Two women visit their doctors and receive the same diagnosis: they have heart disease requiring coronary bypass surgery. Both women are the same age and weight, with no other health problems. Neither has a family history of cardiac problems.
Yet, as medical treatment goes forward, one woman is less likely than the other to be hospitalized again after surgery and more likely to take beneficial actions such as entering a cardiovascular rehabilitation exercise program, changing her diet and seeking social support. What’s more, that woman is also more likely to have a lower risk of death than the other.
Why? Same diagnosis, two interpretations.
Let’s listen to the little voices in the women’s heads as they leave their doctors’ offices after hearing the news.
The first woman is thinking, “This is awful, just like everything else that happens to me. Now I’m never going to be able to do the things I had hoped to do.” Inside the second woman’s head, we hear, “This is scary, but I’m glad they figured out what was going on. Now I have to find out everything I can about getting back to normal after the surgery.”
The second woman is what psychologists call a “dispositional optimist,” meaning that her expectations are generally positive. Like many optimists, she takes action through health-enhancing behaviors, even under stressful circumstances.