A significant difference between the optimist and the pessimist is related to the perception of choice. For example, a school math test is returned with a low score. One student concludes, “Well, I guess I’m not good in math,” while another student who receives the exact same score engages in different self-talk: “I guess I’ll have to study harder.”
The difference? The first youngster senses a lack of control—that nothing can be done. “I just have no gift for math,” goes the self-talk. The second youngster believes that something can be done. The first child’s pessimistic self-talk is of resignation—primarily based upon the wrong assumption of a lack of choice and, therefore, a lack of control. The second child, a more optimistic student, resists this victimhood mentality.
Hope is related to optimism and is essential to motivation. Without hope there is no sense in even trying. Both hope and optimism can be learned, and both depend on the perception of choice. What the pessimist doesn’t realize is that we are constantly making choices based upon our self-talk. We choose the reactions to our thoughts; we choose what we say, and we choose what we do.
Through our perception of choice, we wield power that shapes our lives and makes us our own masters. If you reflect closely, you will soon conclude that so much of life is the result of our decisions made along the way. The reality is that choice ends when life ends.
Behavior is always a matter of choice. In the course of a day we make many choices, and although many are made with consciousness (awareness), many of our choices are made nonconsciously (without thinking). Even when awareness is lacking, it doesn’t mean that we aren’t making choices. The more we teach our children that they always have the ability to make choices and that positive self-talk is more empowering than thinking negatively, the more responsible they become.
All of us, including children, choose:
- How to act
- What to say
- How to say it
- What to focus on
- When to go along with others
- When to resist
- What to say about others
- What to say to ourselves about ourselves (self-talk)
Children rarely think about their decisions. One of our most important roles as parents is to help children become aware (conscious) of the decisions they make. This is how we promote responsible decision-making. Responsibility, persistence, consideration, honesty, and integrity cannot be mandated. Behaviors for these values are chosen; therefore, the concept of choice is essential to the teaching and learning of values and characteristics that contribute to successful and satisfying lives.