This post credited to: Optimism Vs. Positivity: Why Positive People Always Win, by Mike Radivis at www.becomeunrestricted.com
Optimism Vs. Positivity. Huh? Wouldn’t that have to be Optimism Vs. Pessimism or Negativity Vs. Positivity? And aren’t optimism and positivity the same thing? No, and no. It’s really hard to realize that, because usually optimism and positivity are used as synonyms. Conversely, pessimism and negativity also aren’t the same. Let’s start with some…
The following aren’t common definitions of the following terms, but I think they are rather useful and enlightening:
- Optimism means that you expect a situation to have a definite good outcome.
- Positivity means that you think any outcome of a situation can be used in a good way.
- Pessimism means that you expect a situation to have a definite bad outcome.
- Negativity means that you find a bad aspect of any outcome of a situation and focus on that.
- Realism means that you have accurate expectations about the probability of good, neutral, or bad outcomes of a situation.
- Indifference means that you don’t care about the outcome of a situation.
- Neutrality means that you think the good and bad aspects of any outcome of a situation will balance out each other.
Note that these are pretty granular definitions as they all depend on a given situation; like doing a test, working on a project, or going to a party. In reality, people are optimists in some situations while they are pessimists in others. You can be optimistic about your career outlook and pessimistic about your weight, or the other way around.
Optimism, realism, and pessimism are about expectations. Positivity, negativity, indifference, and neutrality, on the other hand, are about perspective.
The Power Of Positivity
Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.
The Difference Between Optimism And Positivity
As optimist you hope that things will turn out fine. As positive person you make things work out fine in the very end, due to your positive attitude. What does that mean? You don’t need to hope for a “good” outcome, if you want to be positive. Instead, you realize that you have the power to interpret any outcome as “good” in some way.
For example, being refused a job can be interpreted in a positive way. Being rejected implies that you have applied for a job in the first case. And the more jobs you apply to the better your chances to finally get a job! You might even get some information about why you have been rejected, so that you can learn from that experiences and be better prepared for the next application.
I didn’t come up with that line of thinking myself, but have read about it in the self help book Feeling Good by David D. Burns. In that book he magnificently explains the art of realistic positive thinking, and the skill of identifying and dissolving negative cognitive distortions that keep you from thinking positive. Feeling Good is not just any book, but the number one bestseller which is surprisingly effective for treating depression, and which is based on the principles of cognitive therapy.
Actually, it’s not any kind of positivity that will help you make the best out of the situation. There’s what I call passive positivity. If something bad happens, you are just happy that your situation isn’t worse, or that you are in an exhilarating adventure now. But that doesn’t suffice to use the situation for personal growth.
Only by being proactive you can make real personal progress. Reach out for your goals and interpret any experience which you make on your way to your goal as stepping stone towards your dreams. If you fail in some way, stand up and try again (and optimize your strategy in the meanwhile). Be positive by thinking that every active step you take will bring you closer to your goal, regardless whether you are lucky and everything runs perfectly, or not.
Tactical Retreat Can Be A Good Thing
After I finished school I wanted to write a book about some philosophical thoughts I had, which were inspired by an awesome spiritual experience that hit me at the end of my high school time. I was optimistic and thought I could write a great book. But after a year I still didn’t have more than a few notes. Even worse: I realized that my thoughts were flawed, because they were based on assumptions which couldn’t withstand a critical analysis.
So, I gave up for the moment, and decided not to write such a book. This experience helped me to learn that it’s very hard to create a meaningful philosophy which isn’t terribly flawed (meanwhile I know that the best you can hope for is something that’s only mildly flawed). And I learned that writing a book is a surprisingly difficult project. Nevertheless, I’m happy that I attempted to finish that project, because otherwise I wouldn’t have realized just how much I still have to learn. I gained a more realistic view about my ideas and my abilities, which helped me to stay calm and focus on learning more.
In fact, positivity was one of the ideas I wanted to write about, but my old ideas about positivity were based on faulty assumptions and couldn’t cope with the realities of real reality.
The Perspective That Enables Proactive Positivity
How would you evaluate your life or the world? Is it good or bad or neutral? If you think your life is bad, you will just make yourself unhappy. If you just think your life is good, you might be positive, but still stay passive. These general evaluations aren’t practical. Don’t ask: “Is it good or is it bad?” Instead, ask yourself:
“What can I improve? And how?”
The present situation is as it is. Nothing can change the current state, because you can only influence the future. Therefore it doesn’t make sense to worry about the present. It only makes sense to consider the future and to take the right action to make the best out of it. Worrying is not required. You can’t do more than to improve the future in the best way you are able to. There’s no need to care about anything else.
Positivity And Happiness
Knowing that you can use virtually any situation to your advantage is a great source of continuous happiness. If you are positive, you focus on the possible gains instead of your possible losses. You will see life as chance or as adventure. By being grateful for what you are, what you have, and what you can do, you unleash the power of positivity within you. Carried by a flow of happiness, you don’t give in to the depressing aspects of reality, but use your power for facilitating positive change.
Why Positive People Always Win
It’s not like you would win every contest and every challenge if you are positive. But at least you always win some experience and information, regardless what happens. Now, don’t you gain experience anyway, regardless whether you are positive or not? Well, yes, but if you are not positive you won’t be aware of that fact, so you will be less inclined to leverage the experience you gained. As positive thinking person you can use your experience and your knowledge consciously to improve your situation. And that’s a real advantage that can make quite a difference.
Is Optimism Optimal?
I’ve been pondering for some time about the question whether it makes sense to be unrealistically optimistic or even pessimistic. Are there cases in which do you better if you deliberately deviate from pure realism? I don’t know. At the moment, I think the best way is to be really realistic and not fudge your own expectation in one way or another. Being realistic doesn’t put you at a disadvantage. It’s just that people generally aren’t very good at being realistic, and rather err on the side of unreasonable optimism or pessimism.
Often, people overestimate what can be done in the short-tern while they underestimate what can be done in the long-term. Can you reach your most ambitious goals in one month? Pretty unlikely. Can you reach your goals if you invest 30 years of hard and intelligent work into those goals? Probably yes.
Realism Works Fine, If You Are Realistic
I’d say it’s better to be realistic, if you are really good at predicting the future. In which areas of your life have you been too optimistic? (I certainly have been too optimistic about my studies.) You might consider to adjust your expectations a bit and be less optimistic. And where have you been too pessimistic? (I’ve been too pessimistic about the chance of getting rid of depression.) Be happy if you can identify such an area, because it means you can (and need to) be more optimistic about it now.
Being realistic is important, because it helps you to make the right decisions. If you often fail at something, you do well to be pessimistic about your chances – unless you work hard at improving yourself! The negative feelings associated with failure are just messages which tell you that you need to rethink your approach and optimize your strategy. Don’t try to suppress unpleasant feelings, but fix the problems that cause them.
Wait, doesn’t that contradict positivity? Not really. You need to assess suboptimal aspects of reality realistically in order to identify potential for positive change. In order words: Find out about your weaknesses and be positive about the fact that you can improve.
Being positive and realistic unites the best of both worlds: You can have accurate expectations, and always feel great about the possibilities of improvement. In contrast to optimism, positivity is always compatible with realism. Therefore, positive people always win.