I know I know, you’ve been hearing the cliches about the power of positive thinking since you were a kid. You know the ones:
“Are you a glass half full or a glass half empty type of person?”
“Be an optimist, not a pessimist.”
And on and on.
I might be beating a dead horse, but when you look into it there’s actually some interesting research about the success of optimists versus pessimists—specifically about reality versus delusion.
On the extreme end, optimists sometimes hold exaggerated, even delusional views about reality. Sometimes, they downright lie to themselves for the sake of being positive.
They might be onto something with their lies!
Research shows that these unrealistic lies, albeit optimistic, lead to greater success than pessimistic views—in sports, in careers, and in life. Not only that, but optimists tend to experience better health and live longer lives.
In fact, psychologist Shelley Taylor said: “A healthy mind tells itself flattering lies.”
The power of positive self-talk —whether it’s grounded in reality or not—was reiterated in a study that looked at Navy SEALS. When the Navy started teaching its applicants to speak positively to themselves, the passing rates to become a SEAL increased by 10 percent.
And on the other side, although pessimists do tend to make more accurate predictions about the future than optimists, they aren’t as successful, they aren’t as healthy, they don’t live as long, and they often end up depressed.
Martin Seligman, an academic from the University of Pennsylvania, reiterated three main differences between optimists and pessimists when it comes to the way they view bad/negative/unfortunate events in life:
Pessimists believe the bad event/circumstance will last a long time, is universal (i.e. I can’t trust anyone) and is their fault, where as optimists believe bad events are temporary, have a specific cause (i.e aren’t universal), and are not their fault, he said.
Seligman then discovered that when you shift the way you think about bad events in life from those of a pessimist to those of an optimist, you become much grittier—meaning you’re more likely to persevere through life’s challenges and be less likely to quit or give up.
Or as Angela Lee Duckworth said in her TED Talk: (https://www.ted.com/talks/angela_lee_duckworth_grit_the_power_of_passion_and_perseverance):
“Grit is passion and perseverance for very long term goals. Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future day in, day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years.”
And optimists are way more likely to have it.
So what does that mean for you?
Not sure, to be honest, as we have always told you to set realistic goals for yourself. But maybe we were wrong? Maybe it’s OK to believe you’re “training for the Games.”
Or maybe it just means you need to stop laughing skeptically when a coach tells you you’re going to get a pull-up or a muscle-up one day. Realistic or not, it will apparently make you grittier and more successful over the long haul.