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Take a page from Pete Carroll’s playbook, and learn how relentless optimism can make things happen for you.

“I keep thinking, day to day, that something good is just about to happen… I don’t know how to think otherwise.” –Pete Carroll*

Optimism is a great way to think. It makes you happier, it influences people to like you, and it generates positive energy, actually causing good things to happen.This is especially helpful during times of adversity, like trying to find employment, rebound from a painful breakup, or cope with a challenging work environment. But if optimism is so simple and beneficial, why doesn’t everyone think this way all the time? Whether we haven’t learned it, were specifically trained to think pessimistically, or experienced hard lessons that dissuaded us from a hopeful outlook, it is never too late to develop a more positive mindset.

Myths about adversity

Ever heard someone argue, “If you don’t expect too much, you’ll never be disappointed”? Don’t buy it. This classically pessimistic belief offers no advantages, and paves a straight path to depression, hopelessness, and misery. Hard knocks, surprisingly, do not necessarily pave that path.

Ask Pete Carroll. He worked 17 years as an Assistant Coach before getting his chance to be a Head Coach in the NFL, and then got fired after one year. Following the logic that hopefulness depends on success, he would have no basis for optimism after such an experience. Yet, he said it was the best thing that ever happened to him—right before becoming one of the most successful college football coaches in history. How did he manage to remain so persistently optimistic?

Pete’s secrets for greater optimism

Bad break, or good break? Only time will tell.

First, Pete appears to redefine “best.” Most people don’t think of termination as positive, but if getting fired leads to better opportunities, more accomplishments, or a stronger character, then maybe it can be a good thing. When he lost his NFL job, he looked for those silver linings, and that approach clearly served him well.

Pete doesn’t reserve his optimism just for large-scale dreams, but practices it regularly in the way he explains unfortunate events. For instance, after a crushing loss to Oregon State in 2006 which cost USC a shot at the national championship, reporters fired highly critical remarks at him, questioning the team’s quality and integrity. However, Pete explained the causes of the loss as specific, and the impact temporary, insisting his team could not be counted out of the championship race. He ultimately fired back comments like, “I loved the comeback,” “We thought we were going to win all the way until we didn’t,” and “We fell way behind and still almost caught ‘em.”

Pete Carroll’s final basis for optimism is hard work, and taking credit for that hard work in the moment rather than focusing exclusively on outcomes. I heard he used to work 16-hour days at USC, and when asked to predict his team’s success, he would always cite the efforts of their recruiting, training, and strategy sessions. No one can argue with his success.

Take a page out of Pete’s playbook

Most likely, Pete won’t mind if you imitate his style of thinking.

Whether your career transition has stalled, you’re struggling to let go of that last relationship, you’re constantly feeling stressed at work, or you’re suffering in some other way, you have a choice in how you view your circumstances. You can focus on what is wrong with a situation, or try to avoid disappointment by anticipating no improvement, but those strategies will not help you feel better or build any success. Alternatively, you can think like Pete Carroll, and look for the potential positives in any situation, explain the setbacks as specific and time-limited, and hang your hat on the belief that your hard work, good relationships, and sound strategies will eventually pay dividends.

by Jason Sackett, LCSW
Professional Staff at CWFL

jsackett@usc.edu


* From his interview on 60 Minutes, aired on CBS, December 17, 2008

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