Monday, August 22, 2011

Guest Blogger: Lynn Johnston

I first heard of Lynn on one of the writing loops we are both members of, and enjoyed visiting her encouraging blog about making changes in life, 10 minutes at a time. I wanted to share her wisdom and strategies with y'all, so I invited her here to visit us.

She's graciously agreed to give away a copy of The Kaizen Plan for Healthy Eating, so comment to enter. I'll choose a winner and post at the end of the night, so be sure to check back!


Forget About the Glass: Succeed More Often By Being Both an Optimist and a Pessimist

Optimists tend to be healthier, happier, and more successful in life than their talents merit. At least that's what psychological studies show. Optimists are also more likely to dream big, stick to their goals, and keep their sense of humor intact in the face of disaster. They tend to believe that problems are temporary, specific to their current circumstances, and solvable.

Pessimists, on the other hand, are more often right when asked to predict the outcome of a situation, according to those same studies. Pessimists are also more likely to study harder in school, save money for the future, and work longer hours. They're more likely to suffer health problems and depression. They tend to believe that problems are permanent, generalized, and not solvable.

Glass half-full or glass half-empty? Happy or right? Which do you want to be?

You probably feel like you have to choose between the two. But although you might favor one of these perspectives over the other, you do have the ability to switch between them. Optimism and pessimism aren't personalities, they're modes of thinking. And they're both both useful tools, if you use them correctly.

What are they useful for? Committing to and achieving your goals.

How Being Both an Optimist and a Pessimist Can Help You Achieve Your Goals

Studies by Dr. Gabriele Oettingen and her colleagues showed that there's a difference between fantasizing about success and expecting success. Oettingen has also identified four steps that significantly increase the likelihood that you'll stick to your goals until you achieve them:

1. Expect success. Think about your past successes, the resources available to you, and the capabilities that you bring to achieving this goal. What are the reasons why you can achieve this goal?
2. Be an optimist. Imagine a positive vision of the problem solved or the goal achieved. What will be different when you get there? How will you feel when you succeed?
3. Be a pessimist. Think about the obstacles standing between you and your goal. What problems will you have to overcome on the way to success? What could go wrong?
4. Contrast the optimistic and pessimistic. How can you use your resources and capabilities to overcome the obstacles you identified? How do your past successes—or the lessons you learned from past failures—make qualify you to succeed here? Are you willing to do the work to get where you want to go? Is it possible that the actual project won't match either your optimistic or pessimistic views of it, but will fall somewhere in between?

Contrasting the positive with the negative not only gives you a more realistic picture of how you might succeed, it also prepares you to overcome obstacles while maintaining your enthusiasm for the work and your optimistic vision of the project's outcome. Step one helps you gather your resources. Step two engages you emotionally and focuses you on your motivation. Step three engages you intellectually and prepares you to do the work. Step four brings your emotions and intellect in synch, so that your heart and your head are both going in the same direction.

Do you have a new project that you'd like to commit to? Or a dead project that you'd like to revive? Take a few minutes to go through the four steps described above with your project in mind. Did your thoughts or feelings about this project change?

Lynn Johnston blogs about how to take control of your life 10 minutes at a time using the kaizen approach at Each week, readers of her blog receive a small, simple step they can use to improve some area of their lives. She's the author of The Kaizen Plan for Healthy Eating and The Kaizen Plan for Decluttering Your Computer (



Cheryl said...

Great ideas! I have always believed I was an optimist but sometimes pessimism would creep in. These four steps make a lot of sense in getting to your goals! Thanks Lynn for coming to the Playground today!

Playground Monitor said...

How interesting that both optimism and pessimisn can work in your favor. And I'm really interested in these 10-minute approaches to things.

Thanks for blogging with us today!

Angel said...

Lynn, When you get a chance, would you mind explaining a bit about your website and the Kaizen approach?

I've found it very inspiring.


traveler said...

An impressive and unique approach which is so helpful in life. Being a pessimist for the most part this sensible idea gives me hope. thanks for this interesting post.

RedPeril said...

Interesting points. I've always hated the 'Is your glass half full..' question. Why did it have to be one or the other? And what exactly were the contents of said glass? (I could think of a number of substances whose whereabouts are more compelling than their perceived quantity.) Would it be safe to say that someone who pulls from both sides of the spectrum is a more of a realist?

And then my question is... Whatever the contents of the glass--are you going to finish that, or do you want a refill? ;)

~Angela Blount

Lynn Johnston said...

Thank you, Cheryl! I'm glad you found it helpful, and I'm delighted to be here. We're wired to think both positively and negatively--both of those abilities are there because they both contribute to our success. Rather than fight the negative, we might as well use it, right?

Now we just need a word for that combination of optimism and pessimism. Optessimism? Pessoptimism?

Realism? ;)

Lynn Johnston said...

Thanks for having me, Playground Monitor! :)

I just started the 10 minute approach this year, but it's been working wonderfully for me. I got exposed to the idea of doing things by the timer through doing writing sprints, but it can be done with just about anything.

Lynn Johnston said...

Traveler, if you're naturally a pessimist, don't fight it, be proud your ability to accurately identify the obstacles in the road ahead. But maybe you can find ways to also believe more strongly in your ability to overcome those obstacles?

That's all optimism really is, faith in your own ability to keep going in the face of resistance. Faith that you won't stop even if things are hard, and faith that you will find a way over, around, or through those big old boulders blocking the road. :)

Lynn Johnston said...

Howdy, Red Peril! My glass is half full of iced green tea and half full of air. ;)

I agree, the half-full/half-empty question is a loaded question, assuming that it has to be one or the other, when in fact both statements are true.

Of course, it's still a useful concept for someone who's stuck in pessimist mode and needs to be reminded to look at the positive aspects of a situation. But if you're not stuck, it's not as helpful, in the same way that if your leg isn't broken, crutches don't help you walk faster.

Lynn Johnston said...

Thank you for your kind words, and for inviting me to be here today, Angel! :)

I started my blog ( at the beginning of this year as a way of keeping myself on track. 2010 was a very stressful year for me due to health issues and a death in the family. I felt so overwhelmed by what was going on in my personal life that I was losing my focus and my drive. I realized that I was going to have to find another approach to getting things done--one that didn't involve me being 100% together.

I'd been reading a wonderful book on the kaizen approach called "One Small Step Can Change Your Life" by Robert Maurer, and it clicked for me. It made me realize that when the rest of my life was overwhelming, I could still make progress toward my goals by breaking them into small steps and doing one at a time. I decided that I would make one small change in my life this year, with each change focused on helping me to develop better habits and work smarter. Each week I share that small change through the blog, so that anyone else who wants to benefit from this approach can jump in and try it.

The kaizen approach is pretty simple. You start with what you want to accomplish, and you ask yourself, "What's the smallest change I could make that would get me closer to this goal?"

You make that smallest change, and once you've adjusted, you ask yourself the same question again. And you keep adjusting your process and your habits in small, easy increments until you get where you want to go.

The beauty of this approach is that it works without disrupting your entire life or forcing you to have huge blocks of free time to get things done, and it keeps you from getting overwhelmed.

If you were using the kaizen approach to get into better shape, for example, you wouldn't join a gym or buy a ton of fitness gear or force yourself to go for an hour's walk. You'd start small. In the first week, maybe you'd do a couple of stretches. In the second week, you might add a situp, a pushup, and a lunge. In the third week you might add a second situp, a second pushup, and a second lunge. In the fourth week, you might add a five minute walk.

In six months, you'll build your exercise routine up to where you want to be -- 15 minutes of stretching, 3 sets of 10 pushups, situps, and lunges, and a half hour walk, four days a week. But you do it so gradually that each step is easy and non-threatening. It takes much less willpower to do a single situp than it does to do 30 of them...especially if you're sore from doing situps the day before. The kaizen approach helps you build the habit and keeps you from getting discouraged.

Instigator said...

Welcome to the Playground, Lynn! Great blog. I've never thought of using both sides of the coin to help, but it's a really smart approach to problems/goals. Thanks for sharing.


Problem Child said...

Hi Lynn and welcome to the Playground.

I like the idea of being both. and I especially like the idea of small steps. It's rather like my to-do list: it looks very long, but that's because I've broken out all of the smaller steps. Then I get the satisfaction of crossing them off as I complete the smaller tasks. And I reward myself when I do!

Dr. Charley Ferrer said...

Thanks for the info and the reminder that "baby steps" lead to balance.

Live with passion,

Doctor Charley...

petite said...

An interesting path to experience life which sounds excellent. Is it hard to follow? Sometimes we start off with an attitude that is filled with gladness, sweetness and then things happen which we cannot control. Many are always happy and seem to drift. I was wondering. Thanks for this post.

Katherine Bone said...

Very cool! Most days, I think we all use the small step idea without realizing it.

What would you suggest doing to be more consciously aware of the process, Lynn?


Angel said...

I'm currently taking a class that utilizes a similar idea with writing. The instructor, Kerri Nelson, encourages us to break down our time into 15 minute increments, and devote 15 minutes at a time to writing, no matter what is going on in our life. A couple of these over the course of a day can lead to 1000 words without a lot of effort. I think its really cool and is working great for me!


Smarty Pants said...

I think I'm a good mix - hope for the best, but plan for the worst. That way I'm prepared no matter what.

Thanks for visiting!

Gwynlyn said...

Interesting. I prefer optimism, but can see the value of using both mindset. Something to consider with the bumps and bruises prevalent in my world right now. Thank you.

Lynn Johnston said...

Thanks, Instigator! I'm glad you found it useful. I love your avatar, by the way. :)

Lynn Johnston said...

Howdy, Problem Child! I make lists the same way, now, with tons of very simple tasks. It took me a while to get over being self-conscious about how minor some of the things on my list can be, but I do get a lot more done now. And yes, rewards are important for keeping the motivation up!

Lynn Johnston said...

Hi, Dr. Charley! Thanks for stopping by. :)

Lynn Johnston said...

Hello, Petite! I actually find the small steps approach an easier path to follow. Not only does it make change less stressful, it also means I get the comfort of knowing that I'm on track to reaching my goals even when circumstances beyond my control interfere with my normal routine.

Lynn Johnston said...

Hey, Katherine! So true, we already do use the small steps approach in so many ways unconsciously.

I think the point where we need to be more consciously aware of the process is when we get stuck--that's when we've stopped using small steps and have tried to take on too much at once. :)

Whenever I get stuck, I sit down and make a list of possible solutions. Then I try to break each of those solutions down into its components, so that I can identify the next small step.

Often, I find that the reason I'm stuck is that I need more information, or I need to make a choice/decision. Once I recognize that I need to ask someone a question or choose what I really want, that unsticks me.

Lynn Johnston said...

Angel, is that Kerri's "Book Factory" workshop? I took it earlier this year and found it tremendously helpful.

It is surprising how many words you can write 15 minutes at a time, isn't it? I struggled with this until I realized that I didn't have a detailed enough outline for my scenes.

I started writing down each of the main events in a scene, in order, so that I could choose one event for each 15 minute session, and that made it work for me.

Lynn Johnston said...

Thanks for stopping by, Smarty Pants! Yes, exactly, "hope for the best, plan for the worst" summarizes the two middle steps of the goal-commitment approach. Kudos to you for harnessing both types of thinking in your day-to-day life!

Lynn Johnston said...

Hi, Gwynlyn! I'm sorry to hear that you're feeling bumped and bruised right now. Don't lose that optimism, it keeps you moving forward! :) I hope that adding a touch of pessimism during the planning stage can help you minimize the number of bruises as you progress. Best wishes.

Anonymous said...

I've been following your posts on the Kaizen Plan since you started. This points are truly helpful. Thanks for all your work on this.

Carol JO

Lynn Johnston said...

Thank you for your good wishes, Carol! I'm so happy that you're finding the blog helpful. :)

Lynn Johnston said...

Thanks to everyone who stopped by to hang out with me here yesterday, and thanks to Angel, Playground Monitor, Problem Child, Instigator, and Smarty Pants for hosting me!