Are You an Optimist or a Pessimist?

Posted by Todd Smith

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What do you picture in your mind when you hear the word optimism?

The vast majority of us associate optimism with that familiar image of a glass of liquid—either half-full or half-empty, depending on how we view our lives.

In theory, someone who sees the glass as half-full is an optimist. When you are optimistic, you expect things to go well, and you dwell on the most hopeful aspects of a situation.

A pessimist, on the other hand, sees the glass as half-empty. When you are pessimistic, you expect thing to go poorly. You see the downside of most things and dwell on what might go wrong.

Optimistic people look at their futures with anticipation and eagerness, whereas pessimistic people tend to look at their futures with hopelessness and negativity.

I have learned that things generally go according to how you expect them to go.  Being optimistic is not only a vital part of our personalities, but it is also an essential component influencing the outcomes of every part of our lives, from our relationships to our careers. But we must keep a balance between being optimistic and realistic.  While I consider myself to be optimistic, I do not have blind optimism.

As an example, I look at things honestly using my years of experience.  If I see something wrong or I see a potential challenge, I don’t ignore the possible pitfalls because I want to be optimistic.  If you go through life with blind optimism, you will be so disappointed that eventually, you will become pessimistic.

Benefits of Being Optimistic

Nicholas Murray Butler, winner of the Nobel Prize in Peace 1931, said,Optimism is essential to achievement and it is also the foundation of courage and true progress.”

Brian Tracy, a leading authority on human potential and personal effectiveness, wrote,Optimism is the one quality more associated with success and happiness than any other.”

Renowned experts—like Martin E. Seligman, Ph.D. who works on positive psychology, learned helplessness, depression, optimism, and pessimism— have spent years studying optimism and conclude that it accomplishes the following:

  • Prevents depression
  • Improves health by reducing stress
  • Enables achievement by combining talent and desire

Everyone Can Be Optimistic

The great news is that because optimism is a learned behavior, it’s within our control to decide how we choose to see the glass.

Although it’s fascinating research, you don’t need to know how optimism is studied and measured in order to do the things that will help you become more optimistic.

I’m reminded of the life of blind Helen Keller who knew nothing of these studies. In fact, in her shoes, most of us would be pessimistic.  But she left us with a wonderful quote: “Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope or confidence.”

If you want to advance your life personally or professionally, you must:

1.  Focus on the positives and expect things to go well.

2.  Keep an eye on pitfalls that may lie ahead and be prepared for them.

I realize there is a fine line between the two, but the difference is where you place your emphasis.

Using NFL football as an analogy, if you are going to have a strong offense, you must have a successful passing offense. While you can’t pass the ball down the field blindly hoping it gets caught by a member of your team, you also can’t fear being intercepted every time you drop back to pass the ball.  If you fear that each pass will be intercepted, you will never be successful.

Just like in football, if you are going to develop a strong offensive plan to advance your life, you must take risks; don’t be afraid to fail.

Are You an Optimist or Pessimist?

Would you consider yourself to be more of an optimist or pessimist?  If you were to ask the people in your life the same question, what would they say?

Here is my challenge to each of you.

1.  Start being aware of how you look at things.  If you find yourself finding more reasons why things won’t work than why they will work and if you tend to focus more of your time on defense rather than offense, then you MUST make changes in how you view things or you will likely live a lonely and disappointing life.

2.  Analyze why your tendency is to look for what may go wrong rather than what may go right.  If it is because of past failures and disappointments, which is often the case, realize the past does not equal the future.  We all make mistakes. We all fail. We all experience times of great discouragement.

3.  Read biographies of successful people.  As you do, you will see that they all talk about how they overcame great failures on their road to living a successful life.

4.  Read each month’s issue of Success Magazine.  As you read the stories of those who have achieved such success to be profiled in this magazine, you will see their stories all include their disappointments and setbacks. I find these stories inspirational and motivating.

What you must understand is that whatever challenges you have experienced have simply made you a smarter and wiser person. They have taught you that not everything goes as you wish or plan. You have learned not to run at things blindly hoping you will be lucky.  Most importantly, you have learned lessons that have made you a better person.

Now I encourage you to take all that you have learned and get excited about the opportunities that lie in front of you. Take control of your emotions, attitude, and outlook on life and be the person you need to be to achieve your dreams. Millions of others have done it and so can you.

Just as you can choose to be happy, you can choose to be optimistic.  Being optimistic doesn’t mean you are overlooking potential challenges; it just means you are choosing to focus on the positives.

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About the Author:

Todd Smith is a successful entrepreneur of 43 years and founder of Little Things Matter. This blog contains over 200 of his timeless life lessons.

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