Unrealistic Optimism

by Leisa on November 20, 2012

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?



Please feel welcome to leave your comment, feedback or question about this blog post below! If you would prefer not to use your own email address, just type in the box below to post your comment. We'd love to hear from you!

3 commentsAdd comment

Damien Meldrum November 21, 2012 at 1:23 am

Hey Leisa,

great article. I think it’s an important point that all traits can have a positive and negative aspect. It’s good to choose emotions and utilise them to create a wonderful life. Sadness is a great cleanser, but too much sadness can hold us back. Anger can be used as fuel for success, but too much can get us into trouble. In your case optimism is wonderful and something that everyone aspires to. But hey, as you say, even too much of this can get you out of balance. Lots of Love, Damien.

Michele Keyser November 21, 2012 at 7:24 am

Great article…I can soooo relate to this!! Is good to achieve lots of things and makes you feel happy with yourself but not worth it if you wear yourself out in the process. We need to take our own advice on these matters also! It is all about finding a balance, so much easier said than done!

AromaQueen April 5, 2013 at 9:21 am

It is most interesting how you touch on the positives and negatives of an attitude such as this. I am a person of the opposite emotions; my glass is often half empty! I would call this realistic pessimism – and, like you, I believe there are times in life where it can be both a burden and a blessing. Realistic pessimism can leave you devoid of hope in a negative situation but can also help to prevent nasty disappointments in life too (if your expectations are realistic there is more room to be pleasantly surprised when things go right and not too alarmed when they don’t). Great post, it made me smile too!

Leave Your Comment


(Spamcheck Enabled)


Previous post:

Next post: