Neuroscientists Agree: Optimism is a Good Thing

Tali Sharot is a neuroscientist.  He claims that optimism is a universal human experience.

“The belief that the future will be much better than the past and present is known as the optimism bias.  It abides in every race, religion and socioeconomic bracket…You might expect optimism to erode under the tide of news about the violent conflicts, high unemployment, tornadoes and floods and all the threats that shape human life…But private optimism, about our personal future, remains incredibly resilient…To make progress, we need to be able to imagine alternative realities – better ones – and we need to believe that we can achieve them.  Such faith helps motivate us to pursue our goals.  Optimists in general work longer hours and tend to earn more.”

Read that last sentence again.  “Optimists in general work longer hours and tend to earn more.”  That’s the important career advice here.

As a neuroscientist, Tali Sharot backs up his claims with a lot of brain research.  But you don’t have to be a neuroscientist to figure out that choosing optimism is simple common sense when it comes to life and career success.

Tweet 42 in my career advice book Success Tweets says, “Choose optimism.  It builds your confidence.  Believe that today will be better than yesterday and that tomorrow will be better yet.  Check this out.  Tali Sharot says…

“Even if that better future is often an illusion, optimism has clear benefits in the present.  Hope keeps our minds at ease, lowers stress and improves physical health.  Researchers studying heart disease patients found that optimists were more likely to than non-optimistic patients to take vitamins, eat low fat diets and exercise, thereby reducing their overall coronary risk.”

This reminds me of point four in The Optimist Creed.  “Promise yourself to look at the sunny-side of everything and make your optimism come true.”  In other words, be optimistic about your health, but eat right and exercise to make sure you stay healthy.  Or, be optimistic about your career success, but work hard and smart to create the career success you want and deserve.  It all starts with optimism.  You must first believe you can have a healthy life and career success.  Then you have to do the work necessary to “make your optimism come true.”

Tweet 44 in Success Tweets says, “Be an optimist.  Believe that things will turn out well.  When they don’t, don’t sulk.  Learn what you can, use it next time.”

There are two important pieces of career advice about optimism and life and career success in this tweet.  First, optimists believe things will turn out well.  Second, optimists see failure and defeat as temporary.  They treat them as learning opportunities.

Have you seen the movie, Remember the Titans?  It’s a sports movie about an improbable situation based on a true story.  Denzel Washington stars as the coach of the T. C. Williams High School Titans.  Williams was a newly integrated high school in Alexandria, Virginia, in 1971.  Denzel’s character, Coach Herman Boone, was a black man chosen to be the head coach over a very popular coach who had been the head coach at the high school prior to it being integrated.

The team had a lot of good athletes.  They were undefeated as they entered the State Championship game.  Things didn’t go well in the first half.  In the locker room at half time, Denzel makes a speech in which he congratulates the team on coming so far in such a short period of time.  He tells them that win or lose he is proud of them.  It seems as if he has given up.  It sounds like a speech losing coaches give to teams after a game – not at half time.

One of the players speaks up.  He challenges the coach.  He says something like, “We were perfect when this game started.  We’re still perfect until it’s over.  I, for one, want to finish this game like we started it – perfect.”  This impassioned speech rallies the team, and they win the game.  It’s a feel-good movie about a group of young men who learned how to pull together regardless of their differences.

And it makes the first point about optimists.  Even when the coach seemed ready to give up, one player wouldn’t.  He was an optimist.  He believed they would win.  His optimism was contagious.  The team rallied and won.  I don’t know if things went down exactly that way in that locker room, but that scene reinforces the power of believing things will turn out well.

If you don’t believe you can win, if you don’t believe you can create a successful life and career, you won’t.  If you do believe, if you’re an optimist, you’re on the right path to winning and life and career success.

But believing is not enough.  It will set you up for success, but you will still find times when you fail.  That’s where the second piece of career advice in Tweet 44 comes in.  Don’t sulk when you fail or lose.  Treat every failure and loss as a learning experience.  Use failures and losses as stepping stones to creating the life and career success you want and deserve.


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