The Big Problem with Optimists

I confess. I’m an optimist.

I’m one of those people who always look on the bright side and believe that a good attitude can turn around even the most miserable of situations.

The problem with being an optimist is that other people often assume you’re an idiot. In fact, many people are so troubled by your obvious misunderstanding of situations that they take it upon themselves to remind you how awful things are.

If you’re a glass half full person yourself, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Like at work, when you get everyone fired up about a project, only to have a  single naysayer snuff out the enthusiasm by over-emphasizing all the possible pitfalls.

Or worse, have you ever come home all jazzed up about a new opportunity, only to have a pessimistic spouse or parent suck the life out of you with a laundry list of all the things that could go wrong?

The keepers of negative information often believe that it’s their moral duty to fill you in on the “real truth.” It’s hard for them to believe that a person in full possession of the facts could be so positive.

We all benefit from an outside perspective. At times, other people do have facts that you’ve missed, and their input can be valuable. But there are other times when negativity is the last thing you need.

I’ve found the best way to deal with negative people is to let them know right up front that you do understand the facts. You’re completely aware of the low likelihood of success, but you are choosing to work towards the positive anyway.

For example, when my older daughter was applying to colleges, she did the thing that counselors firmly recommend against, she got her heart set on her dream school, one where she only had a 50/50 chance, at best, of being accepted.

She knew that her high school counselor would try to tone down here her enthusiasm. So she opened their meeting saying. “I have my heart set on Boston bu logoUniversity. I know there is a high likelihood I won’t get in. If I don’t get in I will be heartbroken. But the next day, I will pick myself up, and move forward with plan B. Right now, I want to direct all of my energy and enthusiasm towards plan A, and I’d like you to direct all of your energy and enthusiasm towards it as well.”  (Side note, Plan A worked.)

Naysayers often say they “don’t want to see you get your hopes up.” If you’re one of those well-intentioned people trying to save someone you love from disappointment, I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Optimists are more disappointed by your lack of support than by the prospect of failure. Prepping yourself in advance for failure doesn’t ease your pain. It keeps you from enjoying the process of working towards your goals.

Can you think of any worthy endeavor where not getting your hopes up will actually increase the odds of success?

Those of us who have a pre-disposition towards positivity were often born that way. But the brain is a trainable tool. Many sunny-side-uppers are smart people who worked for years to retrain their reflexes.

Being an optimist doesn’t mean ignoring the facts; it means holding onto your enthusiasm in the face of them.