It was in Bali earlier this year, sitting at dinner with my good friend and colleague Carl Massy, when he shared with me me a statement that described part of my personality to a tee, and made me laugh out loud at how perfect it was.
He said that I had the character trait of “unrealistic optimism” – and it is SO true!
In some ways this is a fantastic trait to have – I am positive and always see the cup as half-full, I believe I can accomplish huge goals and have the drive and ambition to follow them through. I have lofty visions and ideals, and see the potential we can create together if we all hold a space for a more holistic and beautiful world.
It also means that I don’t take “no” for an answer easily, I will find my around, or through a problem, and ask quality questions such as “How can this happen?” rather than accepting there is no way to accomplish a certain outcome. And I believe this outlook has benefited me enormously during my life.
However in the negative, this trait can cause a lot of stress – in small day-to-day ways, and also in big ways too.
For example if I have to be somewhere at a certain time, say 10am, I will estimate that it takes 20 minutes to drive there, and then I will fill the time right up until the second I have to walk out the door – just answering one more email or making just one more quick phone call. Then as I’m driving, I realise that the 20 minute drive, is only 20 minutes, IF I get every green light, no traffic work and no slow drivers or other inconveniences. So, in a perfect world it is 20 minutes, but realistically, I need to leave half an hour for the drive to be sure of arriving on time.
Then I am stressed because I am late, frustrated at red lights, and don’t have a peaceful experience, because my unrealistic optimism gave me the time frame of what would happen in a perfect world, not the real world.
This also comes out in the work that I do. I schedule my day and say “this job will take me half an hour, this one 15 minutes and this one 45 minutes” – so I put aside one and half hours to get those jobs done. Then I find that in reality, I have WAY overestimated what I am capable of doing in those time frames, and that it is three hours worth of work, not an hour and a half, and I am rushed and stressed trying to get things done in my unrealistic estimates!
The ultimate “unrealistic optimism” has been trying to run a business, run retreats all over Australia and in Bali, and also write a hundred-thousand word book all at the same time. Very unrealistic!
So now that Carl has put a name to why I stress myself out so much, un-necessarily – I can be aware of where I am thinking through the veil of unrealistic optimism and start bringing myself back to something that is much more realistic, not what I could achieve if circumstances were perfect, or what might happen in an ideal world.
And it has been working really well. I still love that I have an incredible level of optimism, but now I am learning to temper that back a bit and come to the reality that things often take a lot longer than I estimate and if I double my time-frames, I am likely to have a much better experience, and lower my stress levels.
So I quite like the label of “unrealistic optimist” it has a nice ring to it and is a trait that I can embrace, but also work with to bring about more balance in my life.
Are you an “unrealistic optimist”. Where do you suffer from the blinkers of “unrealistic optimism” in your life? Is that something you can relate to? Or do you know someone who has this trait?