Our mindset of being realistic and optimistic can change depending on the situation.
I believe that there are no absolutes when it comes to finding a balance in how we handle situations, specifically within the context of optimism and realism. Claiming that we are one or the other can limit us from finding our way through the maze of life.
Each school of thought has its merit when it comes to effective decision-making which means exclusively defining ourselves as an optimist or a realist may not be the necessary prerequisite when our aim is to successfully overcome personal and professional challenges.
What I am proposing is being both.
THE OPTIMIST AND OUR MISCONCEPTIONS
When you picture an optimistic person, what characteristics do these individuals have? Are they:
Perky and upbeat
Kind of naive
Fake / Hiding something
What I’ve observed is that the abovementioned points are general misconceptions about optimists.
Some of you may have even told stories about that one friend who always seems too happy or too positive about life and we think, “they’re probably faking it and are suppressing their real emotions.”
But being an optimist is more nuanced than you think. It is certainly more than the concept of a person who likes to look at the brighter side of things.
Let’s look at its technical definitions.
- An inclination to put the most favorable construction upon actions and events or to anticipate the best possible outcome.1
- The tendency to be hopeful and to emphasize or think of the good part in a situation rather than the bad part, or the feeling that in the future good things are more likely to happen than bad things 2
Now let’s extract some words from the two dictionary descriptions.
anticipate the best
to be hopeful
think of the good part
good things are more likely to happen
If you look at the words above, you’ll notice that these are not absolutes.
Saying that someone is inclined towards the most favorable situation means that a lesser ideal situation has been seen and recognized. After all, the existence of good can’t be recognized without acknowledging the bad.
Choosing to be hopeful means that they could have also chosen to let go of hope, but did not.
Claiming that good things are more likely to happen also means knowing that the opposite can also happen.
See the difference?
We tend to misunderstand optimism for naivety. What differentiates the former from the latter is the awareness that, yes, things can go wrong but instead of focusing on that, optimists have the ability to gather strength, courage, and resilience to take action, regardless of the possible outcome.
Optimists experience the same emotional and mental challenges as their counterparts. Failure, disappointment, anger, or trauma exist in the optimistic world view. However, a positively-inclined outlook actively seeks to learn from the negative, and more importantly, keeps moving forward.
None of us can precisely predict what can happen next. Our relationships can end, our business can fail, and we can constantly get kicked in the shins but such is life! The question is, how can we stand back up without hurting ourselves.
Recalling our reflection on living a life with intention, wouldn’t it serve us better if we channeled our energy at what we WANT to happen rather than just trying to anticipate what can happen?
“Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them.”– Marcus Aurelius
REALISM, GROUNDEDNESS & ENTREPRENEURSHIP
Realism saves us from grand delusions. It keeps us connected with the world and teaches humility. This is an essential characteristic to embody, especially for entrepreneurs and practitioners like ourselves.
Setting detailed goals for our practice is a more productive way to measure progress. For instance, our sales projections are based on numbers and data which keeps our financial targets realistic. Having quantitative information about what’s doable gives us healthy expectations from ourselves and others. We can use these concrete learnings when we decide to take on greater challenges.
By definition, being realistic means having awareness of things as they are.3 If you are realistic about a situation, you recognize and accept its true nature and try to deal with it in a practical way.4
When I reflected on these definitions, what I understood is this:
Being realistic does not mean being bound by what is only presented in front of us, but rather, it is having the capacity to objectively act on challenges that are within our control.
True realists understand all possible BUT MEASURABLE outcomes and don’t dwell on factors that cannot be changed. Crossing that line will lead to pessimism, hopelessness, and inaction.
In addition, realism encourages accountability and being present in the now. And much like optimism, it teaches greater self-awareness. Directing our energy towards what we can change and discarding the unnecessary clutter in our head helps us become more sensible, grounded, and balanced not just in business but in life.
Following this mindset does not take away the dreamer in us but instead teaches us to deal with both failure and success in a healthy way.
“Be grateful for what you already have while you pursue your goals. If you aren’t grateful for what you already have, what makes you think you would be happy with more.” —Roy T. Bennett
TEMPERING BOTH MINDSETS FOR RESILIENCE
Resilience is, in a way, the middle ground of being optimistic and realistic. Optimism empowers us to bend and sway with the wind because we know that the sun will eventually shine. Realism protects our heart and mental wellness from immense hurt and unhealthy expectations so that we have enough determination to take the next step even after failure.
The glass is half full and the glass has enough water. That is what being optimistic and realistic means. Emptiness or lack is not even in the picture.
Every situation calls for a different ratio. One person’s approach may be different from another’s. What we can keep in mind is that our personal and professional goals will always be riddled with challenges and the power to choose which ratio to use to overcome adversity is within us.