by Bob Bekins
In a study many year ago, secretaries were given the choice between having a mean boss or an erratic boss. They preferred the predictability of the bad boss over uncertainty. The secretaries literally wanted a bad day at the office more than one in which they could be pleasantly surprised or terribly disappointed in an unpredictable way. A friend once said to me, “When I expect very little from a situation or a person, I am rarely disappointed. Even when things don’t go well, it was more of what I anticipated than something wonderful happening. It is rarely wonderful.”
In an experiment, college students did 15 weeks of photography. They then had to chose from two “best” photos that the professor had picked and could keep just one. One group, let’s call them Group A, could chose and have the perpetual opportunity to swap back for the other one. With Group B, it was a permanent choice. Surveying weeks later, Group A was not as happy as Group B which had settled down and quit thinking about the photo they didn’t chose. The folks in Group A were still second guessing their pick many weeks after their choice was made, though they had more freedom to swap.
The optimist does not look back as often wondering, “If I had only done X, my outcome would have been better.” The optimist knows that he or she cannot go back even one moment in time or change anything which has already been done.
Those who are optimistic spend less time predicting negative outcomes. They tend to barge forward with less consideration for the dangers inherent in new endeavors. For everyone that tries, there are dozens, and sometimes thousands, that fail. Progress, discoveries, new medicines, better theme parks, and quality special effects at the movies happen because someone attempted something new. Every single thing that moves us forward comes from the minds of those that think they can, despite the odds against them.
When we put these three concepts together, we get the more complete picture about what goes on in optimists’ minds. They may play what if about the future but spend much less time dwelling on the what ifs of the past. They think, “If I do this now, what positive outcome might there be down the road from my action?” They actively seek a positive outcome and take steps to make it happen.
The optimist therefore has high expectations for people and events. When something bad happens the optimist realizes very quickly that the immediately-past situation cannot be changed. He or she moves on to the next opportunity. If there is reflection at all, it is along the lines of learning from what went wrong and using the new knowledge to correct and control future events. Each is blessed by a lack of shame for past failures. Optimists are constantly seeking to do better and are blessed by thoughts of cures, winning games, children adopted, ending world hunger, and improving health.
The Israelite soldiers saw nine-foot-tall Goliath and likely said to each other, “He is a giant and will kill us all.” David the shepherd boy looked at him and probably thought, “He is such a big target, I can’t miss him.” Though Goliath had cursed David in the name of his gods, David knew that the true living God was with him. Then, David ran at Goliath.