When I was a kid, I watched a lot of musicals. In the movie musical South Pacific, the leading lady sings about being a cockeyed optimist. My grandma has always described herself as a cockeyed optimist, too – someone who is determined to see the bright side of everything. As an adult, I wonder, “Is this always the best way to be?”
Expecting the best helps you maintain motivation and open opportunities, but may hurt you at times when it’s important to see and respond to threats.
Let’s be clear: when in doubt, preference the positive. For most of us, at any given moment, it will be more beneficial to focus on the good things happening here and now. This is because it makes you feel good, helps you perceive possibilities, enhances problem-solving, and brings you closer to other people. However, when threats come knocking at your door, it’s important to see the challenge and respond to it. Being an optimist means believing in your ability to affect positive change, not deluding yourself that negative things don’t exist or affect you. An optimist doesn’t deny a cancer diagnosis or a failed evaluation; they see it with clear eyes and act to make things better.
Your next challenge as an Artistic Optimist is to be a clear-eyed optimist – someone who grasps reality and expects that they can positively affect the future. Set your mental default to notice positive true things and recognize threats when they occur so that you can respond to them appropriately. The key is to stay receptive to reality. That way, you can capitalize on what’s good and mitigate or avoid threats.
How do you know when to shift attention from positive realities to threats?
- See clearly. Notice what’s happening, inside you and outside you. If you feel like your view of reality is out of whack, take a few deep breaths to ground yourself, then look again.
- Listen to your instincts. We are biologically biased to notice problems because in the caveman days, noticing the saber-toothed tigers was essential to survival. If you feel your physical red flag going up (heart pounding, mind racing, etc.), you may be facing a threat.
- Assess the situation. Once you’ve noticed a threat reaction, ask, “Is there really a threat?” The threat response can be triggered by mundane situations like verbal arguments. Figure out how urgent it is: saber-toothed tiger? No big deal? Something in-between?
- Match urgency with response. If it’s a life-or-death emergency, mobilize immediately; trust your knowledge and instincts! If you’ve got more time (usually the case), strategize the best plan of action.
How you see the world as an Artistic Optimist is not distorted to diminish or exclude negative realities. You wear rose-colored glasses that preference positivity while also clearly seeing challenges, and responding with equal effectiveness when faced with opportunities and threats. See clearly, and act accordingly!