How to Resolve the Negative Realities of Positive Thinking

“The nice part about being a pessimist is that you are constantly being either proven right or pleasantly surprised.” George Will

Optimism is dangerous when it causes you to:

  1. Lose motivation. When you only imagine a bright future, you’ve attained your goal in your mind. The result is lost motivation. Positive fantasies about the future causes people to relax too much. (The Atlantic)
  2. Overlook potential problems. (Selective inattention.)
  3. Underestimate the effort required to attain goals.
  4. Believe you control things that are outside your control.

How to resolve the negative realities of positive thinking:

#1. Believe you can make things better, not perfect.

Making a big difference begins with believing you can make a small difference.

#2. Practice defensive pessimism.

Along with imagining success, imagine what might go wrong. “Defensive pessimists, for example, tend to fret a great deal about upcoming stressors such as job interviews or major exams, and they overestimate their likelihood of failure. Yet this worrying works for these individuals, because it allows them to be better prepared.” (Scientific American)

#3. Prioritize action.

Any dream you can’t act on today is a silly fantasy. Imagined success is fuzzy. What one small thing must you accomplish today in order to achieve your dream?

Maintain confidence that your attitudes and actions impact outcomes.

#4. Engage in critical self-reflection.

At the end of the day ask:

  1. What did I accomplish?
  2. How could I have done better?
  3. Where am I blaming instead of taking responsibility?
  4. What am I learning from failure? Success?

#5. Include others.

Explore next steps with people who actually get things done. Don’t ask a Doer how to reach the dream. Ask them how you should prepare.

What negative realities of optimism do you see?

How might leaders resolve the negative realities of optimism?