Leadership

Why you should be highly optimistic if you want to be successful

Does having an optimistic attitude lead to success? Top business executives and psychologists sure think so.

At a recent Adweek panel, executives from consumer food company General Mills, media companies Good and Upworthy and a professor of psychology agreed that people who are optimistic are more likely to work hard to achieve their goals.

Liz Mascolo, the business unit director at General Mills, defines optimism as being able to focus on a positive outcome.

"It doesn't mean that you're necessarily shiny and happy at all moments of the day," she says. "But it does mean that you have an ability to look at a situation and while it might be tough, you're able to see around that corner and see the possibility...versus the difficulty."

Being optimistic goes far deeper than just positive-thinking, says Gabriele Oettingen, a professor of psychology at New York University.

"Optimism is defined as expectancy judgments that you can do certain things in the future," she says. These expectancy judgments are based on past experience, which means that being optimistic takes effort, she explains.

On the other hand, Oettingen describes positive thinking as simply daydreaming about the future and fantasizing.

The psychology expert says that optimistic people are more likely to invest, act and put effort into achieving whatever it is that they want to get done. "High optimism will predict high effort and success," she says.

Ben Goldhirsh, CEO of Good Worldwide, reiterates the importance of optimism in accomplishing goals. When discussing optimism, your "expectations kind of dictate outcomes," he says. "People are hungry to see their expectations elevated."

Those who have high expectations usually rise up to meet them, he explains.

Leslie Knope of NBC's 'Parks and Recreation' is, by most standards, a great boss.
NBCUniversal Media
Leslie Knope of NBC's 'Parks and Recreation' is, by most standards, a great boss.

However, Goldhirsh also points out that "pragmatic idealism" is important. Dreaming big is great, he says, but you must also take practical steps to turn it into a reality.

So how does one use optimism to achieve an end goal in a realistic way? Mascolo says that it takes a concerted effort and requires you to continually look forward to your goals.

"[Reimagine] the possibilities. That does take extra energy because it's easier just to focus on the problem at hand, fix it, move on," she says. "But you have to fix it and design for the future at the same time."

The first step to being more optimistic is thinking about what you really want, says Oettingen. This gives clarity, she says, and helps you to prioritize and strategize.

"What do you want for your life? What is it for the next day, for the next week, for the next year? Then imagine that this will happen," says Oettingen. "It triggers automatic processes that then will make you behave in the desired way."

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