Emotional Intelligence- Optimism and Hope

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We have seen the last blog on how, due to the coronavirus threat and the subsequent lockdown in the country, can give some people fear, anxiety and frustration as they are forced to sit inside their houses in the larger interest of the nation.

One of the antidotes for fear and anxiety is optimism.

By nature, most of us are always optimistic even in the most hopeless situations.  I remember when I was in college, I used to continuously watch all the one-day international matches played by team India and like all of us I was a big fan of the Indian cricket team. In those days our team would win very few games (in the late 80s and early 90s), but I would still watch the match till the last ball was bowled in anticipation that some batsman will play the match of his life and win it for India.

Hope and optimism are often considered as same. However, there is a distinct difference between the two. Hope is attached to a given situation and more specific. Being hopeful is working towards achieving your goals, desires, and expectations. A hopeful person believes specifically on his/her own capability for achieving success.

What is optimism? In psychological terms, it is more of positivity (even in face of adversity) rather than negativity, for the future the individual firmly believes in, for self, others they know, and the surrounding world they are living in. Optimism is independent of one’s ability. Being optimistic in a general way about our lives, serves us well, mentally and physically. Optimism is the opposite of pessimism, where the individual fails to see or hope anything happening in a positive manner. Pessimism may drive one into depression.

Optimism is one of the most important qualities to have in our journey towards emotional intelligence. Let me share my own experience when I was working as the regional sales head until a few years ago. It so happened that we were in discussions with a big prospect for a high rating of Online UPS system requirements. The discussions went on for more than 2 months and finally, we along with a big multinational competitor were left in the fry. Our biggest limitation was we had very few installations of similar ratings although with technology, features, and benefits we were second to none. The other vendor had a great advantage of brand and many installations to show.  Ultimately, we lost that all-important order. I was feeling miserable.

But one incident in my life immediately after losing this order changed the way started looking myself about my future.

I always wanted to buy a SONY DSLR camera and made many rounds to a showroom in one of the shopping malls. Each time I would ask for the specifications, features and other details like price, warranty, etc. to the salesman but never use to purchase it for want of money. There was some Diwali offer (discount and EMI option) still I was not able to buy it. I really felt sorry for the salesman in that showroom. But his attitude towards sales was amazing. When I ultimately expressed my inability, he had said “No problems Sir, if not this month, I am sure you will buy it in next month, however, you may not get this offer”. That’s what being optimistic is all about.  (And yes, you guessed it right, I bought the camera from the same showroom, from the same salesman in the next month albeit at a slightly increased price.) I learned this lesson and accepted the setback I received when I lost that big order and went on to bag many orders after that.  I learned that optimism is an inner resource and the ability to believe that you may have some bad times but with renewed efforts, those can change.

Having understood what is optimism, it is very important to know what is not optimism. It is not a tendency to believe that things will turn out to be the best no matter what. That is like living in a state of denial. That also exposes the weakness of the individual towards understanding reality and accepting it. Nor it is the capacity of the person to give himself/herself a continuous positive pep talk. Rather, optimism is the ability to stop thinking or saying destructive things about yourself and the world around you, especially when you are suffering personal setbacks. True optimism is a comprehensive and hopeful, yet realistic approach to daily living.

The optimist sees troubles and difficulties as a delayed success, rather than outright and conclusive defeat.

Psychologist Martin Seligman discovered three major attitudes that distinguish optimists from pessimists. First, they view downturns in their lives as a temporary deviation from the normal trends. Bad times won’t last forever; the situation will turn around. They see troubles and difficulties as a delayed success, rather than outright and conclusive defeat. Second, they tend to view misfortune as situational and specific, not as a long-standing inescapable perpetual failure. Third, optimists don’t immediately shoulder all the blame. If they find that there are some external reasons for their failures, they take those into consideration.

The pessimist will have the tendency to crib about each and every setback they experienced in the past or will experience in the future.

In contrast, a pessimist will have the tendency to crib about each and every setback they experienced in the past or will experience in the future. Any lapse will be seen as yet another example of how they screw up everything all the time. Why do bad things keep happening? Because pessimists decide that their own incompetence and ineffectiveness are to blame.

Say for example, if one had lost his/her job because of recession or duplication of posts after mergers/acquisition of companies a pessimist’s response would be: ‘Nothing will ever go right for me’. Or, ‘no wonder this happened, things always go wrong for me’ Or, ‘I should have met the top management to retain my job, I am an idiot’.

An optimist in the same situation will respond as ‘So what if I lost this job, this is not the end of the world.’ Or ‘Maybe I am destined to get even better job opportunity’. Or ‘It wouldn’t have made any difference; they already had the list ready with my name’.

However, putting all the blame on external factors is as bad as putting it all on oneself. A healthy approach lies somewhere in between the two extremes. One should also guard against too much optimism which leads to being oblivious of your surroundings and perhaps living in a fool’s paradise. Such people are referred to as blind optimists. They are in denial; for them, no problem exists and success can be obtained against impossible odds and against logic. (just as in the example cited at the beginning of the blog- hoping that India will somehow win even when all top batsmen are back in the pavilion and many runs to score that too in a smaller number of balls). The same is the case when one spends large sums on buying lottery tickets with a hope that one day, he/she will be wealthy. You marginally increase your chances of winning, but the odds remain stacked against you and the price of losing increases because you have devoted even more of your income for this foolish habit.

It is important to understand realistic or flexible optimism. We all experience adversity and disappointment in our lives. What is important is our responses to these seemingly challenging events. How resilient (ability to bounce back from setbacks and failures/frustrations) are you?

Optimists see possibilities and opportunities in challenges. Pessimists get thoughts which are angry and hopeless- they want something, they can’t get it and are convinced that they never will. Since it is the thoughts that give birth to emotions and emotions to your behaviors, pessimists are more often sad, angry, full of guilt, inactive, feel helpless, etc. The optimist guards against these feelings and behaviors and replaces disruptive thoughts with more appropriate ones. The result is enthusiasm about new alternatives, confidence that renewed or alternative efforts will succeed, creative planning and goal-oriented activity. Optimistic people are resilient and face adverse situations with a ‘can do’ attitude. They don’t run away from difficult situations; they persevere, are tenacious and keep trying. They are also flexible as they try different approaches for the same problem until it is solved. These qualities define their success.

Would like to end today’s blog with the following beautiful quote:

The optimist proclaims that we live in the best of all possible worlds; and the pessimist fears this is true- James Branch Cabell

6 thoughts on “Emotional Intelligence- Optimism and Hope”

  1. Very useful post. I have been do far having a confused thought between optimism and pessimism. Your post has cleared the doubts . Thanks for it. As I now have a clear vision on my goals I trust I will reach it. I once again thank you for your post. Hope to see such postings in your blog. Regards. Kalaivanan (EM 6)

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