Anyone who knows me will confirm that I am, without doubt, an incurable optimist, a characteristic that I myself recognize. Even as a child, I viewed the world through a pair of “rose-coloured spectacles” and this has given me a rather particular perspective of events. For example, when I was nine I took part in my first competition of artistic gymnastics; I came last and when the competition announcer (in hindsight, rather insensitively) announced to the public “40th and last is Alice Alessandri!” I was nevertheless delighted to get a medal for my participation, while my mom was worried that my ego might be permanently damaged. A few weeks ago, I read an article that highlighted the pitfalls of positive thinking. The pessimists, who frequently expect the very worst, often depict the more optimistic of us as rather superficial people, who are either so deluded or so lucky as to be able to afford to live detached from reality. Undoubtedly, those who judge us that way may be sometimes right, which is exactly why I have had to work hard to make my “positive vision” a life strategy and not a blinkered view. The following article will explain how you can train to adopt strategic optimism and to use it well.
Optimism and Realism
The first lesson to learn is that you have to connect optimism with realism. The error in which I for one have often fallen is to use optimism as an escape from reality: denying events, suppressing pain, negative feelings and problems, only to find that they reappear later and sometimes come back bigger and stronger. We must learn to observe what happens to us with an open mind, to grasp all the various aspects, nuances and shadows and then in full awareness, decide to focus on the brighter view. This is the attitude that leads me to look for four-leaved clovers in green fields (I actually do!), to see the good side of every person I meet, to train salespeople to find at least one positive aspect in their clients, even the most difficult, and to focus on this in order to relate sincerely to other people.
Action and Responsibility
Being optimistic does not mean placing all your bets on positive outcomes and then sitting back and waiting for something to happen. Optimism must become action and strategy and is enriched by a sense of responsibility: we decide what we want and then roll up our sleeves and work hard to get it [take another look at the article on responsibility. When faced with difficulties, hard choices or things we lack it may be convenient to blame fate, rant against our Karma or a cruel world. Watch out, because self-fulfilling prophecies can be incredibly powerful and dangerous as Paul Watzlawick reminds us in his wonderful book “The Pursuit of Unhappiness”. There is nothing magical about this, but rather a focusing of action; when we fear certain events may come about we unconsciously alter our behaviour and cause them to happen. All we are left with is the bitter satisfaction of being able to say to ourselves, “I was right; I was right to expect the worst”. The good news is that such prophecies work even when we think about them in a way that looks forward positively to the achievement of our goals.
To have a positive attitude towards life we definitely need deep trust; trust in others and ourselves, in what will happen and in the infinite possibilities life offers and, more generally, in the fact that even ‘clouds have a silver lining’. Moreover, as I recently heard at the movies, “in life sometimes you win and sometimes you learn”, and again quoting from our own article, “the responsibility for what happens is not always ours, but we are the ones who can decide how to react: knowing this can set us free.”
Get used to starting the day by observing your negative thoughts and thinking up a strategy to transform them, to limit such problems or, at least, accept them as opportunities for growth. A good workout is to surround yourself with books, films and songs that focus on optimism. This idea took me and Alberto to Ancona on June 20, for the opening concert of Lorenzo Jovanotti’s summer tour, where I joined in loudly with all the optimists, or aspiring optimists, I know to the lyrics of the Italian rapper’s song: I think positive because I am alive […] I think positive but that doesn’t mean I cannot see, I think positive because I believe. […] I believe that between good and evil, good is stronger […] Go beyond your square metre of space where it seems you’re owed everything, look inside things: there is an unknown reality that is just waiting to come out where I can see the stars and live experiences on my own skin”. Indeed, as my university colleague Francesca Benzi, who is both an established professional and a Triathlon athlete often says, “we of the secret society of the ‘glass half full’ will always win out”.
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