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How to Be More Optimistic

The first step is to accept the inevitability of disappointment.


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David Owasi

3 years ago | 5 min read

Optimism is a mental attitude reflecting a belief or hope that the outcome of some specific endeavour will be positive, favourable and desirable.

Anne Busquet, once the head of American Express’s Optima Card division, was demoted when five of her employees were revealed to have hidden $24 million in bad debt. Although Busquet was not responsible, she was ultimately accountable and so lost her position as general manager of the division.

Even though she was devastated by the setback, Busquet still felt confident in her abilities and rallied to another challenge she was offered at a lower level: salvaging merchandising services, a failing division of American Express.

Optimists can deal with setbacks by finding a positive response. An optimist sees a setback as a result of factors that are beyond their power and control, not some flaw or deficiency in themselves. Optimists can readily make a realistic assessment of a hitch or setback and can be honest with themselves about how they contributed to it.

From the example with Basquet, she had to reexamine her perfectionist and sometimes overly critical management style. She had to see that her style might have intimidated her employees and contributed to them hiding losses. She underwent executive coaching to soften her style and improve her patience and listening skills. Under her direction, the failing merchandising services division reached profitability within two years.

An optimist understands that life can be a bumpy road, but at least it is leading somewhere. They learn from their mistakes and failures and are not afraid to fail again — Harvey Mackay

For an optimist, failure is not the end of the world, it is just a lesson to learn from for the future. A pessimist on the other hand tends to see the worst aspect of things or believe that the worst will happen, pessimists lack hope and refuse to have any confidence in the future.

A pessimist sees setbacks as confirming some fatal flaw in themselves that cannot be changed, which results in a defeatist attitude that brings up feelings of hopelessness and helplessness. A pessimist will ask themselves “If I am doomed to fail, why try?”.

The value of optimism

The value of an optimistic outlook has been proven in many organizations. At American Express, a pilot test of optimism training helped produce a rise in sales after just three months, this was significant enough to convince the company to make it a standard part of the training.

On a personal level, if you choose to see the brighter side of things, you are more likely to experience more positive events in your life, you will feel less stressed and even enjoy greater success in your career. Researchers studying optimists for years have found than optimism leads to the following:

  1. Superior health including a 50% reduction in risk of cardiovascular disease and greater survival rates when fighting cancer.
  2. Greater achievement resulting from positive energy and believe that better days are ahead even in the face of failure or defeat.
  3. Persistence and will to turn things around in the face of defeat which turns failures into success.
  4. Emotional health and balance.
  5. Reduction in stress

Optimism and hope

To be optimistic, you need to have hope.

To be optimistic, you need to have hope. Hope gives you the energy to pursue the steps needed to get to your goal. Hope is a primal motivating force, and its absence is paralyzing.

The power of hope was shown in a study of caseworkers whose task it was to help people with the most severe mental disabilities like schizophrenia to carve out a life for themselves in a supervised setting. The first year in such jobs are the toughest because there is usually no observable improvement, the patients don’t get better, things go wrong, the patients are usually ungrateful and most caseworkers burn out and quit.

However, the caseworkers who were most hopeful and optimistic about their client’s potential for improvement and their ability to help fared the best. After a year on the job, those who began with high levels of hope survived with the most job satisfaction. They were less emotionally exhausted and were most likely to stay in their jobs.

Hopefulness is crucial when anyone undertakes a tough task, like living in a pandemic and recession. Positive expectations will be beneficial to weather this storm and high optimism might be a rewarding survival strategy.

How can you begin?

  1. Accept the inevitability of disappointment: You will be disappointed at times with how things turn out no matter what. So if your choice is between positive expectations that are occasionally proven wrong or negative expectations that are occasionally proven right, you might as well go with the former. Many of the negative things you predict never actually happen, and even when they do, you can usually recover from them pretty quickly. What you do after being disappointed is all that matters, optimism is a choice. Choosing to see the glass as half-full is up to you.
  2. Find something that brings you alive: The world can be dark and gloomy and when you watch the news these days, it is hard not to be pessimistic. Find an activity, event or hobby that gets your juices flowing and heart pumping, this will help you to see the beauty in life and improve your optimistic outlook. For example, I find that what has recently brought me alive is a good and lively fireside conversation with a close friend or two about life, it helps me process things. During this pandemic, I have made it a priority to always connect with friends which helps me to stay optimistic. What brings you alive?
  3. Put things in perspective: Intentionally counteract your extremely negative predictions with extremely positive ones, this will enable you to find the middle ground and stay levelheaded. For example, if one of your sales proposals fail, you might naturally be attracted to the more pessimistic interpretation and tell yourself “this is the end of my sales career, I’m never going to make any sales again”. As a counterbalance, imagine the least catastrophic interpretation and tell yourself, “maybe I am not pitching my product to someone that recognizes its value, I should try and find them”. Between these two extremes is where you will find the sweet spot.
  4. Take note of what you consume: You are ultimately a product of what you consume. If you choose to read books, spend time with people and listen to podcasts that have an optimistic outlook on things, then you are more likely to adopt an optimistic outlook on life. If you constantly consume information and spend time with toxic people that are habitually negative, hateful or always painting a bleak picture of things, then it won’t be a surprise if you find yourself adopting a pessimistic view of things. Be aware of what you consume and try to maintain a balance.

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David Owasi

I am a business owner, consultant and creative entrepreneur. I bring a lot of energy, passion and optimism to any project I am involved in. I drive to maximize my talents and potentials alongside those I work with. I bring a wealth of business ownership and coaching experience.


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