Are you a glass half full person, or a glass half-empty type? Granted, that’s a pretty reductive way to analyze personalities, but the old glass test does help us tell an optimist from a pessimist pretty quickly. Whether you’re a Pollyanna or not, the beginning of the New Year is as good a time as any to ponder how your worldview might affect your bottom line.
As Americans, we are a remarkably positive culture. We’re raised on upbeat clichés like “Look on the bright side,” “accentuate the positive,” or “Find the Silver Lining.” This optimism is so relentless that author Barbara Ehrenreich felt the need to push back in a contrarian best-seller titled Bright-sided: How Positive Thinking Is Undermining America.
The truth is, it’s not about optimism vs. pessimism. It’s about what motivates you. This was the conclusion of a recent study published in Social Cognition. The study determined that optimists had a “promotion mindset” – they focused on how they could advance and grow.
Pessimists, meanwhile, were more concerned with security, safety, and whatever could possibly go wrong. Now here’s where it gets interesting. The researchers gave both optimists and pessimists puzzles to solve. Each group was split in two, with half the optimists told to focus on dark negative thoughts, and half the pessimists instructed to think as positively as possible.
As it turned out, the optimists performed best when being… optimistic. As for the pessimists, you guessed it. Their cautious outlook actually made them more effective. Studies show that optimists respond better to positive feedback, whereas pessimists find criticism motivating.
As a self-proclaimed pessimist, I respond better to critical feedback, even if it stings a little. I recently got a massage from a guy named Sergio, a guy so muscle-bound, his trapezoids kept his arms from touching his sides. As he worked on my aching back, Sergio nonchalantly informed me that he was a personal trainer and offered to help me “get back in shape.” His tactlessness was tacky, but motivating. As someone who responds well to criticism, I immediately started an aggressive diet and exercise program.
Running a business certainly has its ups and downs, sometimes several of them in one day. The key to navigating those peaks and valleys and achieving sustainable success is a balance of optimism and pessimism.
Garrison Wynn, the best-selling author of “The Real Truth about Success: What the Top 1% Do Differently, Why They Won’t Tell You, and How You Can Do It Anyway,” thinks understanding what motivates you can help unlock your potential. “We decide whether the idea is an opportunity or problem,” Wynn explains. “You can analyze a problem and discover all the parts of a problem that make it a problem.”
That’s your inner pessimist talking, and it’s a very effective way to evaluate a challenge. This perspective has its place. A die-hard optimist might be tempted to gloss over or minimize the problem and end up compounding it.
On the other hand, a disciplined analysis could make the problem seem bigger than it really is. That’s when you need to check your pessimism and use your fresh understanding of the issue to implement a solution.
In business, Wynn believes, “Most of our problems, to a great extent, are of our own making. It is not likely that the world is out to get us, although sometimes it certainly feels that way. If a bad a thing happens to you or your business – you have to take a look at the role you played in the problem.”
If everything is always someone else’s fault, you won’t learn anything about yourself. You can’t do anything about anyone else’s past actions but you can certainly reflect upon about what you did wrong. And then, you can move forward.
As Wynn puts it, “Data has no value – acting on data has value. Heroes and cowards feel the same fear. It’s the action they take that separates them from the pack.”
Many argue that the most important trait for a successful Entrepreneur is grit. And what is grit if not that perfect blend of optimism and pessimism?