Optimism: Powerful Mojo

Optimism is organizing positively toward the future and having a disposition to react to issues with a sense of confidence. Optimism is not an excessively or blindly optimistic attitude, it is a foundational belief that the future can be better.

Reuven Bar-On defines optimism simply as a positive attitude and outlook on life.  Optimism helps initiatives and it helps your career. A study by Michelle Gielan and Shawn Anchor found that you are 40% more likely to gain a promotion if you practice optimism. Carol Dweck’s research on mindsets, fixed versus growth, found that people with a growth mindset are significantly more successful than those with a fixed mindset.  Optimism and a growth mindset go hand-in-hand; if you believe that something is learnable, then a setback is framed in a learning context to find increased success.  An optimist can expect that obstacles will arise, but that they will not doom an imitative; failure is not part of the optimist mindset.

How to become more optimistic?  For starters, listen to yourself and to times when you are pessimistic.  From where does the pessimism come? Pessimism often has a historical orientation (“we tried that before…”).  Watch for sarcasm – is the sarcasm funny and lighthearted? Or is it a biting remark toward an inevitable failure?  If you feel pessimism creeping in, work to reframe it as sensibility.  Shift pessimistic talk: “Oh, we’ve tried this before and we’ll never get it right” to, “What did we learn from before that we need to include in approaching this the next time?”  The second dialog, whether internal or external, holds the possibility that the future could be better, but admits that something sensible may need to be considered or added for success.

Sometimes, pessimism is a cover for unhappiness.  Nothing informs us more than our level of happiness:  If we are in the right place doing the right work with the right people, we have a strong basis to be happy and optimistic.  Ask yourself, with whom do you associate?  Are they optimistic?  If not, find new associates.  Is your life less than satisfying?  Then do purpose work. People who are engaged in meaningful endeavors are more optimistic.

I recently reread Endurance, the true story of an attempted Antarctic Crossing in 1914-1917. Time and again, their plight seemed doomed. It would have been understandable for them to be gloomy and morose, having spent well over a yearmarooned on the ice and facing tremendous life & death hardship.  The leader of the expedition, Sir Ernest Shackleton, led them against every odd to safety.  Shackleton said this: “Optimism is true moral courage.”

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