Let me start by admitting something to you: Prior to launching my business in 2009, I often referred to myself as a “realist.”
Since that time, my perspective has shifted 180 degrees, and I’ve realized that a “realist” is really just a “pessimist” in disguise. Yet, events of recent years have brought up some of those bad habits, which I’ve had to retrain myself on to sustain my optimistic outlook.
Here’s what I’ve learned.
When someone is a self-proclaimed realist, or simply pessimistic by nature, decisions are often made considering only one factor: risk.
Faced with a decision, they ask themselves questions such as:
- What is the worst possible outcome?
- What do I need to protect myself against?
- If this doesn’t go as planned, how will I respond?
Let me be the first to admit that, as the son of a career accountant, considering risk was bred into me.
But, when we only consider risk, we inadvertently create limitations and barriers to what is possible. Moreover, we miss considering the most important question of any decision: What is possible?
If Elon Musk had only considered risks when building SpaceX, would he have followed through?
Would Steve Jobs have developed the iPod if risk was his only consideration?
It’s said that Thomas Edison made 1,000 unsuccessful attempts at creating the light bulb. Would he have continued after the first several failures if risk was his only consideration?
Although you may not have ambitions to be the next Steve Jobs or Elon Musk, the reality is that focusing on what might happen, rather than what’s possible, limits our experiences and outcomes.
My journey began when I decided to become a professional speaker, in 2010. It became clear that if I wanted to help others achieve their objectives, considering only risk would result in never leaving my basement office.
Aside from the benefits of considering what might be, rather than what might happen, studies have demonstrated that taking an optimistic view provides benefits beyond thinking big. A recent study in ScienceDaily found that optimistic people have less overall stress, and as a result live longer, healthier lives.
The shift from self-proclaimed “realist” to “striving optimist” comes from practicing what I refer to as “flipping the switch.” This involves four steps that push us toward an optimistic view.
Flip your negative thoughts
If you find yourself considering risks, flip the question to something positive. “What’s the worst that can happen?” becomes, “What are the best possible outcomes?”
Share your optimistic view out loud
If you are typically pessimistic, your biggest critic will be yourself. For this reason, make sure you share your optimistic questions and initial ideas out loud with others. When we repeat things out loud, we override the little green negative person who is on our shoulder whispering pessimistic views in our ear.
Challenge pessimists and realists
It’s near impossible to be optimistic if you are surrounded by pessimistic people. This said, you can’t always eliminate these people from your life, so instead push back. When someone shares a pessimistic view, get in the habit of challenging their viewpoint. Don’t worry whether you have the answer to their concern; just simply share an opposing, yet positive, view.
Minimize time spent in negative environments
Like step 3 above, although we can’t always control the people we are around, we can control what we consume. Be aware of what you read, where you travel, or who you choose to spend time with. If we consume negative news or information or spend time with negative people, we in turn will be negative.
Let me be the first to suggest that becoming and maintaining an optimistic view is challenging. This is an evolution, not a revolution. But when you consider the benefits of being optimistic, it makes it worth the effort.
Think of becoming optimistic like getting in shape. You’ll need to practice and enforce optimistic behaviors using the four steps above, no differently than you would practice exercise and enforce healthy eating habits if you wanted to lose weight.
If you aren’t convinced flipping the switch makes sense for you, then consider the alternative. The world needs more optimism, and you can have an impact.
Shawn Casemore is a speaker and facilitator who works with entrepreneurs and business leaders to align their teams, “wow” their customers, and grow their businesses.