Compulsive versus Realistic Optimism – Slippery versus Concrete Road!


I have a thing for reading self-motivational books and listening to motivational speakers… and having read and listened to many, I can emphatically proclaim a very clear message in all – “Believe that success will come to you, and it will". Those of you who watch Hindi cinema would relate to Aamir Khan saying “All is well!” in “3 Idiots”. This is a variation of above believes.  


Having greyed a little and having believed in above for a greater part of my adolescence, I stand to differ presently and would like to re-word the motivational line – “Plan that success will come to you, and it will.”


In fact, not only is visualizing or “believizing” "success" unhelpful, it is disastrous. This is good advice to give only if you are trying to sabotage the recipient. It is a recipe for failure. And no, I'm not overstating it.


But how can this be? Isn't optimism a good thing? Yes it is. Optimism and the confidence it creates are essential for creating and sustaining the motivation you need to reach your goals. Aamir Khan confirms so in “3 idiots” that “Success may come or not but saying ‘All is well’ surely motivates one for the task ahead’”… Here lies the crux of the point – Motivation is not equal to Success!


One of the founding fathers of scientific psychology discovered decades ago that perhaps the best predictor of an individual's success is whether or not they ‘believe’ they will succeed. Thousands and thousands of experiments later, he has yet to be proven wrong. But there is an important caveat: to be successful, you need to understand the vital difference between “believing you will succeed”, and “planning for the success”. Put another way, it's the difference between being a Compulsive Optimist and a Realistic Optimist.


Realistic Optimists believe they will succeed, but also believe they have to make success happen — through things like effort, careful planning, persistence, and choosing the right strategies. They recognize the need for giving serious thought to how they will deal with obstacles. This preparation only increases their confidence in their own ability to get things done.


Compulsive Optimists, on the other hand, believe that success will happen to them — that the universe will reward them for all their positive thinking, or that somehow they will be transformed overnight into the kind of person for whom obstacles cease to exist. (Forgetting that even Superman had Kryptonite, Sabu had Raka, Batman had Joker and, more recently, G.One has Ra.One in Shah Rukh Khan’s next movie.


One of the clearest illustrations of the dangers of unrealistic optimism comes from a simple experiment of weight loss. For months I believed that I will lose weight… and I did lose 2 kilograms. Then I planned to lose weight. This meant exercising, diet-control, believing and exercising discipline… and I lost 7 kilograms. Res ipsa liqueur!


Other than my experiments in losing weight, there have been cases where folks in my netwrok in various walks on life re-affirmed the difference between “believing” and “planning” for success. These people included friends looking for high-paying jobs after MBA, spinsters looking to find lasting love, and senior-citizens battling age-related ailments. Realistic optimists send out more job applications, find the courage to approach potential romantic partners, and work harder on their rehab exercises — in each case, leading to much higher success rates… as compared to the ones who choose to go to booz-bars, sleep, temples and pilgrimages.


Believing that the road to success will be rocky leads to greater success because it forces you to take action. People who are confident that they will succeed, and equally confident that success won't come easily, put in more effort, plan how they'll deal with problems before they arise, and persist longer in the face of difficulty.


Compulsive Optimists are only too happy to tell you that you are "being negative" when you dare to express concerns, harbour reservations, or dwell too long on obstacles that stand in the way of your goal. In truth, this kind of thinking is a necessary step in any successful endeavour, and it is not at all antithetical to confident optimism. Focusing only on what we want, to the exclusion of everything else, is just the kind of naïve and reckless thinking that has landed big projects (remember Microsoft's Zune), industry leaders and at times entire industries in hot water (remember the Lehman Brothers!)


Cultivate your Realistic Optimism by combining a positive attitude with an honest assessment of the challenges that await you. Don't visualize success — visualize the plan (step by step) you will take in order to make success happen.


…and when you have achieved Success… share your plan… I would like to put my believe on the solid foundation of a plan for success! 


2 Replies to “Compulsive versus Realistic Optimism – Slippery versus Concrete Road!”

  1. i personally believe that in life whatever happens is the result of what we think, just like
    if u want to know somebody, give him to write something,the text he produces on a paper is nothing ,but a replica of his mind.i like the the description of two type of optimists as mentioned in the article,and hope to get some more article like this.

  2. Good article- successful entrepreneur will agree that realistic optimism is the core element of their success.

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