By Dr. Susan Finley
“You have to do everything you can, you have to work your hardest, and if you do, if you stay positive, you have a shot at a silver lining.” — Pat, Silver Linings Playbook
Optimism is hoping for the best, pessimism is looking for the worst, and realism is seeing things just as they are. When approaching life’s challenges, remain open to explore alternative angles and keep persisting when old methods don’t work. Be aware of your limitations yet don’t lose sight of your strengths.
Self-Fulfilling Prophecy is a term used in psychology to describe the outcome of a prediction that directly or indirectly causes itself to become true. According to this theory, the things we believe impact the way we behave. Our thoughts create the end result because they control our present actions.
“Glass Half Full”
Optimism is the state of having confidence regarding the future, staying hopeful for a successful outcome. Without optimism, one may never attempt alternative methods to achieve the desired end result. Remaining optimistic in the face of adversity can lead to miraculous outcomes overcoming what was once believed to be impossible. A positive attitude towards beating the odds can make a life saving difference. Just take the example of the patient given 6 months to live…and 6 years later they are alive and well, despite the doctor’s prediction!
Critics of optimism argue these individuals are so focused on the positive that they lack the ability to see things as they “truly are.” Pessimism is known as the tendency to see the negative in things, anticipating the worst possible outcome i.e., “Debbie Downers” and “Negative Nancy’s.” Psychology indicates that pessimism is actually closer to reality than optimism. Some pessimism is good because it keeps us on our feet and fully aware of our situation. It is a survival tool, safeguarding us from falling prey to the bad intentions of others i.e., manipulation, scams, and conspiracy theories. Too much pessimism has the opposite effect, however. It can paralyze effort, leaving the individual frozen with worrisome thoughts about the future.
“It’s Just A Glass”
Realism is the attitude or practice of seeing a situation as is. It is the search for facts, relying on truth as opposed to assumption. In the artistic world, “realism” is the attempt to represent subject matter without artificiality, avoiding artistic conventions. Sometimes referred to as naturalism, artistic realism avoids the implausible, exotic, and supernatural elements. Realism focuses more on the present, while optimism and pessimism tend to be more future-oriented.
To effectively address life’s challenges, one must first see the situation for what it is, then approach it in one of two ways: (a) continue trying/tackle from a different angle, (b) accept that the situation is not meant to unfold the way they had intended and move on. Practicing this approach will benefit the individual’s overall perspective, leaving them better equipped to weather change and disappointment.
Susan Finley, Ed.D., NCC is a professor, published researcher, and social media consultant for therapists. She is a National Certified Counselor (NCC), Board Certified-TeleMental Health Provider (BC-TMH), and Suicide Prevention Instructor (QPR) under the National Board for Certified Counselors.
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