STAYING POSITIVE: THE POWER OF REALISTIC, PRACTICAL OPTIMISM
“A great manager has a knack for making ballplayers think they are better than they think they are. He forces you to have a good opinion of yourself. He lets you know he believes in you. He makes you get more out of yourself. And once you learn how good you are, you never settle for playing anything less than your very best.” – Reggie Jackson Be your great manager!
POSITIVE V/S NEGATIVES
Research shows that approximately 87% of the things we say to ourselves about ourselves are negative, self-destructive, and undermining. This negative self-talk leads to a self-fulfilling prophecy – what we tell ourselves creates a mindset that makes our self-talk come true. Optimists know that – sometimes, people know it naturally on a subconscious level and seldom need positive self-talk; other times, people become optimists through deliberately practicing positive self-talk.
Negative self-talk increases your unhappiness and incompetence.
It can make you unhealthy and self-destructive. Fortunately, positive self-talk can do just the opposite – it can make you healthier, happier, more confident, and more competent. Realistic, practical optimism is a choice you can make on purpose to help you manage your life successfully. There is a set of characteristics that most optimists have in common, but through the use of certain strategies naturally used by optimists, pessimists can turn themselves into optimists.
Realistic, practical optimism is not
- • A denial of reality
- • Masking over problems
- • Pointless hoping
- • Pollyanna thinking
- • “See-no-evil, hear-no-evil” thinking
- • A panacea. It is
- • A system for confronting problems
- • A way to choose the best outcomes
- • A method for coping with any challenges
- • A happier, healthier approach to life.
Each one of us has a unique set of experiences in life that gives us a model of the world that includes our interests, likes and dislikes, values, and emotional tendencies. We are all born with coping abilities that change as we interact with the world.
As we grow up, our coping skills can become weaker or stronger and we can become more positive or negative in our attitude. At one time psychiatrists believed that we react to life’s stresses by avoiding, repressing, or denying them.
Now we know that all of us are born with the potential to manage stress, but not all people make the most of that potential.
To be human means that we can change our habits and our patterns of behavior.
We can identify what makes us cope successfully and the things that impede that. We can analyze our approach to life and challenge and replace our less successful coping methods.
This article will explain the mental attitude at the heart of optimism, the obstacles to being optimistic, the techniques you can use to strengthen optimism, and the benefits of having a realistic and practical optimistic approach to life.
THE POWER OF REALISTIC, PRACTICAL OPTIMISM
The cornerstone of optimism is self-esteem, which is the basis of all psychological growth. Our resilience in the face of adversity is determined by our self-esteem.
The Power of Self-Esteem, Dr. Nathaniel Branden defines self-esteem as being “The experience that we are appropriate to life and the requirements of life. (It is)
1. Confidence in our ability to think and cope with the challenges of life.
2. Confidence in our right to be happy, the feeling of being worthy, deserving, entitled to assert our needs and wants and to enjoy the fruits of our efforts.” When our self-esteem is low, we are much more vulnerable to negative forces.
- We suffer from a sense of not being enough, a generalized feeling of self-distrust, and a feeling of unworthiness.
- We will be less effective and less creative than if we had healthy self-esteem.
- If we have real confidence in our value, we are empowered, energized, and motivated.
- We see the world as open to us, and we can respond appropriately to both challenges and opportunities.
- This is more important today than ever since we need more self-management and innovation than ever before.
Other Characteristics of Optimistic People
Commitment to Life –
They believe that life is worth living. Absolutely. This belief gives them passion which feeds their optimism.
Flexible people can modify their habits to work with others, personally and professionally. They are usually cooperative and have reciprocal relationships with family, friends, and coworkers.
Optimistic people are resourceful. They have faced and thought through situations and know where to turn for support and how to find help when they need it.
Willingness to Risk –
The optimist doesn’t have to play it safe when it looks like risk will pay off.
Acceptance of Personal Responsibility –
Optimists have a realistic assessment of themselves. They are not victims, don’t make excuses, and learn from their mistakes.
Optimists are realists who can see what is important and what is not. They work to solve serious issues and ignore inconsequential ones.
Optimists welcome new ideas and change. They realistically evaluate new information for use now or in the future.
Proactive Attitude –
Optimists meet challenges with action – they’re proactive rather than reactive. They aren’t paralyzed by fear of failure or the unknown.
Optimists pay attention to the world around them. They listen to others’ ideas rather than shutting them out.
Eric Fromm said that the ability to love yourself must come before you can love another person. That’s equally true when it comes to self-respect, self-acceptance, or self-confidence.
You need to understand what these are by feeling them for yourself. Then you can give them to other people. Many of us have been taught as children not to be prideful, but respect and love for ourselves are not prideful. They are the right of every person, and they are the basis of optimism and positive thinking.
OBSTACLES TO OPTIMISM
We are all born with a degree of natural self-confidence, the basis of optimism. But it is eroded for all of us to varying extents by negative influences. The most common are:
Blame and Criticism
Blame and criticism can come in all stages of life. First, your parents probably handed out quite a bit of criticism while trying to teach you the right things to do. Whether it was just or unjust criticism, it could have diminished your confidence.
Later, you may have experienced blame and criticism in school. From grades to sports, you are always being compared to others, and no one is the best at everything.
The workplace is another area where we receive criticism. It can be severe, depending on the manager and the culture of the company.
Finally, your partner may be critical, comparing you to an ideal in his or her mind.
The result of this blame and criticism can be that
- • You think everything is your fault
- • You become vulnerable to criticism
- • You don’t take risks because you might fail.
As we begin to grow up, many of us learn that it is safer to be quiet and conform to the crowd. It could be that when we stepped out and were wrong, we were laughed at. On the other hand, if we were right too often, we’d be criticized for that.
The safe route was to watch what others did and do that.
The result of these experiences can be
- • You don’t take opportunities when they come along
- • You become a people pleaser
- • You live based on what you “should” do instead of what you want to do.
Again, school is an environment where we are all in competition for grades, sports, music, etc. If we continually try our best and are not rewarded for it, we become accustomed to disappointment and may start to believe that we will never be “enough.”
This can lead to
- • You doubting your ability
- • You comparing yourself with others
- • You putting yourself under extra stress to succeed.
Disappointments are inevitable in life for everyone sometimes. They can happen in school, at work, or in personal relationships, whenever we expect something good to happen and it doesn’t materialize. With enough disappointment, we can begin to distrust ourselves and others. We can begin to become cynical and not believe in anything.
The result can be
- • You expect things to go wrong, so you don’t try
- • You feel you’re not good, so nothing good happens
- • You worry when things go well and wait for the other shoe to drop.
Perfectionism usually begins in childhood, stemming from parents who set up very high standards for their children. This may result in you becoming a human “doing” rather than a human being — someone who sees his value in what he does, not in his simple existence.
The long-lasting results are
- • You criticize yourself for not being perfect
- • You fear disapproval
- • You won’t let others see your mistakes.
All of the above influences are challenges to an optimistic, positive attitude.
The best way to combat these obstacles is with the awareness that they are part of our current attitude and then with positive self-talk. It’s a simple two-step process that works quite well if you consistently practise it.
Here’s an example:
Self-Talk for Perfectionism
The realisation goes something like, “I’m constantly afraid that people will think I’m stupid if I say the wrong thing.”
The self-talk goes, “I’m tired of being afraid of that. Why should I give other people’s opinions so much importance? Besides, everyone’s wrong sometimes. It doesn’t mean they’re stupid. I’m going to answer.” Try it. After a few times, you’ll feel a lot better!
POSITIVE THINKING AT WORK
Most of us use our real reasoning abilities every day to cope with the world. But most of us don’t understand the reasoning or how it works. Yet, the way we reason can be our best ally or get us into a lot of trouble.
Consider these tools – how adept are you at using them?
Have you ever known someone who only sees the world in terms of black and white? Everything is either good or bad, right or wrong, with nothing in between.
Susan, for instance, saw things only in black and white. She had a lot of trouble keeping jobs because she couldn’t get along with other people. To her, you were either good or bad. If you were good, everything you did was good. If you were bad, you couldn’t do anything right.
This attitude interfered with her marriage and the way she raised her children. She accepted no excuses, and she had no compassion. Susan suffered from a lack of ambiguity. In this sense, ambiguity is a good thing. It means you can see the shades of gray in a situation.
Most of us are not as extreme as Susan. But we’ve all come up against situations where a lack of ambiguity can lead to harshness, condemnation, and punishment.
A sense of ambiguity helps us see people in gray areas and allows us to look at situations from many different viewpoints.
This helps us to question life positively and become more tolerant and understanding of others.
Looking at life with ambiguity is a more realistic approach since there are many gray areas in life. For instance, even very intelligent people can do some really stupid things. It’s human. Understanding ambiguity makes life easier for you and for the people around you. It’s both realistic and flexible. Without it, it’s impossible to have a positive mental attitude.
Objectivity is another essential ingredient of optimism. Have you ever known someone who consistently makes a mountain out of a molehill? You know, the type of person that you feel like you’re walking on eggshells around?
These people make difficult bosses and difficult parents. People who lack objectivity put their businesses at risk every day. Businesses are full of situations that require compromise, situations where you need to stand back and evaluate what’s happening, what is fair, and what will be best for all parties.
With objectivity, you can take a good look at what you’re doing, who you are, and what you want. Without exercising objectivity, you have little chance of maintaining a positive attitude.
Here we are talking about discrimination in a good way. What we need is the ability to look at a lot of options and decide which one is best in a certain circumstance. On the one hand, you need to realise that the world exists in shades of grey. On the other hand, you need to be able to evaluate all those shades of grey and distinguish between them. So, it’s not as simple as having two options, one black, and one white. Usually, life isn’t that clear-cut.
Take the example of a troubled marriage:
Nancy has an emotionally abusive husband who takes his temper out on her and their children. She doesn’t have a job, so if she leaves her husband, she has no way to provide for herself and her children. She stays in the marriage, thinking she has no options because she doesn’t see any way out.
She has several options: getting her husband to go to counselling, finding a career counsellor who can help her get a job, and talking to family and friends who could tell her about options she doesn’t know she has. All of these things could help, but the problem is Nancy’s lack of ability to discriminate between options. She’s lost before she’s even begun to fight.
Knowing you have options and being able to choose adeptly among them is essential to maintaining an optimistic attitude.
Detachment is the ability to separate your emotions from your intellect so that you can make the best choice in emotionally difficult situations. When our emotions are involved, we can act impulsively because we’re trying to protect ourselves in some way.
When we have detachment, we are capable of taking a step back, assessing the situation objectively, and then taking appropriate action. This intelligent, self-affirming approach is a key part of optimistic thinking.
Have you ever known someone who seemed intelligent enough but had no common sense? Someone who seems to get into trouble for the craziest reasons? This person probably suffers from an inability to look at situations logically.
Logic is simply the ability to look at options, evaluate the outcomes of each option, and decide which ones are good and which ones are bad. Without logic, people often rationalise; that means they use the excuse that is convenient instead of choosing the best solution.
We all rationalise from time to time – ” I can’t afford them, but I love those shoes, they are on sale, and I’m going to buy them” or ” I should stop smoking, but if I do, I’ll only pick up another bad habit.” You can probably supply some of your rationalisations. The good thing is that most of us know what we’re doing, we don’t do it too often or about very serious things, and we can choose not to do it.
The better we are at choosing the most logical, best outcomes for ourselves, the easier it is to maintain a realistic, practical optimistic attitude.
You can probably see that the more we combine all these aspects of reasoning, the more positive our thinking will be. All five parts need to work together for efficient, effective thinking. When you do have all these aspects working together, can you see how they could help you to nurture and maintain a realistic and practical optimistic attitude?