professor in Leadership at ESCP Europe

It can happen, in any student’s life, that things take a turn for the worse: falling behind with coursework, failing an assignment, or simply losing a textbook or similar mishaps do happen. And it then becomes quite difficult to carry on being the “always positive” student we are supposed to be in front of friends and classmates.

Except that “being positive” is not the point. Most of the time, always trying to look on the bright side of life appears to be very difficult, energy-consuming and somewhat pointless. As an alternative to “positivity”, why not try another way: “optimism”.

Positivity Vs optimism

What is the difference between “positivity” and “optimism”? That’s an easy question to answer. Whatever happens, when faced with the worst life can bring, the “positive” person will ask “What is good about this?” – trying to find the cloud’s silver lining, however hard that may be. The “optimist”, on the other hand, will simply ask: “What can I make of that NOW?”!

Being an optimist has nothing to do with being naïve or wearing rose-tinted glasses. It’s just a different way of thinking: focusing on resources and their most creative use. Optimism is an approach we can adopt when faced with a problem – be it our own or someone else’s.

In practice, therefore, an optimistic state of mind consists of tackling problems, setbacks, tensions and possible failures in the light of four principles, each of which we can work through by considering certain key ideas:

1.  It is my strengths that help me find a way out, not my weaknesses.

In this situation, right now, what are my main strengths, my qualities, the resources of any kind that I can draw on to seek and explore the possible solutions? Where can I find additional resources: information, support, etc.? Is there anything positive about this situation, for me or for anyone else? Would any of my weaknesses be useful if the environment were to change? How?

2.  My strengths are only effective when applied to the things I can change.

To make effective use of my strengths, I need real leverage. What are the points where I have no room to maneuver (and so can avoid wasting my energy on them)? What points, or areas, do I have the most power over? What are the different options open to me, and which are most likely to get me out of the current impasse?

3.  Whatever the problem is, there is a way out, and a solution can be found.

What could happen so that I feel the situation is improving, even partly? Why not try an unusual solution, even partial, even imperfect, even temporary? Has anyone around me, or anyone that I know, ever successfully resolved this kind of problem? How? What needs to change in the context of this situation to make it turn out well for me?

4.  My future is full of great opportunities to come that I may not be aware of today.

What can I learn from this situation that might be useful one day? What can I do right now to try and turn the situation to my advantage? What needs to change so that the situation turns out well for me again?

These are just some starting points – there are many other questions that can help you stay optimistic in a tricky situation. Now it’s up to you to find them for yourself… and then, be sure to share them with others!

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