Stop, Drop & Roll: Better To Be Realistic or Optimistic?
Looks like we’ve made it to the third and final part of our journey to the good life- it’s time to roll! Having learned the importance of stopping to savor our experiences and dropping our focus from what goes wrong in life to what goes right, how can we roll through challenges that inevitably come our way?
Challenge vs. Opportunity
Think of the last time you confronted something incredibly challenging. Did you shy away out of fear of failure, or did you step forward with curiosity? It seems that far too often, we see challenges as obstacles that we fear may stunt our growth. What if, instead, we saw challenges as opportunities for growth and tackled them optimistically?
Carol Dweck, a pioneering researcher in the field of motivation, suggests that this all comes down to our mindset. A “fixed mindset” assumes that we are static and born with inherent abilities that can’t change much over the course of our lives. In many ways, then, any effort to learn is pointless because you’re either smart or you’re not. People with this mindset strive for success and avoid failure. On the other hand, someone with a “growth mindset” invites challenge and sees failure as necessary in order to grow and develop fully.
So, the next time you’re confronted with a challenge, notice what thoughts first come to mind. If you find yourself shying away, try to reframe the challenge by telling yourself it’s an opportunity to learn something new. After all, didn’t someone once say that we miss 100% of the opportunities we don’t take?
Realism vs. Optimism
When these challenges come our way, it’s nothing new to think that a little optimism couldn’t hurt. Many would argue, however, that being too optimistic could be dangerous and potentially blind us to reality. So is it better to be realistic or optimistic?
An article by Sandra Schneider in 2011 suggests that instead of thinking of these as two separate constructs, we consider what she calls realistic optimism. Bear with me as I get a little philosophical here, but basically the idea behind her theory is that we can never know the complete truth. In this way, the nature of reality is “fuzzy” because we, as humans, create meaning for ourselves through our personal experiences and values; furthermore, we are always living with a level of factual uncertainty within which we realize that we can only know so much in a given situation. Ultimately, then, realistic optimism is a way of maintaining a positive outlook within this so-called “fuzziness.”
Moving forward, then, we can face challenges knowing that we have the power to ascribe meaning to our realities by enhancing and focusing on favorable aspects of our experiences and actively seeking opportunities to grow, while being comfortable with a level of uncertainty.
The good news is that we can remain realistic and avoid pessimism by refocusing our goals and choosing to be active writers of our own life stories. So, what’ll be next in your book?
Thanks for joining me on this three-part journey to the good life! I hope that the techniques to stop, drop, and roll through your own path give you some inspiration to lead a life you find fulfilling and meaningful.
Roll on, mavens.