The glass is half full. Or maybe not. Business Week recently profiled a new book by Barbara Ehrenreich titled Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America. Her premise is that an overabundance of unwarranted positive thinking contributed to a host of woes, such as vulnerability to terrorist attacks and the collapse of financial markets.
Are you overly optimistic? Always assuming the best can lead to underfunded projects, overcommitted schedules, underperforming people and even the demise of your organization. How do you combine realism with optimism?
Don’t put your head in the sand. Overly optimistic people not only don’t seek out contrary opinions, they ignore any information that does not confirm their hopeful picture. Actively seek a more realistic perspective.
Double-check your assumptions regularly. Super-optimists think their rosy picture is based on facts and data. Make sure yours are accurate and complete.
Listen to naysayers. There were people who warned about the mortgage crisis, Hurricane Katrina preparedness and other disasters. Unfortunately, they were ignored (and some were fired). Surround yourself with smart people who will tell you what you don’t want to hear.
Expect the best and prepare for the worst. Projects always cost more money, take more time and end up differently than we expected. Plan realistically and make sure Plan B is in place in case things go very wrong.
Say no. Extremely optimistic people think they can do more than is possible. Say no when you really don’t have the time, skills or experience necessary.
Live abundantly. Just because you’re a realist doesn’t mean you’re gloomy or negative. Steven Covey talks about the abundance mentality – that there is plenty to go around, whether it be resources, work, skill or love. Living abundantly means you expect good things to happen to you and to others.
What’s the best reason to be optimistic? Life as an optimist is more fun. Go ahead and look at the bright side of life. Just don’t let those lights blind you to the less-sunny aspects of reality.
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