Creative Optimism: Uncanny Creativity 37

Learned Optimism CoverOptimism helps us be more creative. We can learn to explain our lives in positive ways. We can definitely use his concepts to have a better creative process. Let’s talk about editing our Mental First Draft!

What is an explanatory style? Optimism and pessimism are the stories we tell ourselves. We tell ourselves stories about failure, loss, and problems. As discussed in the book Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life by Martin E.P. Seligman, scientific experiments have tested how this makes us less creatively, more anxious and less motivated. Optimism is recognizing various types of success.

Optimism is a realistic approach. We realize that we’re not perfect and never will be. The glass can’t ever be more than half full. The stuff that fills it is all we happen to need.

Optimism is also a process of creating. We start with whatever thoughts we have about our artwork and outcomes. Then we edit just as we would a painting. Refining the strokes until we find something beautiful. Making art is story telling. It’s expression.

The Fear of failure episode was about questions we can ask when we recognize our fear. Today’s episode is about practicing habits that help prevent the fear.

There is such a thing as being over optimistic. Last episode on how to be wrong discussed the difference between confidence and overconfidence. Ask yourself:

Step 1: How personal is this?

Our Mental First Draft might tell us things like “I can’t get the colors right!” “I don’t finish anything” “I always get stuck at this part.” We tell ourselves a story: We are the cause of a problem.

Try this: Edit the thought. Instead of blaming ourselves for having trouble with a color, change the story to “That color is tricky!” When we are beating ourselves up for not finishing, recognize that “Lots of people have a problem juggling all their tasks and getting motivated.”

Better yet: Remind yourself of  what you are good at. Optimists tell themselves a different story: I help find solutions! So you might say “This color is off, I’m going to practice mixing paint colors. I might need to look online for help.’

Step 2: How permanent is this?

In a Mental First Draft, our thoughts whisper another story in our minds. This is how it is forever! “I’m always forgetting things.” “I never work on this.” “I’ll never get better at this.”

Try this: Remind yourself that this shall pass. It could get better. “I forgot and it was no big deal.” “Practice makes perfect.” “Next time, I have a shot at being the best”

Better yet: Remind yourself that many good things are permanent! This story is that you’ll always have something to be grateful for.

Step 3: What does this really impact?

Our Mental First Draft will take a specific event and extend it further. Pervasiveness. This story says: If you’re not perfect at this, then you’re not good at anything. “This painting turned out terrible, I’m a bad artist!” “My design was rejected, I’ll probably be fired!”

Try this: Edit your story to be as specific as possible. “This painting isn’t what I expected, so that feels disappointing.” “This client didn’t like this design. I really liked it.”

Better yet: Remind yourself that your good qualities extend to all areas. “I’m great at trying again!”

In our pessimistic Mental First Draft, we blame ourselves for problems. We see issues as never-ending. And we extend those problems to other parts of our life.

With a little editing, we have a story where there are outside forces involved. We know that we will focus on this problem temporarily and then move on. We isolate the problem to the task we’re involved in.

Remember in the Fear of Failure episode where I tell the story of how I asked a silly question about Ice Cream at a stand?

My Mental First Draft conjured up a story. The story that asking an obvious question about ice cream means that I must bad at talking to people. Chocolate Chuck Ice Cream. Of course it’s Chunks of Chocolate. The story then was that I was permanently not a smart guy. That not thinking at this must mean I’m not great at thinking at anything.

In the revised version, we let go of that story. We edit it to realize that obvious questions come out of everyone, so it’s not personal. It was just a temporary thing, I was able to understand a split second later.

Pessimism is useful too! We all have moments where we’re not really thinking about the details. Sometimes we need to be cautious. Pessimism also makes for a great start to a stories. Optimism is what we’re left with at a happy ending.

If you’re interested in buying the book, please use my Amazon Affiliate link to support the podcast: Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life by Martin E.P. Seligman

How does your explanatory style help or hinder your creative process?


Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.


  1. Oh, sweet! Learned Optimism is of my favorite books. 😀 I just discovered the UC podcast today. I also recommend his later book Authentic Happiness, as well as Positivity by Barbara Fredrickson and the Happiness Advantage (don’t remember the author’s name right now). I haven’t listened to the episode yet, I just wanted to drop this note first. But I’m looking forward to it. 🙂

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