How To Stay Realistically Optimistic

May 29, 2017 5 Min Read
Realistically Optimistic

While optimism is highly encouraged and always more appreciated, it is also important for one to maintain a realistic mind to keep the positive vibe running and to achieve our end goals.

Most of us understand optimism and pessimism very well. We also know that being optimistic is always perceived better compared to being pessimistic. Optimism brings joy and good feelings.

Helen Keller once said:

Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement… no pessimist ever discovered the secret of the stars, or sailed to an uncharted land, or opened a new doorway for the human spirits.

Being optimistic is always closely associated with ease in coping with stress, besides being more resilient and courageous, and this plays a significant role in experiencing a wholesome life.

Optimism opens doors of opportunities and discovery, often driven by a strong sense of curiosity and faith in actions that help to unearth the answers. Yes, optimism can be a little bit idealistic, especially if it is overly emphasised.


In fact, many motivational speakers and self-improvement books stress on this one simple message: believe that success will come easily to you, and it will. The problem in this argument is that it is often not that simple.

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The other side of the spectrum: Pessimism

Pessimism usually reflects a state of mind in which one anticipates undesirable outcomes or believes that the difficulties in life always outweigh the good. In fact, almost everything is a no-go for a pessimist.

While pessimists usually blame themselves for any shortfall in life, they also hardly give credit to their own achievements. For example, a pessimist may reject any ideas proposed in a team and prefer to stick to the current ways of doing things, which might not always be the most effective way.

People who sit like this should not be allowed to be so close to the ocean.

A pessimist despises changes without even considering the long-term positive impact other new initiatives might bring.

Of course, not many people enjoy changes, but there is a difference between people who want to go out of their comfort zones with a belief that they stand a chance to succeed, and those who just refuse to move because things are already working good enough for them.

Defining realistic optimism

People who are realistically optimistic believe that when they make things happen, they will succeed. They hardly doubt themselves into working and believing towards success.

Following that thought, they absolutely know that they have to put details into their plan, weigh all the necessary resources, stay focused throughout the journey, and consider different options – all of these executed in excellence.

Realistic optimists recognise the need to think mindfully. When they are well prepared and organised, they are aware of the risks and plans for mitigation. Such a state stimulates their confidence level, which then leads to an increased optimistic outlook on the success rate. Being realistic and optimistic at the same time helps people to stay calm and collected even in times of crisis.

Sophia Chou, an organisational psychology researcher at the National Taiwan University, said that realistic optimists often get the best of both worlds – they use their realism to perform well at work, but at the same time are not bogged down by unhappiness. She also added that realistic optimists tend to choose accuracy over self-enhancement, while the unrealistic optimists tend to choose self-enhancement.

Based on research, it is also interesting to find that the realistic optimists usually get better grades than their less grounded peers – probably because they didn’t delude themselves into thinking they would do well without studying or working hard.

How is leadership influenced by realistic optimism?

Realistic optimism is regarded as one of the key traits in an ideal chief executive officer. Leaders who advocate realistic optimism carry themselves without self-delusion and irrationality.

These leaders pursue ambitious goals that others might view as impossible to reach, and at the same time, they are aware of the challenges that lie ahead. It is crucial for the team to know that by the end of the day, the team knows that the leader has their backs.

Ayyy. Just right.

Setting ambitious goals and having the ability to inspire a team to succeed is something that sets leaders apart. Having the ability to step back and deal with reality during the tumultuous journey is even more highly esteemed.

When leaders have their vision and objectives properly grounded with a sense of reality, it helps to fuel the motivation and loyalty from the team. Realistic optimism does not mean to settle for less ambitious goals, rather it is a good trait that balances strong passion in driving teams to achieve exceptional results. 

5 steps to exercise realistic optimism in our lives

  1. Evaluate the challenges ahead and plan actionable steps to overcome these challenges. The key is to be positive, which means to really believe that things will turn out fine, now that you have considered all the mitigation steps to take in minimising risks.
  2. Expect the unexpected and know that you have the inner tools to deal with these unforeseen challenges.
  3. Don’t get too attached to unpleasant events. Dr. Martin Seligman, in his book Learned Optimism, suggests to do something enjoyable to get you distracted from the situation and to get yourself back into a better state of mind. When you are more collected, only then you revisit the unresolved situation. In doing so, you are more likely to think of better and more creative solutions.
  4. Contribute towards making a lasting impact in someone else’s life. When you help someone, the flow of positive energy is tremendous. As they say, happiness is contagious. When you make others happy, the happiness state indirectly affects you too. Everything seems better and achievable.
  5. Begin by looking after your physical, mental and emotional well-being. For example, exercise and meditation help to release endorphins, thereby creating a more positive vibes. Eating and sleeping well are both important for positive mood and effective brain functioning to help you to be a better creative problem-solver rather than a pessimist.

Bridging gaps through humour

Frank A. Clark once said that "the next best thing to solving a problem is finding some humour in it". Humour helps to ease any tight and difficult situations. It is also another way of completely changing a negative, pessimistic, view into a more positive view.

Humour immediately alters mood and produces feelings of joy, enthusiasm and confidence. It helps to give you a new positive outlook on the situations. Have you noticed that if you make light of a situation, that situation loses its power to make you feel threatened?

Bringing it all together

In the quest of being realistically optimist, we need to realise that it requires high discipline to make it come naturally. Realistic optimism is not about being sure that success will come true without having to work hard for it. It’s the ongoing process of putting yourself out there, exploring the opportunities and challenges, planning to minimise risk and basically making it work.

More importantly, the pursuit of cultivating realistic optimism lies in the journey, not the destination.

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Awatif is a former senior analyst with Leaderonomics Campus. She loves traveling solo and is more adventurous in real life than she seems at first glance.

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