For many years we have been hearing how optimistic people are more successful than pessimists. Research has shown that they live longer, are more content and are better employees. This has borne a wave of Happiness Indexes, Strengths Based Approaches and Positive Psychology, all of which are incredibly valuable approaches to assessing and developing people.

I would like for us to stop for a moment and consider that as we have followed the populist theory (and research), we have run too far to one side of the boat. Going even further, I’d like to suggest we’re in love with optimism and all its upsides at the expense of its dark side.

The problem I see is not with being optimistic, it’s about the avoidance of what is not deemed optimistic i.e. the bad news. Within the “bad news” there is likely to be critical information which informs your situation, impacts your results and provides direction for next steps. I can understand how the potential discomfort of cold hard reality can propel us forward, hurtling us towards the domain of “all good”, “no problem here”, “things have a way or working themselves out” and what a comfortable landing place that is……………………………………. but it’s not real.

Here’s a test to see if you tend to over dose:

Are you unable to acknowledge the downside of the situation without reacting?
Do you tend to reset your expectations or goals because the tension is too much?
Are you uncomfortable when presented with the brutal facts of current reality?
Do you over reference the opportunity and good things while diminishing the not so good?
Do you avoid or delay taking action when faced with unpleasant circumstances?
Are you always a glass full person all the time?
Does the gap between what you want and how things really are, cause you to be anxious and favor an overly positive future?

If you answered yes to the majority of those questions then you may not be running towards optimism but more running away from an unpleasant reality.

Remember the facts are just the facts, they are neither positive nor negative. Your approach to being optimistic or pessimistic is somewhat irrelevant to the facts, the only impact it has is on you. It impacts your engagement but doesn’t change how things are. Being optimistic can mask the current situation and ensure to some degree that you avoid things that are real.

By all means keep facing forward with faith and that you will prevail, but, not at the expense of what you judge to be negative.

Sometimes you just need to “hug the cactus”

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