Use This Self-Development Strategy to Thrive Through Adversity
One day someone handed me a glass of water that was half full and said here’s the problem “Do you see this glass as half full or half empty?” So I drank the water and returned the glass. ”What problem?” ~Author Unknown
You’ve heard them all before … “an optimist says the glass is half full … the pessimist says it’s half empty” … “every cloud has a silver lining;” “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade;” “there’s a light at the end of the tunnel;” “things could always be worse…” and on it goes. Each of these well known sayings serves as a mantra of sorts for promoting hopefulness and an optimistic outlook on life.
Certainly maintaining a positive outlook is a key self-development strategy for sustaining motivation to achieve our goals as well as our ability to overcome adversity. But to become truly resilient means understanding there is a very vital difference between believing you will succeed, and believing you will succeed easily.
Most people don’t understand there is a difference between realistic and unrealistic optimism.
So, am I saying optimism isn’t necessarily a good thing? Not at all! Albert Bandura, one of the founding fathers of scientific psychology and widely described as the most influential psychologists of all time, discovered decades ago that perhaps the best predictor of an individual’s success is whether or not they believe they will succeed. Thousands and thousands of experiments later, he has yet to be proven wrong.
People with high assurance in their capabilities approach difficult tasks as challenges to be mastered rather than as threats to be avoided. ~Albert Bandura
An optimistic outlook means we see the positive side of events or conditions and expect a favorable outcome.
Here’s the caveat …
- A realistic optimist believes that mindset matters, but they will succeed through effort, careful planning, persistence and choosing the right strategies. They recognize the need for giving serious thought to how they will deal with obstacles.
- An unrealistic optimist on the other hand believes that mindset is all that matters. That “everything will all work out somehow” and that the universe will reward them for only thinking positive thoughts, or that somehow they will be transformed overnight into the kind of person for whom obstacles cease to exist.
Social psychologists often point to smokers who underestimate their chances of getting cancer or gamblers who believe they will beat the odds as classic examples of unrealistic optimism.
Let’s look a little closer at how unrealistic optimism can prevent us from achieving our aims … for example deciding to quit smoking without giving any thought how to handle being in a room when others are smoking, or how to respond when offered a cigarette; not so much the first time as the 3rd or 4th time when cravings are raging at full tilt. Then there are the clothes we all tend to hang on to because we are optimistic that some day we’ll shrink back down into those skinny jeans, without ever actually taking steps to make it happen …. we all do it to some degree.
People who are confident that they will succeed, and equally confident that there will naturally be obstacles and occasional detours in life, put in more effort, plan how to deal with problems before they arise, and persist longer in the face of difficulty … in other words, they develop greater resilience.
You can cultivate realistic optimism by combining a positive attitude with an honest assessment of the challenges that await you. Rather than limiting your visualization to ultimate success … visualize the steps you will take in order to make success happen.
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