Realistic Optimism

With Zoom-Out we are careful to use the phrase “helpful perspective” and not default to a “positive perspective”. Helpful can mean positive but ultimately we are concerned with whether a perspective helps you and those around you. Being 100% positive all the time is not always helpful.

I first encountered the phrase Realistic Optimism in the brilliant book:  “The Danish Way of Parenting: What the Happiest People in the World Know About Raising Confident, Capable Kids, in which there is an entire chapter dedicated to reframing and seeing the bigger picture and alternative perspectives is a central theme.

Danes don’t pretend that negativity doesn’t exist. They just point out in a rather matter-of-fact way that another side also exists that you may never have even considered thinking about. They choose to focus on the good in people instead of on the bad.

They change their expectations to focus on the bigger picture rather than getting trapped by one aspect of an argument, and they generally tend to be more tempered in their assumptions. Danes are what psychologists call “realistic optimists.”

– The Danish Way of Parenting

In Zoom-Out we often talk about how our distorted view of reality can get us into trouble and be a major source of suffering.

So we need to be careful not to paint an overly positive and optimistic view of reality – that would not serve us or the people around us well.

We are aiming for “Realistic Optimism” and not “Blind Optimism” – being an all out extreme Pollyanna. This article from Independently Happy makes the distinction between “Pollyannaism” and the dangers of “Pollyanna Syndrome”:

Pollyannaism as our predisposition towards the positive. It doesn’t ignore everything negative. Instead, Pollyannaism acknowledges the negative and searches for the positive in it.

Those with Pollyanna Syndrome focus on the positive while ignoring the negative. More than a bias towards positivity and away from negative, Pollyanna Syndrome completely ignores any potential negative. I’ve even seen the phrase “blindly optimistic.”

– article from Independently Happy

Zooming-Out, reframing and positive thinking are ultimately intended to boost both our wellbeing AND our effectiveness. Therefore we need to be aligned with reality otherwise reality will teach us a hard, cold lesson. We cannot bury our heads in the sand even if the view down there is amazing!

We need to build resilience against life’s challenges / problems – the “hard knocks” and “downs”. We cannot do this by avoiding such challenges and pretending they are not there. Many problems will magnify over time if not dealt with. We need to face them head on and become good at dealing with challenging situations. A key skill here is optimising how we view such situations in order to empower us to deal with them and not avoid them and in a way that helps us grow and boosts our wellbeing rather than diminishing it.

Life’s challenges need to be tackled, not only for the benefit of ourselves, but also for the benefit of those around us.