Optimism is defined as “hopefulness and confidence about the future or the successful outcome of something.” Upon reading the definition you will notice the phrase, “successful outcome”. That phrase denotes action. Optimism is an action word, it means we hope for the future, we picture achieving our dreams and goals while we are working towards them.
Sometimes optimism is confused with wishfully dreaming and they are two very different things. Wishfully dreaming is sitting in the armchair saying over and over to oneself, “I am successful. I will win the lottery, good things will come my way.” Although this is better than sitting in the armchair saying to oneself that “nothing good will every come my way”, it is still just sitting in the armchair. It is against the law of physics for a body inactive create activity.
Optimism is active. Howard Shultz, owner of Starbucks, believed as a young boy growing up in a small apartment in Brooklyn, New York that life could be different. Because of the faith and encouragement of a great mother, Howard saw a brighter future for himself and he went to work to achieve it. He graduated from college, saw an opportunity to take something good and make it great, rolled up his sleeves and went to work to make his dream a reality. He didn’t sit home and dream about a better life, he was optimistic he could create it and did so through action.
Optimism can get us through the stressful times. When we believe that hardships or downturns can actually turn out to be for our good we are able to handle the stressful times better. At the risk of being redundant let’s take a look at Howard Shultz again. While working for a company called Hammarplast, Howard was curious why a small coffee shop ordered so many plastic cone filters. He was so enamored with the company, he asked to work with them and joined them as the Director of Marketing. When they were unwilling to change the company to capture the essence of the more traditional coffee shops he found while in Milan, Italy, Shultz’s started his own company and after a few more years bought out Starbucks.
Howard’s striving for change in an unwilling environment? Starting a new company with a pregnant wife? Buying out a larger company? All stressful. What made it possible to manage that stress? Responsible optimism. Howard had a vision, was optimistic he could achieve it, and worked hard. Many other setbacks have befallen this optimistic entrepreneur, and Howard Shultz has taken each one to turn them into successes.
Optimism can open doors for success. When we are optimistically working toward a goal, we create action in the universe around us. Opportunities will begin to present themselves to us and doors once closed will open. A body in action creates action.
Optimism creates the confidence to take risks. The Wright brothers believed we could fly and risked their lives to prove it. Bill Gates dropped out of college to help create Microsoft. Henry Ford slashed prices, risking losses yet he managed to meet the need for the Model T and turn the risk to success. Richard Branson is a risk seeker and turns many of those risks into gold. Oprah Winfrey took a risk on herself and became the richest woman in America. If you ask any successful person about their life, it will be a story about risk and optimism.
How do you become optimistic?
- Break down challenges in to palatable, bite size pieces. : Rolling out a new enterprise work management system or fulfilling a huge order on a tight deadline can quickly become very stressful, but creating a calendar of daily, incremental tasks and then tackling the tasks one day at a time won’t be nearly as stressful. In other words, when we’re feeling overwhelmed, we should break our biggest challenges down to bite-sized pieces that we can tackle on a daily or even hourly basis. What can be accomplished before lunch? What are the individual components of our larger task that will give us satisfaction as we complete each one? This approach ensures we constantly feel productive and accomplished. And when we feel productive and accomplished, we feel optimistic.
- Imagine yourself achieving your success and take some calculated risks to make it happen. : We all dream about our success and have probably mapped out a detailed strategy in our head for how we’ll get there. But what will it feel like to experience this success? How will our lives change (for the better) as a result of our success? The emotional experience of our journey to success can be a very powerful motivator, and we should tap into this experience as much as possible. Even when things are not looking up for us at the moment, we can always hold onto our dreams about the stability we hope to provide for ourselves and our loved ones, and the gratification of leaving a legacy in our community.
- Monitor your negative self-talk. Everyone reaches a stressful point in which they simply need to lash out and vent. They want bemoan the situation they’re in, or to decry the forces that seem to be conspiring against them, or to make irrational decisions in response. These are all natural reactions, but unfortunately we’ll be in big trouble if we let them go unchecked. We need to vigilantly monitor all of this negative self-talk so that a moment of frustration does not snowball into overwhelming depression
- Focus on your past successes. The best way to find our way out of any challenging situation is to look at how we’ve done so successfully in the past. We should constantly be asking ourselves: When was the last time I was in a similar situation to this, and how did my experience engender similar feelings and emotions? How did I think through my past challenge? What values and beliefs did I rely upon? What attitude did I adopt initially and over the long term as I confronted this challenge? In what ways was I able to adapt, be flexible and gain the clarity and insights I needed?
To sum it all up, being optimistic on our journey and working toward meaningful outcomes will bring about a much more abundant and enjoyable life than just sitting back and wishfully dreaming.