Business Book Club: Learned Optimism

Written by Libby Gordon.

41ZOiQum9QL. SX323 BO1204203200 Sitting in a slightly darkened basement room of an old building in London, I was part of one of the liveliest discussions I have ever been in about Optimism. 

The basement is part of Ozone Coffee in Old Street, London. A great New Zealand business where the food and coffee were both top notch. Add into that 15 Kiwi ladies, who get together once every two months as part of the NZBWN, discussing Martin Seligman’s bestseller Learned Optimism and sure enough, there was a lot to be said (and consumed) in our two hour get together.

Martin, often known as the father of Positive Psychology first published this book in 1990, followed up by many others on the same topic. In addition, he has done a very popular TED talk and has toured the world speaking on this topic. Many of us were lucky enough to hear him speak when he was in London; some around the table were self-proclaimed Martin ‘groupies’!

Book club discussions are always lively, and this was no different, however this book in particular prompted conversation not just about the book but also our thoughts about optimism generally. As a group of New Zealand women who had taken a jump and set up life on the other side of the world, we felt that we have optimism in bucket loads and it helped us all across our varied life or job situations. ‘Kiwi women, we have a different take on things!’ Independence, resilience, perseverance, can do attitude… all this aided by and added to by optimism and it was part and parcel with who we were.

But then at times this can clash with the attitude of some of the people we come in contact with on a day to day basis; ‘Winge of the day seems to be a cultural thing here’, ‘Mood hovers’, ‘Glass always half empty’. We asked the question, was this book preaching to the converted, did other people actually want to learn, and what can we do to take some of the elements of the book out to others? Those of us who see the importance of this have a responsibility to lead by example to spread the good vibes. Where we can see a situation and can see we or others have a choice to change it, we need to help people come up with their own solutions; as managers or peers we can act as a coach.

Both in the book and at Martin’s London talk he spoke on the benefits of children being taught about optimism. As a group we all gave a collective nod to our own childhoods where we felt community networks were strong and how we had benefited from this in the creation of our life outlook. Links were made to the importance of sports teams for helping people gain a sense of belonging and in a way our book club was also a team – we felt like we belonged to something bigger than just ourselves.

It’s not easy all of the time. The group discussed how we can stop ourselves from ruminating. The rubber band worked for some, reminding themselves to keep rumination factual worked for others, surrounding yourself with positive people and reminding ourselves to ask for help when needed worked for most! Having an optimistic mind set and a strong support network (recognising at times you might need to be a little picky on who you go to for this) could lead to good outcomes for us all.

Overall, rather than a detailed analysis of the content, the book was a launch pad for a rich conversation about the general themes and finding commonality with kindred Kiwi spirits. Joining the NZBWN Book Club has been one of the most interesting and rewarding things I have done over the last 12 months. I have had great discussions and connections with quality people and I urge you all to give it a go! Alternatively, if you are interested in reading more about Learned Optimism you can get your hands on a copy here.

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