I’ve written about optimism before and, recently, have adjusted my viewpoint. In reading several articles and the book “The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working” by Tony Schwartz, I’ve come to realize that optimism is critical but, more importantly, it has to be realistic. Tony gives the example of a 5’4′ guy who wants to play basketball. Unrealistic optimism would show up as this guy wants to play in the NBA. Realistic optimism shows up as this guy wants to be the best basketball player he can be. It’s an adjustment in perspective or focus, the ability to see that it might be a struggle and it’s going to take hard work but you feel like you can persevere.
Basically, it’s turning blind faith or just plain wishing into reality. I’ve wanted to go to Paris for the last twenty plus years. I have yet to go. I know I’m going to go but the reality of two kids in college, a mortgage, my parents now living ten feet away…well, the reality is, that it’s a few years off. I am confident that I will be standing on the Avenue des Champs-Élysées at some point with a warm baguette in hand, it’s just going to take some planning and patience.
So how do you go from wishing to reality? Here are some tips.
1. No Storytelling. I see this in clients all the time. They tell themselves that they can’t do something. I can’t get that promotion. I can’t get a CPA. I can’t move to San Francisco. The old Henry Ford adage is right. “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t–you’re right.” It is not possible to succeed if you think you can’t. Stop telling yourself stories.
2. Lenient. As Tony Schwartz recommends, you need to be lenient and forgiving in your evaluation of past events. So if you didn’t pass the exam the first time, meh…you were having a bad day. Maybe you didn’t get enough sleep. Cut yourself some slack. Forgive yourself. I cook on a regular basis; I can assure you that if all I focused on was my failures, we would be eating out for Thanksgiving. Be lenient in your view of past events.
3. Gratitude. Frequently show gratitude for your current situation. Do you have electricity? A roof? A job? Dwell on the positive. In a consumer society, we can constantly focus on what we don’t have. This will leave you empty. You will be constantly looking to fill the shelves and your attic with things. Appreciate the present in all its imperfection. Got gratitude?
4. Possible. Mission possible. This is the glass half full mentality. I can remember telling my doctor that I was planning to run a half marathon. I was worried that I wouldn’t do it fast enough. He said, “You can always walk it”. What a relief! Refocusing on what could be, made it attainable. Focus on what is possible.
5. Acknowledge. The key to success is acknowledging that it won’t be easy. Psychologist Gabriele Oettingen did a study with obese women. The women who thought that losing weight would be a walk in the park lost less weight than those who understood that there may be some adversity along the way. Think through what possible adversity you might encounter along the way. Krispy Kremes at the breakfast meeting, free toffee samples at the grocery store and sub freezing temperatures for your 6 AM run. Acknowledge adversity but don’t let it stop you.
6. Honest. Be honest with yourself. If you are 6’4″, a career as a jockey isn’t likely to be fruitful. If it’s your passion and you understand that you will never race in the Triple Crown, then go for it. Make sure you are realistic in your self view. I remember being on the swim team in high school. I was the slowest on the team but by year end, I had improved my time the most. That’s all that matters. I knew I wasn’t going to win any races but focusing on my own improvement paid dividends. Be honest.