This month I'm going out on a limb. (Ok, I know it isn't the first time.) That said, I'm discussing a topic that can be a polarizing and deeply misunderstood concept (and I bet you didn't even know it).
I'm talking about optimism.
Regardless of where you fall on the optimism spectrum, I encourage you to keep an open mind and read on. I'm going to share with you what optimism is not and how it relates to your emotional intelligence. You just might come away with a different idea of what optimism really is all about, and some ways you can begin to cultivate more optimism in your life and work.
First, let me define optimism in the context I'm using -- Optimism is simply the ability to look at the brighter side of life and to maintain a positive attitude in the face of adversity, and to remain hopeful and resilient despite setbacks. Optimism is a great indicator of a person's outlook on life.In fact, optimism is an important component in one's overall emotional intelligence.
"The optimist proclaims that we live in the best of all possible worlds, and the pessimist fears this is true." - James Branch Cabell
What Optimism Is NOT
To help understand what optimism is, we should discuss what it is not.
The Optimist and Pessimist
The psychologist Martin Seligman, widely recognized as the father of the positive psychology movement, says there are 3 major attitudes that distinguish the optimist from the pessimist.
1. The optimist tends to view adversity as temporary events. The bad times certainly won't last forever. It's a momentary setback, a blip on the screen, and it won't prevent them from achieving their aim. It merely will delay it.
2. The optimist tends to see the misfortune as pertaining to a specific situation. It's not "more of the same" doom and gloom that pervades their life.
3. The optimist doesn't tend to shoulder all the blame for the event. They look for causes, including potential external causes and they take those into consideration.
"Pessimism leads to weakness, optimism to power." - William James
Pessimism, on the other hand, is caused by what I call the Three P's.
1. The pessimist sees the problem as permanent. This is never going to go away. I've suffered from this problem all my life, and nothing ever changes. It's just another in a long line of setbacks for me. (If you're honest with yourself most of us have felt this way when viewing certain difficulties or obstacles in life.)
2. The pessimist believes the problem is pervasive. Things always go wrong, no matter what I try. Problems, failure, and disappointment are all part of my life. And this problem impacts every area of my life.
3. The pessimist believes the problem is personal. This is being done to me. Or I'm an idiot for not knowing better, for failing in this attempt. My own incompetence is to blame.
So remember, whenever you begin to feel the sting of failure, challenge or unwelcome problems, check in and see if you're taking the pessimistic approach. If you are, then turn those 3 P's around! See the problem as temporary. See it as specific to the moment or circumstances. And make sure you seek out all possible causes, both internal and external in order to take a more realistic and optimistic approach.
"Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence." - Helen Keller
Think about it from this perspective for a moment. If you were working for someone who defaulted to a pessimistic view of things every time the team encountered difficulties, how would that impact your ability to move forward effectively? What would morale be like on your team? What would happen when faced with the inevitable challenges of daily life?
Conversely, what if you worked for someone who was resilient, and had the ability to see the positive even in times of trial and failure? How might that affect your ability to come up with solutions, overcome challenges, and face uncertainty with a deeper sense of confidence?
Given a choice, I will always choose to be optimistic. It beats the heck out of pessimism. But that's just my story. What's yours
Quit being an average leader! Take the FREE Leadership Assessment.
Kevin Ciccotti, Human Factor Formula
Helping companies create sustainable, effective teams that are committed to the success of their projects, the organization, and the individuals with whom they work