Realistic Optimism- the middle path

Research has shown that the best way forward when thinking about the future is to be realistically optimistic. On one side we have extreme optimism and on the other is extreme pessimism. In the middle we have a path that can take an accurate assessment of reality and imagine the best probable outcomes- this is Realistic Optimism.

Optimism is “hopefulness and confidence about the future or the success of something” (Oxford Dictionary 2018). On the other hand, pessimism is “a tendency to see the worst aspect of things or believe that the worst will happen.” Optimists (when compared to pessimists) tend to experience less distress in difficult moments or negative events in their lives, they tend to exert more continuous effort and tend not to give up easily, enjoy better physical health, engage in more health promoting behaviours (Boniwell 2012) and are more productive in the workplace (Carver & Scheier 2002).


However, it is not always best to be optimistic. For instance, optimism can lead to an underestimation of risks (Peterson & Park 2003) Also, it may not be wise to be too optimistic about a situation involving personal health or an upcoming exam. (“She’ll be right mate” may be optimistic, but not sensible.) In many cases, an optimist might remain naive to the realities and continue to live in their bubble – slightly detached from the reality of the situation.

Realistic optimism is a better approach in most cases. It doesn’t give the negative outcomes too much weight. It can foresee obstacles, but it can also see the ways to finding a solution or workaround. Most importantly, when we are realistic optimists, we believe in our capacity for growth. This allows us to tap into our incredible human potential. We can imagine what could become possible, and we can work hard to make it a reality. 

Learning realistic optimism - a few tips:

  • Monitor and adapt our explanatory style (see last weeks Blog).

  • Expect the unexpected- trust that you will find a solution whatever comes your way.

  • Use humour to diffuse a pessimistic view.

  • Combine positivity with honesty

“Confidence is not a guarantee of success, but a pattern of thinking that will improve your likelihood of success, a tenacious search for ways to make things work.” – John Eliot

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