Successful people believe they can do amazing things
Recently, I ran into a woman who worked for me more than a decade ago. I was happy to see her, and I greeted her with wholehearted warmth and friendliness. To my surprise, her response was chilly and stiff.
“What’s up with her?” I later asked one of my team members.
“You really don’t remember?”
I shook my head. In my mind, I had nothing but warm feelings for this woman.
“Well, you and she didn’t exactly part company under the best of terms. She refused to do her job, and you had to fire her.”
I don’t have amnesia, and I’m not getting senile. When reminded, I did remember those events. But I had spent the last years working so hard at concentrating on the positive that my negative experience with my former employee had dropped out of my mind. Refusing to dwell on past painful situations—to the point of forgetting about them—has become so habitual for me that I call this behavior “delusional optimism.”
I don’t mean to be overly simplistic, but bad memories are like weeds in a garden. If you give them space, bad memories have a tendency not only to linger but to expand in your mind, demanding your attention and tainting even your good thoughts.
After obsessing way too many times on miserable memories, I decided dwelling on the past doesn’t get me any closer to my goals. Now I very hard not to let the past intrude on my efforts to create a joyful present and successful future.
This doesn’t mean that I don’t acknowledge and deal with those difficult things as they arise. It just means that I face them, learn from them, and move on.
Choosing to focus on the best in yourself and in others is powerful behavior that creates positive results. Studies show that almost all successful people are optimists. I don’t mean successful people just have a naturally sunny outlook on life. No, I mean that they believe good things can happen, and they choose to focus on that instead of all the negative things that have happened to them (and might happen again). This is not an unhealthy delusion. Instead, it’s a healthy positive outlook that actually shapes the reality successful people experience.
Perceive the negative as temporary
Optimism is good for the body and soul, both literally and figuratively. Optimism and creating your Best Day Ever go hand-in-hand.
Dr. Martin Seligman, a psychologist who has studied optimists, says all optimists look at problems the same way. First, they believe problems don’t last forever. When negative things happen, they perceive them as temporary problems, not the kiss of doom that indicates their entire life is destined for failure. Second, optimists believe the problems they’ve experienced are pretty small in the grand scheme of things. They know bad things can happen—employees may have to be fired, mistakes can be made, and the world economy can wobble—but nevertheless, they believe that overall life is good. No temporary failure, mistake or conflict can ruin the entire big picture of life they carry in their minds. Negative events seem minor (or even forgettable!) by comparison to their overall hope for the future.
Optimists shape their reality—and so do pessimists. When we perceive reality a certain way, we act accordingly, and our actions often lead to the very thing we’re expecting, either success or defeat. Alan Loy McGinnis, the author of The Power of Optimism, studied the biographies of more than a thousand successful people and found they were all optimists who had these things in common:
- They looked for partial solutions. They didn’t think success is all or nothing. They were open to taking small steps that could lead to success.
- They used their imaginations to picture success. They played imaginary movies in their heads of what success will look like. (Successful athletes use this same technique.)
- They believed that no matter what their skills were now, they could improve them. They believed their personal best was yet to come, and they had confidence in their ability to grow.
Being optimistic won’t change life’s realities. If you’re barely five feet tall, odds are fairly good you won’t become a professional basketball player. If you’re tone deaf, you’re unlikely to become a famous musician. But optimism can allow you to use every bit of who you are to achieve the most possible.
The phrase “Keep Calm and Carry On” has been reproduced on posters, mugs, shirts and more over the past few years. But did you know the saying is actually part of a three-part poster series used in Great Britain to buoy public spirits during the dark days of World War II? The poster series ended with the exhortation: “Your Courage, Your Cheerfulness, Your Resolution Will Bring Us Victory.” The British government recognized the key role attitude would play in winning the war and the determination and cheerfulness of Britain’s population through years of danger and destruction did in fact contribute to their ability to keep going against their enemies.
Optimism is a choice that takes consistent, diligent practice. But if believing all things are possible is a key to unlocking an amazing future, then isn’t it worth it?
Make It Personal - Journal Time
Grab your pen and notebook and spend 15 minutes writing out the answers to these questions.
Do you consider yourself an optimist or a pessimist? Why?
Examine yourself honestly. Where specifically have you let pessimism creep into your life?
Pessimism writes a very different storyline from optimism. Rewrite the pessimistic storyline you just identified. Replace it with an optimistic storyline.
In the days ahead, whenever you find yourself telling yourself a pessimistic story, consciously choose to replace it with an optimistic storyline. Try writing these optimistic stories on index cards or on your phone’s notes; refer to them often as you begin building your own version of habitual optimism.
Photo credit: Jacqueline Munguia on Unsplash