November 30, 2017

Anyone who’s tried instituting changes in a healthcare facility knows it is a daunting task to achieve significant improvements in a timely manner. Sustaining employees’ efforts long enough to get impressive results is rare. In large part this is due to the difficulties involved in overcoming people’s frustrations and discouragement when setbacks occur and mistakes are made.    

Most people want to believe that they are optimists who can maintain their positive attitude and motivation, but the facts show otherwise. Most people who diet end up gaining weight. Most marriages end in divorce. Most healthcare employees are disengaged.  

Changes initiatives usually fail 

Typically 75 percent of change initiatives fail. The reasons most often cited are poor communication and skepticism. The truth is, it takes weeks to get employees on board and often months to make real progress toward a goal. Then, just when you think you have some momentum, a setback occurs that can derail your project.   

Is this any way to start a discussion on optimism? Yes. Optimism isn’t about becoming a Pollyanna; quite the contrary.  The power of positive thinking is a myth.  Imagining the outcome you want to see is merely wishful thinking.  

The truth is that it takes hard work to overcome the complex challenges that must be tackled to achieve change. Most often pessimistic thinking undermines the staff’s ability to persevere long enough to overcome the obstacles they face.  

To be clear, it is important to consider the possibility of failure and to identify the pitfalls that could contribute to a poor outcome. In the last few years renowned optimism researcher Martin Seligman was asked about his current views on optimism: “The idea that optimism is always good is a caricature. It misses realism, it misses appropriateness; it misses the importance of negative emotion.”  

While still an advocate of optimism, Seligman says it must be paired with “reality testing—conscientious checking on the results of our efforts—to make sure that overly positive expectations are not leading us astray.” 

Our thinking needs to have a mix of optimism and realism; but pessimistic thinking has been linked to prematurely giving up when setbacks stall change initiatives. Optimistic thinking gives us the ability to develop realistic strategies that enable efforts to work around, through and past obstacles. 

Defining optimistic and pessimistic thinking 

Optimism and pessimism are both learned ways of thinking. We develop habitual ways of viewing the world based on our past experiences. Our “explanatory styles” are stories we’ve learned to tell ourselves to explain why things happen and what impact they will have. Every situation is unique, and even people in the same situation will have differing explanations.  

Our mind is “a machine for jumping to conclusions,” warns Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman in his classic book “Thinking, Fast and Slow.” Instead of accurately assessing the challenge we’re currently confronting, we frequently fill in a lot of blanks using our old habitual explanations. Because we make assumptions based on what’s happened to us in the past, we frequently fail to gather sufficient information for making a sound decision about what to do in the present.  

Find out what to do to improve Optimistic thinking, especially when change efforts encounter lack of engagement, resistance or setbacks. Read more about how to apply all 6 positive psychology principles in PROPEL to Quality Healthcare: Six Steps to Improve Patient Care, Staff Engagement and the Bottom Line. 

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Dr. Tom Muha is the Director of the PROPEL Institute. As the science of optimal human functioning has emerged, Dr. Muha has been at the forefront in the study of how people involved in healthcare systems can achieve the highest levels of success and satisfaction. Research at major academic medical centers has shown that applying the PROPEL Principles empowers healthcare professionals to achieve remarkable results.   

For more information regarding Speaking, Coaching or Consulting Services: 

Website: www.PROPELinstitute.com 

Contact: drtommuha@PROPELinstitute.com  


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