Friday, May 6, 2011

A recipe for success requires equal parts optimism and realism

The conventional wisdom is that optimistic people are naive while depressed people see things realistically.  In isolation, none of these characteristics will help you get ahead. But what if we could extract the best qualities from each personality type?  It might be a good recipe for success. That's the message from this post via the Harvard Business Review called "Be An Optimist Without Being a Fool."  Here's an excerpt:

There are quite a number of motivational speakers and self-improvement books out there with a surprisingly simple message: believe that success will come easily to you, and it will. There is one small problem in this argument, however, which unfortunately doesn't seem to stop anyone from making it: it is utterly false.

In fact, not only is visualizing "effortless 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. Albert Bandura, 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 believing you will succeed easily. Put another way, it's the difference between being a realistic optimist and an unrealistic optimist.

Realistic optimists (the kind Bandura was talking about) 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.

Check out the rest here.


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