Harnessing the Value of Optimism
Every now and again you are listening to something and it stops you dead in your tracks. A lot of the content I consume on a monthly basis is interesting, but it is rare someone’s words force me to sit back and really take notice. For context I will fill you in a little here. It was a show on Youtube called the 1014 rugby, which is filmed in New Zealand with one of the hosts being an exiled Limerick man. On the show they had Ronan O’Gara and Scott Robertson, who were talking about their coaching philosophy and developing the culture of the Crusaders rugby franchise. Within it they touched on somewhat of a eureka moment for O’Gara, which was in a game versus the Hurricanes and how it changed his perspective on so many things in rugby and life. It was around the power of optimism and how Robertson approaches life. Robertson said,
“I don’t know if I see things differently, but I’m just a natural optimist. I genuinely see the opportunity in stuff”
Being a typical egocentric male, my automatic response to myself was, “Ah you’re really optimistic though John” I put that hat down, pressed pause on the video, sat back and asked again, “But are you REALLY though?” Alas, a deeper question to do some honest reflection upon. Like everyone I am supremely optimistic…when everything is going well. With this in mind, I said I would keep this in focus for the next challenge that presented itself and I would monitor how I respond. Luckily I run my own business so the wait is never too long for something to kick the shit out of you. To my surprise I was not as optimistic as my ego would lead me to believe. The mind can do funny things and usually invents the worst-case scenario when things go wrong. If you don’t know how to manage this it can lead to a lot of stress, anxiety and sleepless nights. Also, if you are in a position of influence you will set the temperature in the building and others will feed off your optimism, or pessimism. With these consequences in mind, I went to work.
So how would I go about developing this new optimistic approach? Two key steps really. Values and Reputation! Each year I include a value into my core list as a work on. One characteristic that I don’t fully possess, but I would like to work on until it becomes ingrained as part of who I am. I had not really focused on one yet this year, so the timing was perfect. Once you decide that this is an area of importance to you, then you must behave and make decisions in alignment with this. It is easy to say you’re an optimist, but when the shit hits the fan, are you still? A continuous process of voting for optimism over fear and anxiety, then ensures this becomes part of who you are. Reputation. We all have one with ourselves, it is called our self-concept. It is malleable and not fixed, so enables you to develop areas such as this to the point that it just become part of who you are as a person (identity) and what you deem important in life (values)
“I am an optimist. It does not seem too much use being anything else” – Winston Churchill
All wonderful so far John, but how the fuck can I do this? Step one is Reputation, as mentioned above. You need to start viewing yourself as an optimistic person and then set about finding ways to validate this belief through your actions, when the easy option is to panic (Solution v Problem focused)
The second element is really simple and one I am going to borrow from Tim Ferris. It is a process called Fear Setting, that works really well. It is a 3 step process that involves really delving into your fears as opposed to trying to supress them.
Step 1 – What might be the benefits of an attempt or partial success?
Step 2 – What are the costs of inaction – (in 6 months, 1 year and 3 years)
Step 3 – Define, Prevent, Repair
What is the worst that can possibly happen? (Define)
What specific actions could you take to reduce the likelihood of this happening? (Prevent)
If this does happen, what steps can you take to get back on track? (Repair)
As a model this is very very simple and helps take a lot of the emotion out of a highly charged situation. It brings a more pragmatic approach to challenges and enable you to jump from panic to action in a more empowered mind-set. Ultimately it will answer the big question you have tossing around inside your head, “Will I/we be able to cope?” Now this doesn’t mean that I take a happy clappy approach to everything and ignore due diligence, or de-risking projects when required. It simply means that when it comes to challenging situations my outlook focuses on what can you right, or what can I learn here, as opposed to going into a place of fear. The empirical evidence on this is still not fully formed when it comes to the benefits of optimism on performance (optimism performance hypothesis), but the studies conducted by Tenney, Logg and Moore in this area do confirm it’s positive impact on persistence and determination.
As an on-going practice I check in once a month with myself on my progress and see if I am actually living and breathing my current values. Within this I now include reflection on how I am progressing with this new “work-on value” of optimism. Right now it is still a work in progress, but I have had a couple of big wins of late and this is serving to cement my internal reputation as an optimist. The benefits of this will be large in my personal and business life going forward. Like everything, it starts with a choice, so….. Who are you becoming?
Ciao for now – John