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Wellbeing / Business psychology

Are you an optimist, pessimist or realist?

Tough financial times impact overall spending and consumer sentiment, hurting many businesses and families. Hoping that circumstances will change is not enough.

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In order to survive we must be realistic as well as optimistic.

In his book, Good to Great, Jim Collins talks about a principle he calls the Stockdale Paradox (named after the highest-ranking American prisoner of war in Hanoi, Vietnam). In summary, the Stockdale Paradox states that we should be realistic about our current circumstances, and yet optimistic about the future.

During his years of imprisonment, General Stockdale reportedly came to believe that optimism could in fact be a liability, noticing that prisoners who were eternal optimists constantly set themselves up for disappointment, depleting their resilience and fortitude along the way.

Conversely, prisoners who looked at the painful day-to-day reality they were in and channelled their energies to the right places survived by maintaining an unwavering faith in the end game and making a commitment to themselves that they would survive whatever brutality and horror they faced.

Here’s how Stockdale put it: “I never doubted not only that I would get out, but also that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience into the defining event of my life, which, in retrospect, I would not trade.”

"Do you regard the greatest obstacle in your life as the challenge that shaped who you are, or do you use it as an excuse for not having achieved more?"

How many of us would look back on seven years of detention and torture as an experience we wouldn’t trade?

Do you regard the greatest obstacle in your life as the challenge that shaped who you are, or do you use it as an excuse for not having achieved more?

Want more articles like this? Check out the business psychology section.

This distinction between being a optimist and realist can apply to both business and life.

Is there an aspect of life in which you’re ignoring reality in favour of being optimistic? Doing so might mean you’re also missing a crucial opportunity to take action.

For example, one of my clients has an employee who doesn’t take responsibility for her actions, doesn’t pay attention to detail and is often reluctant to take direction and feedback. This employee and the drama that surrounds her affect the entire business, and yet my client procrastinates about firing her, hoping in vain that things will somehow change without any decisive action being needed.

Take a moment today to examine your relationship with optimism, pessimism and realism. The key is knowing when to accept reality and take appropriate action, and never losing faith in the end of the story.

If you can walk the delicate line between balance and responsibility, you increase your odds of making good decisions, and ultimately, of achieving success and breakthrough results.

We all experience setbacks, disappointments, loss and challenges. What separates successful people from the rest is the way they deal with those inevitable lessons from the School of Hard Knocks.

Always keep sight of your final goals, and have faith that you’ll prevail in the end. But maintain the discipline to confront the brutal facts and reality of your current situation too.

Do you consider yourself an optimist, a pessimist or a realist? What impact does your outlook have on your business?

Rhondalynn Korolak

is the author of “On The Shoulders of Giants” and “Financial Foreplay” and has been featured on Channels 7 & 9, on Sunday Life, Sydney Morning Herald, 3AW, The Leader, Dynamic Business, Fast Thinking, ThinkBIG and Kochie's Business Builders.

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