Sunny Side Up: How Optimism Can Be a Driver of Success

In 1980, professional tennis player Vitas Gerulaitis had already lost to rival Jimmy Connors 16 times in a row before facing him once again in January 1980. This time however, Gerulaitis would be the victor. And his response to his win over Connors was priceless, “And let that be a lesson to you all. Nobody beats Vitas Gerulaitis 17 times in a row.”

Gerulaitis celebrated his win, and at the same time took a good-humored jab at himself and the epic losing streak he had amassed against Connors.

We’ve all known people who have an eternally positive outlook on life. It’s a refreshing quality and one that often inspires others to rethink their own perceptions of challenges they may be facing. Optimism is a powerful tool and great leaders know how to use it to unite their teams and guide them toward success.

Ugh… what’s the point of being optimistic?

The simple joys of a sunny disposition aside, optimism can be an important factor in many parts of our lives.

For example, optimism has a significant impact on health. A recent article from the Mayo Clinic points out that positive thinking can provide a wide variety of health benefits, from stronger immune systems to a reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease. According to the article,

“One theory is that having a positive outlook enables you to cope better with stressful situations, which reduces the harmful health effects of stress on your body. It’s also thought that positive and optimistic people tend to live healthier lifestyles — they get more physical activity, follow a healthier diet, and don’t smoke or drink alcohol in excess.”

Optimism can also be a powerful business tool. Look back at the leaders in your life who have made the most positive contributions to your career. Did they see the proverbial glass as half empty or half full? When you think about it, it makes perfect sense that optimism reigns supreme in the business world. People rally around an optimistic leader. We want to believe the best outcomes are possible, so leaders who don’t quell those feelings among their employees are often the most revered. By definition, optimists are prone to finding opportunity in even the most insurmountable challenges – which leads to innovation and success.

So, how can you shed a predisposition for negativity?

In large part, it’s a matter of changing the way you think. If you’re looking for a reason to be pessimistic, you’re going to find it. However, some studies show that many people are truly physiologically wired for optimism. But, that doesn’t mean the rest of us are doomed to a life of cynicism and negative outcomes. Here are four tips to help you start living life on the bright side.

  1. Don’t dwell on your mistakes
    If there’s one universal truth in the world, it’s that we all make mistakes. Less universal, however, is how we respond to them. If you’re the type to beat yourself up over every little snafu, it’s only a matter of time before it begins to affect your outlook on life. When mistakes happen – and they will – train your brain to focus on the next steps and how to bounce back stronger with the next attempt.
  2. Reframe the challenge
    Perhaps the best way to illustrate this point is through the words of Thomas Edison on his numerous attempts at creating the light bulb, “I have not failed 10,000 times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 10,000 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work.” Sometimes simply changing your perspective and letting go of things that drain your energy can give you the boost of optimism you need to keep moving forward.
  3. Keep optimistic company
    Negativity is contagious, so avoid it at all costs. Surrounding yourself with negative energy can take a toll on your psyche, and it could begin to affect the way you work, your relationships, and even your health. If you can’t escape the negative people in your life – like co-workers or teammates – then it may be up to you to be the positive influence and work toward setting a new tone.
  4. Focus on starting positive inner monologues
    Two things that ring true for most people – we all have inner monologues and we’re all our own worst critics. It’s a tricky combination that can be detrimental to optimism if left unchecked. If you wake up each day and say to yourself, “There’s no way I’m going to make it through today unscathed,” chances are, you won’t. Instead, make a conscious effort to flip those negative thoughts as soon as they enter your mind. It may be difficult at first, but eventually it will become automatic, and you’ll be on your way to a more positive frame of mind.

Do you consider yourself an optimistic leader? How do you encourage optimism among the people you lead? Let us know in the comments section below.


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