Realistic Optimism is Key to Success

It was more difficult to maintain my meditation practice this week.  I did fine until Thursday when I was running late for work and didn’t get a chance to meditate until the afternoon.  Then Friday I had to leave early for an all day symposium and didn’t get up early enough to meditate before I left. To my credit, I set the intention to meditate that night, but then had company until late and only did a few minutes of meditation before I fell asleep.  The following morning I almost forgot to meditate.  Only two days’ disruption to my meditation schedule and already I was slipping.  How easy it is to lose momentum!

Today, I had an early appointment again.  This time I made a commitment to make sure that I had enough time to meditate before I left. I am happy to report that I succeeded!

So, the good news is that I got right back on track. The glass is more than half full. I meditated 6 out of 7 days this week.

I used to get down on myself when I fell short of a  goal and tended to see the glass as half empty, so I doubted my ability to succeed and it ended up being harder to motivate myself to keep trying. Then I became so accepting of my difficulties that I stopped trying to improve. Even though I saw the glass as half full, it didn’t feel possible to fill the other half, so I accepted the status quo as good enough.  Now, when I fall short of a goal, I try to give myself credit for the steps I have taken towards the goal and recognize where there is room for improvement.  This helps me to be realistic about my accomplishments and obstacles and feel optimistic about my capabilities. Recent research indicates that this type of realistic optimism helps maximize success.

Sophia Chou, an organizational psychology researcher at National Taiwan University, presented her research findings at a meeting of the American Psychological Association in August, 2013. She discovered that realistic optimists have a positive outlook about the future and an accurate perspective about current challenges, They tended to be more successful than idealistic optimists who had positive illusions rather than accurate appraisals of their capabilities or pessimists who were realistic but had negative expectations for the future. Chou found that realistic optimists had more confidence in their self-control and influence over relationships, so they could stay hopeful about the future, even while acknowledging present challenges. For further information on this study:

Are you a realistic optimist, idealistic optimist, or a pessimist?  How do you think your perspective impacts your ability to achieve your goals? Is there anything you now want to change? What first step can you take to help develop a new perspective?

Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Realistic Optimism is Key to Success

  1. Andrea,

    I love this frame of reference–thanks so much for sharing. I think this idea is incredibly compatible with current neuroscience research about our ability to grow and change as we change our perspective and our habits.


    • Andrea Goldberg says:

      Hi Ann,

      Your comment started me thinking more about the impact of our attitudes on motivation, decision-making, and behavioral outcome. I did a search of the literature and hope to have more to say on the topic in a future blog post. Stay tuned…

      Thanks for chiming in on this.


  2. Love this “realistic optimism” mindset!

  3. Andrea
    I really like the realistic vs idealistic and would love to talk a little bit about it in my blog this week if that is ok with you. I have always looked at it as a balancing act between being optimistic and pessimistic, but I really like the distinction.
    🙂 Cara

    • Andrea Goldberg says:

      Dear Cara,

      I am glad to have you share what I wrote. I look forward to reading your take on it.