On the surface, they both seem to be optimistic about their new ventures. They imaging themselves in the midst of big, fancy weddings — directing each occasion like an elegant conductor leading an orchestra.
Fast forward 2 years, and they both have failed miserably. For both, it just didn’t work out. This is when the difference between a true optimist and a pessimist begins to show.
Richard, the pessimist, feels that he just doesn’t have what it takes to run a business. To him, some people have what it takes and others simply don’t. After giving entrepreneurship a shot, he’s found out which camp he belongs to. Going forward, Richard freshens up his Resume and decides to stick with corporate life from here on out.
Alexandra, the optimist, feels she didn’t have the right combination of skills and resources to make her business a success — but she knows that if she acquires these skills and resources then she will be successful the next time around. Herein lies the critical difference between an optimist and a pessimist and the reason why so many entrepreneurs are optimists.
Successful optimists understand that we don’t fail because we don’t have ‘what it takes,’ but simply because we haven’t learned enough yet. Therefore, for an optimist, the only course of action after failure is to understand what was done wrong and what knowledge is required to do it differently next time.
This approach applies to nearly every aspect of life. If your relationship is in trouble, you have a choice between:
- The pessimist approach: If we try to fix our relationship and it doesn’t work, then it just isn’t meant to be.
- The optimist approach: If we try to fix our relationship and it doesn’t work, then we try a different approach. And we keep trying different approaches until something does work (unless your in an abusive relationship: if that’s the case get out immediately).
Not only are optimists more likely to try again after they fail, they’re also more likely to try in the first place. Pessimists are far less likely to delay gratification. After all, why try for the big long-term reward over short term gain when you don’t expect that you’ll be able to succeed with your long term goals?
If you want to be successful, you need to fail – a lot. If you want to fail a lot, you need to be optimistic.
All sounds good, right? Except, what if your genetics are holding you back from being successful? If that was the case, trying over and over isn’t going to do anything, right?
Nature vs Nurture
When discussing the failure of an individual, the topic of nature versus nurture is certain to come up. If you fail at becoming an engineer, maybe you just aren’t very good with numbers? Or your failure as a painter is due to your inherent lack of creativity. Or the fact that you’re 5 feet tall had ruined your dream of being a pro basketball player.
The debate about how much of our abilities and personality is due to genetics does not have an easy answer. Some of the most telling research in this field is based on identical twins who are separated at birth. By studying their differences and similarities, one can assess how much of who they are is based on their shared genes as opposed to the unique environment they grew up in.
In these studies, researchers have found that somewhere between one third and one half of who we are is based on genetics, while the rest is due to our environment. However, I personally don’t think this matters at all, or that any time should be spent dwelling on it.
Here’s why genetics don’t matter
I was jogging the other day and listening to one of my favorite motivational speakers, Zig Ziglar, and something he said had stuck with me ever since: We complain about almost every aspect of our life, but we never complain about gravity. Gravity is constantly slowing us down, so why don’t we complain about it?
We don’t complain because there is nothing we can do about it. When there is something, like gravity, that we know we can’t change, then we just learn to live with it — and even use it to our advantage (we use gravity to our advantage by skydiving, snowboarding, and olympic diving, among many, many other activities).
Why not do the same thing with any aspects of ourselves that we feel we can’t change, like genetics? If you feel you are better at math than creative design but want to be a painter — why not focus on mathematic, geometric designs in your art to leverage what you’re good at towards what you want to achieve?
Your genes are set in stone, so use them to your advantage instead of dwelling on how they are holding you back.
Editors Note: We can actually change our genes through out lifestyle, particularly through diet and healthy living, but this is a topic for another day. Read more about this here.
More Tips to Be Optimistic:
- Know that you have no limits. Remember that our minds are infinitely malleable, and that if you are unsuccessful with something it is almost certainly not due to some natural disability. There is always something you can change and do better — if you are willing to try.
Wake up earlier, and get enough sleep. Swiss researcher Mirjam Münch has found that waking up earlier and spending more time in the sun can make you happier, more focused, and more productive.1 Of course, sleep (a common theme in my blog) remains an important factor in staying positive and happy.2
- Stop complaining. End complaints about things you don’t have control over — and if you do have control over whatever it is you’re unhappy about then either do something to change it or accept it and live with it. Tip: If you try to change something you don’t like and your efforts don’t work, then don’t stop there. Keep trying.
- Change your language. Don’t use negative phrases like “I can’t” or “it’s impossible.” Using such phrases just sets your mind up to look for negative results. Also, try to use more neutral words instead of emotionally charged language. Instead of saying “this is absolutely ridiculous, I won’t stand for it!” say something like “This is inconvenient, I think next time I’ll go somewhere else.”
Don’t make a big deal about little things. You’ll get yourself all riled up over something that could be easily fixed. When you recognize in yourself that you are about to make a big deal about something small, use a ‘stop-word’ of some kind to keep your mind from going any further down that path. Anything will do, such as “Don’t go down that road, Keith, it isn’t worth it.” Also try broadening the perspective by asking yourself if the thing your worried about is really going to matter in 5 years. Odds are, it probably isn’t.
- Break things down. It is difficult to be optimistic when faced with a momentous challenge — perhaps something that will require years of dedicated effort. To overcome this, break the larger task into smaller tasks — ideally something that can be done every day. Instead of trying to be optimistic about climbing Mt Kilimanjaro, you’ll find its easier to be optimistic about going on a 30 minute walk every day to get in shape.
Find the good in things. Actively look for the positive side of things. If you’re on a vacation to Hawaii and it rains, go run and have fun in the rain! Think of it as an opportunity to do something you haven’t done in a while (play in the rain like a child with your significant other), rather than an unfortunate event.
- Give yourself breaks. When we’re tired, we can feel more depressed and pessimistic — we just can’t imagine ourselves with the energy we need to tackle our biggest goals. If you are well rested and give yourself breaks when needed, you’ll have the energy to be optimistic.
- Be Mindful. Mindfulness and meditation allows helps you to put your thoughts and the challenges you are facing into perspective. This clarity of purpose can give you a continual boost of confident optimism.
- Spend time with optimistic people. Motivational speaker Jim Rohn famously said that we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with. Make sure that those five people are optimistic, and it will help you to be the same.
I have one last tip I’d like to mention with particular emphasis: Listen to motivational speakers. I resisted this for a very long time in my life. I always thought that motivational speakers were for people who had no motivation in the first place — certainly not me! However, I listed to a few, starting with Zig Ziglar, and realized that I was completely wrong. Motivation is a resource that we use up on a daily basis. Listening to motivation speakers gives you a boost of confidence and optimism that you just can’t achieve on your own.
People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing. That’s why we recommend it daily.
– Zig Ziglar
CC Images courtesy of Brent Moore, Robyn Jay, Alex Indigo, University of Michigan School of Natural Resources & Environment, Mark Robinson, janicebriggs3350, Daniel Novta, Thowra_uk, and Alex on Flickr
- Cajochen, Christian, et al. “High sensitivity of human melatonin, alertness, thermoregulation, and heart rate to short wavelength light.” The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism 90.3 (2005): 1311–1316. ↩
- The promise of sleep: A pioneer in sleep medicine explores the vital connection between health, happiness, and a good night’s sleep. Dement, William C.; Vaughan, Christopher; New York, NY, US: Dell Publishing Co. (1999). xiii 556 pp. ↩