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Resilience - Optimisim

Optimism: Looking at the Bright Side of Life

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Nick has just lost his job, but he’s optimistic he’ll find a new one; Morgan has just received kudos for her innovation, but is pessimistic about her abilities to ever innovate like that again. The odd thing about optimism and pessimism is that they may bear almost no relation to the actual circumstances of our life. So where does optimism come from, is it better than pessimism, does it have any downsides, and how does one encourage its positive effects?


Where Does Optimism Come from?

Psychological research has come up with many types of optimism, depending on the belief in the permanence, frequency, agency, and realism of good events and the power assigned to outside forces, changing circumstances, and the effects of the event or choice on the person. 

We may be born optimistic or pessimistic, but the longer we live, according to some researchers, the more likely we are to become pessimists. Grumpy, pessimistic people live longer but their caregivers are almost universally optimists.


Is Optimism Better Than Pessimism?

Helen Keller may have been a little overly optimistic in her faith in optimism. 

Optimists are more likely to persevere because they expect a good outcome eventually; and are more likely to take chances because—hey, what’s the worst that can happen? They are collaborative, social, and interested in building on achievements for themselves and their team; but they may not be entirely in touch with reality.

Pessimists, on the other hand, prepare for the worst and thrive in anticipating it. They want the safety of solutions, rather than the uncertainty of growth and risk. Because they need more persuasion to take action and are more likely to find faults, they are great choices when you need to test a strategy, program, or process before you implement it.


What Is the Downside of Optimism?

The chief downside of optimism is the tendency to expect reasons for optimism. This attitude might lead to overlooking negative data, finding promise for far too long in unpromising strategies or downplaying the obstacles to change, and making decisions with insufficient research into all the options. An eternal optimist on a team can cause as much harm to morale as an eternal pessimist; if you always expect the best even when it doesn’t happen, everyone else becomes annoyed, stressed, and discouraged.

A company filled with optimists is going to flounder because it takes too many risks; a company filled with pessimists is going to flounder because it takes none. However, you’d be hard pressed to find a company or team that is all one or the other. 


How Do You Encourage Optimism?

Research shows a positive relationship among optimism, resilience, and a sense of well-being. That is, the more optimistic a person is, the greater their resilience and well-being and vice versa. Both resilience and well-being are going to improve productivity, collaboration, turnover, and coping skills.

So assuming that your team needs more optimism, here are several ways to encourage optimism in the workplace:

  • Provide wins: Recognize and appreciate even small acts of helpfulness and kindness, as well as the big wins.
  • Support friendship: Be glad when team members develop friendships, and develop work friendships of your own.
  • Know your team: Speak to the people you lead one-on-one, discover the work barriers they face, and collaborate to help remove those barriers.
  • Give the team purpose: People with a mission and belief in what they are doing are more likely to be optimists (and vice versa).
  • Support growth: Give your team opportunities to develop their strengths through experience, training, mentorship, coaching, and an environment that welcomes growth.
  • Be optimistic if you can: Model optimism, collaboration, and interest in others.
  • Rely on optimists if you can’t: If you are a pessimist, find optimists to work with to balance your tendency to avoid risk, overemphasize problem analysis, and over-test every new idea.
  • Don’t force anyone: Few people are more irritating than someone who forces optimism (“give me a smile, you have a great smile!”); respect the contribution of pessimists.

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