I can’t coach pessimists. I just can’t help someone who searches for a reason why he or she will not succeed. I love coaching optimists. Yet, at what point does an optimist have to also be a realist.
I was always optimistic. I believe I owe my success in part to my optimism.
During my career, some people said I was optimistic when I had no reason to be optimistic. In other words, they believed I was unrealistic in my optimism. I’m sure they are right. But, my optimism enabled me to see possibilities when I was experiencing difficulties.
Watch The Optimism Bias TED Talk, where scientist, Tali Sharot notes it is important to be optimistic for three reasons:
- Interpretation Matters: Whether you succeed or you fail, people with high expectations always feel better.
- Anticipation Makes Us Happy: People prefer Friday to Sunday. People prefer Friday because of the anticipation of the weekend ahead. I loved the anticipation connected with winning a new client, getting a client matter successfully resolved. When a case was successfully finished, it took me some time to get back on track because I no longer had the anticipation.
- Optimism Makes You Try Harder: When you are optimistic, you are far less likely to throw in the towel when you are not achieving immediate success. If you are a long time reader, you likely recall that when I decided to focus on a niche construction practice representing contractors who built roads, bridges, airports and rail, it took over two years before a contractor hired me.
What about being overly optimistic and failing to deal with realism? It can lead to risky behavior, underestimated the cost and time to complete a project and more difficulties. If you are interested in learning more about her work, here is an extract of her book: The Optimism Bias.
I wanted to get other ideas on unrealistic optimism.
Some time ago, I read How I Became an Optimist, a Harvard Business Review guest blog post written by Tony Schwartz. He describes historically being a cup half empty person because he believed being a pessimist was realistic. In deciding to become more optimistic, he created a ritual based on realistic optimism –
namely the practice of telling the most hopeful and empowering story in any given situation, without denying the facts.
The next time you are pessimistic about an outcome, create the most hopeful and empowering story you can without denying the facts.