Living Optimistically Despite Life’s Harsh Realities

green leafy plant growing in the dessert

Do you frequently find yourself anticipating the worse in nearly every situation?
Do you think setbacks are pervasive, constant, and defining your entire life?
Do you quickly give up?
Do you often feel depressed?
Do you think bad things will happen forever and ruin all you do?
Do you believe that you frequently have bad luck?
Do you think luck had a role in your success?
Do you frequently feel hopeless and drained?

If you answered yes to 3 or more of these questions, your mental and physical health might be in danger. To spare yourself the risks, you need to change your mindset and perspective. You need to look at things in a more positive light.

Now, who does not like that? Who does not like having a positive outlook in life even when things seem dire and hopeless?

Imagine sparing yourself from the pain of over-thinking.

You are sparing yourself from unnecessary discouragement.

You are freeing yourself from the chains of worry.

If you want to experience this freedom;

If you want to live without unnecessary baggage, then you need to develop the competency of Realistic Optimism.

What is Optimism, and Why is it Important?

Optimism is a mental state marked by confidence and belief in a successful and bright future. Optimists often believe that positive things are bound to happen.

Research conducted by Martin Seligman demonstrates that optimists (those who employ an optimistic explanatory style) adapt better to unfavourable situations and experience less distress.

Optimists report more health-enhancing behaviours and are far less prone to experience depressive or anxious states. When faced with adversity, optimists continue to put out the effort and learn from their experiences, whereas pessimists tend to give up and give in. If a pessimist is correct and things do go poorly, they will still feel down about it since they label any difficulties as catastrophes.

Optimism is indeed good and necessary. It gives you the motivation and confidence you need to go after the things you seek. 

The “Positivity” Myth.

Because of its numerous benefits, people who do not fully grasp the concept of Optimism, misuse it. They believe that the key to happiness is to have an “optimistic mindset”. They believe that avoiding negative thoughts will make all problems disappear, so they teach people to have this “think only positive” mindset. However, like pessimism, this mindset also has its risks.

Positive thinking helps you believe that everything is perfect and that if you think positively, amazing things will happen. Although most people do not feel anything wrong about this belief, positive thinking will later take you away from reality, which will ultimately cause heartbreaks.

People must comprehend that just 8 to 10 per cent of our thoughts are positive and that our subconscious governs the majority. So, if you are not mentally prepared, "sub-consciously," it's the end of the world.

According to several studies, people have around 50,000 thoughts daily, and about 70 to 80 per cent of those thoughts are reportedly negative. This indicates that for most individuals, thinking just positive thoughts is not realistic because our brains are not designed to "think positive thoughts only."

On the other hand, it turns out that a more reasonable compromise exists, one that avoids the extremes of "happy thoughts only" and pessimism while nevertheless keeping one's fingers crossed for the best. It's called Realistic Optimism, a powerful competency that lets you let go of fear and anxiety without losing touch with reality.

Realistic Optimism: An overlooked but vital competency

Realistic Optimism is the ability to expect success rather than failure, see an opportunity rather than a threat, and see others positively. It is also the ability to expect the future to bring positive change, that things will be better.

In an article by the Harvard Business Review, Heidi Grant, PhD, describes what realistic optimists are. She said: “Realistic optimists...believe they will succeed, but also believe they have to make success happen—through things like effort, careful planning, persistence, and choosing the right strategies. They recognize the need to consider how they will deal with obstacles. This preparation only increases their confidence in their ability to get things done."

Simply put, Realistic Optimism is having faith that your dream is possible and accepting that you'll have to put in the effort and persevere through setbacks before you reach your destination. Grant argues that this approach is far more useful than the "think happy thoughts only" mentality of the unrealistic optimist.

The main distinction is that those practising realistic Optimism still hold out hope for a positive outcome, although acknowledging that achieving that outcome may prove challenging. More success is likely if you hold to that kind of optimistic view.

People who scored high in this competency exhibit the following:

● Consider hurdles and adverse events transient, surmountable challenges to be conquered.

● Have a self-talk style that stems from a positive attitude toward success.

● Believe not only that they can succeed but also that they will succeed
Apply this belief to everything they do, not just one assignment.

● Instead of being afraid of failure, adopt a success mindset.

● Consider success to be a function of people's motivation and abilities.

● Believe that unpleasant events are not their fault; instead, they are simply unavoidable external realities they can overcome.

● They are unafraid of defeat, and when faced with a difficult scenario, they see it as a challenge and strive harder. They do not consider failures a personal weakness; instead, they consider setbacks transient.

● Have better performance at work, school, on the playing field, and in life; enjoy more excellent health; and, according to new studies, may even live longer.

Developing Realistic Optimism

Knowing the numerous benefits of this overlooked but essential competency, how do we develop this?

Doing the following tips can help strengthen your Realistic Optimism:

1. Tune into your self-talk about the adversity in your life.

How do you view life’s adversities? Do you often blame yourself for what adversities that is happening to you? Do you find adversities as debilitating rather than enabling?

Examine your beliefs about adversity and how you interpret it. If you have a negative perspective on adversity, you need to shift your mindset and view adversity as something that is passing and something can strengthen you.


2. Take note of your feelings about these beliefsdo you feel sad, anxious, or guilty?

Note that pessimistic explanations result in passivity and dejection and optimistic explanations energize you. Dispute those negative beliefs, and don’t allow them to become habitual or circle endlessly through your mind (i.e., “this is absurd, I’m blowing things out of proportion.”) Look for evidence or alternative explanations to dispute negative beliefs (“There’s no evidence here that I’m a failure; I just messed up this time.”)

3. "De-catastrophize" (a term borrowed from Dr. Martin Seligman)

Catastrophic thinking (magnification) is characteristic of many anxiety problems. Decatastrophizing is a cognitive restructuring strategy that can be used to decrease or confront catastrophic thought.

Questions to consider include, "Really, what's the worst that may happen?" and "How would I handle the worst -case scenario?"

Indeed, Realistic Optimism frees you from the chains of worry and anxiety without rooting you up from reality.

Develop your Realistic Optimism and enjoy your life to the fullest!

We Are Here to Help

At People Builders, we have a team of expert trainers and coaches who can help you in building you and your team’s Realistic Optimism competency and Emotional Intelligence
. Contact us today for a quick chat to see how we can partner with you to train and coach you and your team.

If you are interested in becoming certified to be a trainer and coach in Social and Emotional Intelligence, Applied Neuroscience, or Extended DISC, go to our People Builders Institute website.


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