Realistic vs Optimistic Thinking

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  • 0:00 Realism and Optimism
  • 1:21 Point of View and Attitude
  • 3:30 Lesson Summary
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Instructor: Michael Quist

Michael has taught college-level mathematics and sociology; high school math, history, science, and speech/drama; and has a doctorate in education.

Are you an optimist, a pessimist, or a realist? The optimist thinks things will be great, the pessimist thinks they'll be terrible, and the realist knows that they can go either way. In this lesson we'll compare optimistic and realistic thinking.

Realism and Optimism

Most people have heard the ''glass half full/glass half empty'' comparison for optimists and pessimists. Both sides think they're right, and both sides tend to think that they're realistic in their views. In other words, both the hopeful and the despairing think that their point of view is accurate. In reality, though, the two points of view are merely emotionally-colored ways of looking at the past, present, and future. The realist tries to keep emotion out of the equation.

When you're an optimist, you tend to see the brighter side of things, and you're convinced that things are getting better. You tend to believe in people, and you think that life's really pretty good and getting better by the day. You look at challenges as bright, shining reward systems, just waiting for you to collect them through effort and positive attitude. The opposite of the optimist is the pessimist, who tends to see everything in as negative and dark a light as possible. The pessimist believes that things are bad, and that they're going to get worse.

The realist tries to see things as they really are, and expects the future to act according to probabilities and tendencies. When you're a realist, you tend to see people as complex combinations of impulses and thoughts, which can slide toward positive or negative behaviors. You see challenges as inevitable aspects of life, which can get in the way or move you toward goals, depending upon how you respond to them.

Point of View and Attitude

The way that we view life and its events tends to have a dramatic impact on how we behave. Imagine that you and a friend are out exploring in the woods and you come across an old, rickety bridge over some dangerous-looking rapids. The optimist, who tends to see things in a positive light, is likely to believe in the bridge. ''It's stood here for ages, I'm sure it will hold up for a long time to come. Let's go ahead and cross.'' Risk-taking tends to come easily to optimists.

The realist, on the other hand, does not have such a positive view of the bridge. ''Well, let's look closer and see if we can figure out how strong the bridge really is. I mean, what's supporting it now? How firm are the boards that are holding it together?'' Unlike the pessimist, who would tend to think that the bridge will probably collapse at the worst possible moment, the realist wants to know the facts, or the reality of the situation.

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