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OPTIMISM V. PESSIMISM: A TREACHEROUS FALSE CHOICE

Posted Thursday, November 19, 2009, at 3:42 PM

By: Lisa Earle McLeod

www.LisaEarleMcLeod.com

The sunny-side-uppers claim that a positive attitude is the secret to success. If only all the Eeyores of the world would start thinking more positively, we could cure disease, create world peace, and line our pockets with riches.

Yet the self-proclaimed realists assert that they're the only ones are willing to face the facts. Leave life to the Pollyannas, and they'll skip us off the edge of a cliff, clutching a copy of "The Secret" to their chest, passionately chanting, "I believe I can fly, I believe I can fly."

But which side is right?

The answer is both. Or neither, depending on whether you prefer your glass half-full or half-empty.

Any cynic will tell you, ill-informed optimism deludes people into ignoring reality. Yet doom and gloom pessimism sucks people into depression and inaction, neither of which are very helpful in bad situations.

The pessimism versus optimism debate is actually a false choice. It's an either/or myth, perpetuated by people who are completely exasperated that the clueless optimists/pessimists on the other side won't see the truth.

However, the real duality we need to embrace is facts AND faith.

As in, the facts may be pretty awful AND having faith that you will ultimately prevail is one of the best ways to insure that you do.

Originally cited by Jim Collins in the classic best-seller "Good to Great," the ability to simultaneously face the brutal facts of your current situation AND hold onto the faith that you will prevail is one of the hallmarks of a great leader, and it's the secret to surviving adversity.

The nuanced differences between the facts and faith duality, and pessimism vs. optimism debate, are important.

Facts are just that, facts. However, pessimism is a negative emotion that you attach to facts. Yes, your business might be going broke, or your disease might only have a 2 percent survival rate, or your 401(k) may be worth less than it was when you were 20. But those facts don't have to dictate your response. The ability to look clear-eyed at a situation doesn't mean succumbing to despair.

That's where faith comes in.

While optimism is usually connected to certain outcomes: I'll meet Mr. Right, I'll find a new job next week, I won't have to do any more chemo, faith is less scripted.

It can be faith in God, faith in yourself or just a general feeling that the world tilts toward the greater good. It's a belief that things eventually work out OK, even if the process is messy and you don't know what OK is going to look like.

I explore the facts and faith duality in my new book, "The Triangle of Truth," which comes out in January.

One of the things I uncovered in my research is that the ability to tolerate uncertainty is what separates the people who can survive difficult situations from those who are flattened by them.

Optimism and pessimism are both based on assumptions that things will play out in certain ways. Yet people who are able to tolerate the ambiguity of uncertain outcomes are able to assimilate facts AND faith at the same time.

Embracing ambiguity is hard for us humans. The optimists and the pessimists may seem sure of their perspectives, but the truth is, nobody knows for sure how life will play out.

We never did and we never will.

Lisa Earle McLeod is an author, syndicated columnist and inspirational thought-leader. A popular keynote speaker, Lisa is principal of McLeod & More, Inc., a training and consulting firm specializing in sales, leadership and conflict management. Her newest book is The Triangle of Truth: The Surprisingly Simple Secret to Resolving Conflicts Large and Small (Jan 2010 from Penguin Putnam).www.LisaEarleMcLeod.com



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I can't take any more. The economy is tanking, the election is endless, and now it looks like I might have to sell my blood if I want to keep my kids in mac 'n cheese. Oh, and did I mention that, thanks to falling house prices, I probably owe more on my home than it's actually worth? I want to go back to bed, pull the covers over my head and have somebody wake me up when my 401(k) bounces back. I don't know about you, but I'm finding myself so jittery about, well everything, that it's all I can do to surf the net. Kind of ironic, isn't it? I should be working more, but I'm so anxious about my finances that I'm actually working less. Alas, such is the world of grown-ups - stress, anxiety, depression. And to think that I wasted much of my childhood wishing I could be in charge of my own life. Why in the heck did I ever think that was a good idea? Give me a few cookies, a blankey and a nice place to lie down and I swear I'll never complain about an early bedtime again. These are tough times indeed. Even if you're still OK, you'd have to be one cold, hard, rich person to stay immune to all the angst in the air. So how do you cope? How do you get through today when you're so worried about tomorrow that you can't see straight? I overheard a news commentator say that people are thinking twice before they go out to eat or buy new clothes. I'm guessing that those are the people who still have jobs. Because the people without jobs aren't spending a nickel on anything except cheap carbs and keeping a roof over their heads. Yet as depressing as our collective and individual situations may be, the last thing we need to do is let our fear get the best of us. If you spend all day quaking and anxious, guess who wins? The fear. Yes, I know FDR had a roof over his head when he said "we have nothing to fear but fear itself," but he was right. Every moment you waste paralyzed with fear is a moment you could be doing something, or resting up so that you can do something tomorrow. It's been said that there are only two emotions, love and fear, and all the other emotions are derivatives of those. So I'd like to make a suggestion. Let's chose love. Let's decide to love each other and to love ourselves, no matter what happens. And if you're really a Pollyanna, perhaps you'll join me in deciding to love the fact that this crisis is serving as a call for us to become our better selves; a call for us to look within and rid ourselves of consumerism, greed and the need to keep up with the Jones; and a call for us to have more empathy for those who are struggling. Maybe this is a chance for all of us - and I include myself - to decide that we love our country and we love our fellow human beings more than we love our stuff. Yeah, I know it sounds hokey. But you don't change your circumstances until you change the thoughts that created them. Cowering under the covers in fear may feel safer. But in a crisis, the truly powerful response is love. (c) Copyright 2008, by Lisa Earle McLeod. All rights reserved. Lisa Earle McLeod is a keynote speaker, author and nationally syndicated columnist. Her books include "Forget Perfect" and "Finding Grace When You Can't Even Find Clean Underwear." Contact her at www.ForgetPerfect.com.