Be an optimist: Avoid the victim-like mindset

Staying open to optimism is a habit we all can learn, no matter what our position in life.

When we lose our optimism, it is because we want things to work out in our own terms. When we don’t get our way, we find someone to blame, consider ourselves a victim, scream inside our minds, “Gimme a break!” and eventually lose our optimism.
Unfortunately, the more you think those “victim-like thoughts,” the more you try to get life to come out so that it will always suit you. When we put our efforts into trying to make things happen our way, the more we fear other people and what is beyond our control.
Remember: The only control we really have in life is how we think about situations that happen to us and how we respond to them, versus react to them.
This “victim-like pattern of thinking” was learned, for many of us, early in life. Unfortunately we bring this pattern of thinking and being into the workplace and it erodes our relationships and eventually becomes a part of our company’s culture. It is how we unconsciously try to put the “I” in teamwork, because we are focused on self-importance, instead of staying optimistic about what could transpire if we stayed in curiosity and compassion instead.
The key to staying optimistic is to create a new habit of “other-centered thinking.”
You can stay optimistic and “other-centered” with these five steps:

  • Be aware: Notice when a situation is not as you wish.
  • Feel the fear and tension in your body, as well as your self-talk that reminds you, you want it your way (Gimme a break!).
  • Choose to relax into the gap presented, instead of becoming fearful of it. This keeps you from becoming more irritable towards the situation or people involved.
  • Embrace curiosity and compassion: we can only hold one thought and one feeling at a time. It is your choice what thought or feeling you embrace, so why not choose one that is “other-centered?”
  • Look forward and expect the best: What you think about you bring about. Focus on, “How can I use this situation to move forward in a new and more enlightened way?” With this new thought, you will get extraordinary results!

Let me illustrate the above shift from a “victim-like mentality” to an “other-centered mentality” with a classic workplace story. It is a story about a company that has a sales force and a service department. The sales force, like most, is working hard to meet the aggressive sales goals the company has set forth. The sales force kills their optimism with the negative self-talk of, “Gimme a break! Those goals in this economy?” From this “victim-like thinking” they are already closing off their optimism and the possibilities that exist.
When they finally do get a sale, they give it to the service department to deliver, hoping the service department will “Give me a break!” and deliver the service as promised with no mistakes, so they will have a happy customer and repeat business.
Instead, the service department is unhappy, convinced the order came in at the last minute with directions that were less than clear because sales does not appreciate or understand how hard they work. As a result of this “me-centered” viewpoint, on both parts of the departments, there is a mistake…and now everyone is focused on “who is to blame?” The dysfunctional interaction continues, as the two departments battle out the storyline of, “Gimme a break! If only you would have considered ME!”
The question is, “Where is the customer in all of this?” Oooops….they were forgotten in the quest for self-importance.
In coaching the two department heads, it is important for each to see the victim-like storylines they have told themselves: the sales person and their woes about the economy and belief in lack, and the service department regarding their viewpoint of being “less than and disrespected.” What if each was to operate from a different mindset: one of optimism and “other-centered thinking” that was focused on the customer, instead of self-importance?
What you would see is two departments working together to examine, “How might we grow and serve the customer?”
As you can see, optimism is not a Pollyanna positive disposition, but more of a pre-disposition to relax into a situation and develop a more curious and compassionate viewpoint of others and life. Choosing an optimistic mindset, over a victim-mindset, helps us to unlock the door to possibilities beyond our limited and fearful mind.
Challenge: Instead of reacting to situations with fear and self-protection, begin to cultivate a habit of relaxing into situations with curiosity and compassion for others. There you will find your true optimistic nature and possibilities beyond your limited mind!
Susan K. Wehrley is an executive coach that works with companies and their employees to create and achieve their strategic plan. She is also the author of five empowerment books and is a public speaker. Learn more about Susan at or contact her at or (414) 581-0449.

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Susan K. Wehrley is an executive coach and business consultant that aligns executives and businesses to their vision, values and goals. She is also a regular contributor to Forbes. You can email Susan at, (262) 696-6856 or visit her website for more details.

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