I struggle with being optimistic about the word optimism
, at least optimism
as defined by its use in our common culture. Do a quick Google search on “optimism,” and you’ll find reference after reference on whether a given group is “optimistic” about its team’s success, its earnings report target, or an investment’s future. Such hopeful assessments go up and down depending upon the results on the playing field or in the stock market the next day. Did they win? Did they make earnings? Did the investment go up?
When Tony Alessandra and I recorded the Nightingale-Conant program The Optimism Advantage: 10 Qualities of Confident and Resilient People,
we had an entirely different “optimism” in mind. Instead of being tied to just being hopeful, earned optimism
is about consistently maximizing opportunities in good or bad economies and on your own good and bad days. Earned optimism
is about developing a habit of resilience, persistence, innovative problem solving, and resourcefulness. It’s less about hope and more about focused action in pursuit of consistent results.
In light of the confusion about optimism in our culture, here are five myths about optimistic people that must be addressed before you can truly claim your own “earned optimism” advantage
Myth 1: Optimists are low-IQ Pollyannas drunk on motivational hype who have to avoid challenges to maintain their delusional positive attitude.
Optimism has little to do with IQ and a lot more to do with how you use the IQ you have to be flexible and resourceful in overcoming the obstacles you face and in leveraging the opportunities that come your way. Earned optimism
isn’t some magical mantra that you repeat to yourself in the face of daily disappointments to make you “feel” better. Earned optimism
comes from a track record of overcoming obstacles — a track record that sets the stage for continued success. The more obstacles you overcome in life, the more optimistic you become that you can succeed in the face of the next obstacle or opportunity that comes your way. Success breeds success.
Avoiding challenges and possible disappointments only stunts your personal growth and achievement. If you are a true optimist, you don’t avoid life. You have a bias for action that allows you to look forward to emerging challenges and new open doors that can lead to your next new adventure. Earned optimism
doesn’t come from word games; it comes from valued life experiences.
Myth 2: Optimists have to distort reality to maintain their positive perspective.
Research shows that optimists are realists. They are quicker to address negative information and bad news about themselves. In fact, they remember negative experiences longer than pessimists. When faced with an insurmountable obstacle, they are quicker to give up on their approach and faster in looking for new alternatives. Faced with a poor medical diagnosis, optimists want the facts on their prognosis. They’re patient active; they’re eager to learn how they can contribute to their own chances of recovery. If there is only a 5% survival rate, they want to know what they can do to increase their odds of being part of that 5%.
Do optimists always win? Do they always recover? Of course not! In fact, optimists often lose more than pessimists. Why? Optimists win and lose more than pessimists because they stay in the game and keep searching for ways to win each “game” on and off the job.
Myth 3: Optimism is most needed in handling the tough times that individuals and organizations are certain to face.
Some might ask, “Why listen to a program on optimism when things are going well?” Earned optimism
is as important in handling the good times as it is in rebounding during the tough times. Obviously, nothing triggers the need for persistence and resourcefulness more than being laid off or having your company go bankrupt. When that happens, channeling disappointment and loss into motivation for finding a new job is critical for you and your family. Remembering your past successful job search experiences and what worked can help motivate and guide you through current unemployment challenges. Your track record of bouncing back from tough times is certainly important, but good times bring different challenges.
In good times, your biggest challenge may be complacency. It’s easy to settle for the status quo, instead of using your current situation as a launching pad for new and better opportunities. Autopilot can feel comforting, but it can also set the stage for your next setback. Resting on existing skills positions you for the next layoff when new innovation makes those skills obsolete. As Will Rogers loved to say: “Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.”
As an optimist, don’t rest in success! Don’t settle for a good year when what you want is a profitable and satisfying career over the span of your life. Appreciate the satisfaction that comes with lifelong learning and achievement.
Myth 4: Optimists have an inflated view of themselves.
As mentioned, true optimists are realists. As a result, they apply that same strength in evaluating themselves. While research suggests that most people are privately far more critical of themselves than supportive, optimists balance being self-critical and self-supportive.
Maximizing your “optimism advantage” requires two skills — catching yourself being effective daily and putting the focus of self-criticism on what you can do in the future to improve. Optimists know they make mistakes in the game of life, but they use their negative experiences to help them make meaningful course-corrections and to get back in the game more effectively. If you are not making mistakes, you’re not learning.
Handling self-criticism with a future focus is only half of the battle in attaining a realistic self-confidence. As a true optimist, you’ll need to celebrate your successes as evidence of your competence and as fuel for your “earned” confidence. You don’t need an inflated view of your strengths or your faults. Finding your own winning balance is what nurturing your optimism advantage is all about.
Myth 5: Optimists tend to rely more on self-reliance than teamwork.
Teamwork and individual competence are both important if you are to add value in today’s successful organization. In fact, for a true optimist, there is nothing more satisfying than working with a team of individuals who have a meaningful mission and are all engaged in using their skills to make a difference. That makes coming to work a joy instead of a necessity. On certain days, the optimism of other team members will feed your own positive attitude. Sometimes, your enthusiasm and input will be just the catalyst the team needs.
Unfortunately, one pessimist can take the morale of a team down in a matter of minutes. That’s why optimists don’t leave teamwork or team selection to chance. The Optimism Advantage
talks about taking advantage of choosing and nurturing your “vital village.” Yes, it does take a village to succeed, but it sure helps if you are part of a village full of resourceful, competent optimists. If you ask any leaders whether they have members of their team who know more than they do, good and honest leaders will immediately raise their hands. The need for competent teams in which everyone adds value will even change a leader’s prayers — “Dear, God, let them LIVE! If you must take someone, take me. I’m just the leader.” You can be sure that some of your successes were earned by involving the right teams.
As an earned optimist
, your self-reliance, resilience, and personal accountability are something you’re proud of. After all, your track record of overcoming obstacles not only helps you; it helps any team you are on. You stay in the game until you find a way for everyone to win. You help keep hope alive. You help the team face and overcome obstacles. You look for opportunities and solutions that will once again produce results. Now, that is a team member you would want on your team.
Now that we have challenged these optimism myths, are you sold on giving earned optimism
a chance to make a difference for you? Good teams don’t spend a lot of time reading glowing press clippings; they get busy earning the next victory — one game at a time, one quarter at a time, one play at a time. They don’t just want a good season. They want to create a dynasty — a team that puts itself in position to win year after year. Make a move today to turn your constructive choices and actions into a life you can be proud of.