Optimism is the best mental attitude, right?
While it may seem obvious, when things go downhill, die-hard, “What, me worry?” optimists may discover they harbor a hidden Achilles’ heel. Blind faith optimism is a fragile mental bubble in a world teeming with sharp experiential edges, leaving one ill-prepared to handle life’s tough challenges. Granted, in tough times, pessimists fare no better. They are already stuck in a psychological hole, sometimes a deep one. When nasty things happen, they just dig it deeper.
Thankfully, there is a middle ground. The mindset most closely associated with mental resilience is called “realistic optimism.” As the term implies, these folks harbor an upbeat, action-oriented attitude. However, in equal measure, their optimism is tempered by and firmly grounded in reality.
More than anything else, a realistic optimist emphasizes effort over outcome. When faced with tough challenges, they don’t expect to prevail or succeed, but they do expect to give it their best. More often than not, we lack full control over outcomes. We can, however, control how much effort we apply.
This runs counter to our prevailing cultural value, which elevates success. However, if you’re a realistic optimist, you believe success is not a function of winning, but of giving one’s best effort. The idea that effort matters more than outcomes can seem like cultural heresy. However, it is precisely this attitude that affords realistic optimists a degree of emotional resilience that others often find lacking.
Perhaps the mindset of a realistic optimist is best summarized by this quote from Mahatma Gandhi: “Satisfaction lies in the effort, not the attainment. Full effort is full victory.”