Stop Being Overly Optimistic to Achieve Success
How excessive optimism can make things worse and why a pessimistic-realistic attitude helps you more
New year, new you. Always look on the bright side. Smile and the world will smile back. Look for the positive and you can find it. You can achieve whatever you want. You are capable of great things. Don’t settle for being ordinary.
We’ve just closed a year that was mostly labelled as an unprecedented shitshow of a dumpster fire (these are the new words I learnt in 2020) and as we enter into a new year we need to be optimistic, right? We need to have hope that things will get better. We need to believe that life will get back to normal — whatever normal means for us. We need to have plans and ambitions. Sure, we need to have a positive attitude, especially when the going gets tough. Or when things are looking up. So, basically all the time.
It is scientifically proven that optimism has plenty of benefits, in many areas of life. Optimism increases pain tolerance and even life expectancy. Being optimistic can work miraculously in your relationships, it improves your health and your overall performance too.
But too much of anything does more harm than good and we, humans, usually fail to do anything in moderation — optimism included.
So, I invite you to reconsider being an always cheerful optimist — and to adopt a slightly gloomier, more realistic outlook this coming year. Take off your rose-coloured glasses and without acting like Eeyore, consider ditching the forever-happy-optimism. Being realistic, or slightly pessimistic about yourself and your environment prepares you more for success in your personal and professional life. Here are five ways how being overly optimistic will harm you more than helping you.
Don’t Fall For the ‘This Will Be Easy’ Mindset
Being overly optimistic can evolve into an unrealistic arrogance — about our work, our relationships, our businesses, our kids, our willpower. While negative self-talk can be disastrous, overly positive self-talk is irresponsible. Most of the things are not easy.
Quitting smoking cold turkey is hard. Sticking to a diet and exercise plan is tough. Starting a new business and pursuing it until it brings results can be extremely challenging.
Fooling ourselves into believing that just because we are optimistic something will be easy might leave us unprepared for the challenges it will bring — because it will bring challenges. Most of the time, an optimistic attitude contributes to the success but it does not create it — it just makes it easier to weather the difficult times.
Moreso, we appreciate and value more the things we have to work for. Don’t go for the easy, go for the realistic, put in the work and celebrate your achievements even if they didn’t come easy.
If Everyone is Extraordinary, Who Is Average?
A staggering number of people believe that they are above average. According to different studies on illusory superiority, a great percentage of respondents believe that they are better, more popular, healthier than the average. Or that they are better drivers, better parents, better teachers. A fun fact: 65% of Americans believe they are above average in intelligence. Wow.
The average is a neutral term when talking about people and not mathematical concepts, it is the qualities that appear most often. It is impossible for being above average for this many people.
We are unique and we have a unique set of qualities that set us apart — but we are not extraordinary in most of the things, and this way being average is not a bad thing.
The belief that we are better than most of our peers can lead us to a disadvantage — not working on ourselves, not trying to be better people, better leaders, better partners are more harmful than helpful.
Be okay with being average and work on yourself to be better than yesterday or last year. That’s a healthier and more realistic way to look at life. Without the arrogance and the certainty that you are born to do something amazing, just be good enough in what you do.
Magical Thinking Is Delusional Thinking
One of my pet-hates is The Secret and the law of attraction that promotes magical thinking and encourages us to be delusional. While from a positive thinking point of you it does offer some positive affirmations and an optimistic perspective, if you confuse positive thinking and magical thinking, it will surely backfire.
The law of attraction is the multilevel marketing pyramid scheme of positive psychology and it lacks all scientific backup. The power of thoughts is important but overdoing it and believing that you only need to wish something badly enough will actually make it happen is harming your whole life.
If you assume that your thoughts only will bring you your desired outcome, you hold yourself back from reaching your potential. It’s not enough to wish that your relationship turns into something genuinely great, you need to work for it. Only to dream of your perfect job won’t result in a job offer. Picturing your perfect life in your mind won’t bring a perfect life, but it can hold you back from making it happen. Positive thinking only works if it’s paired with positive behaviour. So don’t just think it and don’t believe in magic — work for it.
You Only Need to Plan Carefully
An overly optimistic but more practical aspect is when you believe that with careful planning everything will work out. If 2020 taught us anything it was about letting our carefully crafted plans go. We were all affected and we all had to adapt.
Planning is necessary but it is foolish to believe that things will go according to plan all the time. Life has a habit of surprising us — with the good and bad.
Being optimistic and believing that your plans will work out is irresponsible. We always need backup plans, we always have to improvise, we always need to alter the ways. Think of it as a navigation system rather than a set-out route. There can be roadblocks and accidents — the only thing is sure that you want to get from A to B and the route can change.
If you are prepared for the negative outcome, instead of parroting that everything will be just fine, you are setting yourself up for more success and an easier ride too.
The Truth Still Matters
Overly optimistic people tend to look for just the good in the things. After all, this is their life motto: find the good in everything. I don’t think that looking for problems and potential issues is too helpful, but we need to observe the world as it is, not as we want to see it.
The truth is that not everyone wants the best for you, not every relationship is healthy, not every business idea is viable. Your judgment needs to be on point to be successful in any area, and being overly optimistic can cloud your judgment — big time.
If you refuse to notice the bad you will miss the warning signs. If you always believe that people are inherently good you will give infinite second chances to people who manipulate you and lie to you. If you refuse to accept that something went wrong in your business or relationship, it takes away the opportunity of fixing it while it’s still possible.
Optimism shouldn’t mean stupid, and the truth shouldn’t be idealised.
We need to be optimistic, we need to believe and hope. We need second chances and we need to see the good in people and opportunities. But not everything happens for a reason, not every plan succeeds, not every relationship is worth the pain.
Our inner dialogue is an important part of our personality. It impacts how we see the world and our place in it. It affects our well-being and our behaviour. The negative co-exists with the positive and focusing on just one side is unhealthy — no matter whether you choose to be overly negative or overly positive. Learn to develop balanced thinking. Look for the positive but be aware of the darker side too.
Tame your unhealthy dark thoughts, learn to identify them and replace them with more positive reasoning. But don’t ignore the reality of the situation. Constructive optimism is a great skill and we all should practice it more. Look for the silver lining, but don’t deny that there was a cloud in the first place.