Can You Be Too Optimistic?

Optimism is good. After all, the tendency to look on the bright side of things or situations can get us through a lot.

It can inspire creativity, get us to try new things, and keep us working toward our goals despite stumbling blocks. When we’re optimistic, we know we can do it.

But can you be too optimistic? Personally, I doubt it. But I do think it’s possible to let an overdose of optimism get in our way if we aren’t careful.

That’s because another part of the definition of optimism is the tendency “to expect the most favorable outcome”. If we expect the most favorable outcome without also adequately planning for possible unfavorable outcomes, we can get into trouble.

An overdose of optimism without the accompanying plan (and backup plans) can cause us to make decisions that we end up regretting, or leave us wondering where we went wrong. We can also start out optimistically, and then get discouraged and give up when our grand vision doesn’t immediately appear the way we thought it would.

For example, if we’re thinking of buying a new car and want to finance it, we’ll figure out whether or not we can afford the payments. When the numbers work out, we may go for it. But that can leave us forgetting to factor in the many new and additional expenses associated with owning the car. Or it can leave us forgetting to account for what might happen if we lose our jobs, etc.

So it’s important to also plan for unpleasant possibilities before going ahead with something. Don’t just optimistically think that “It’ll all work out”. It’ll be likely to all work out a lot better with some advanced and through planning.

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6 comments

  • Yes, I think you can be too optimistic. If you set your goals too high, or are counting on a certain outcome, and it doesn’t happen, its easy to get depressed or distracted from your long term goals.

    Optimism is important, but its also important to realize that not everything is going to turn out how you planned, and you can’t beat yourself up when it doesn’t.

  • As with most other issues, I think balance is the key. You make some great points in that regard. Planning for possible pessimistic outcomes allows us to feel like we’ve got things covered enough to be more optimistic.

  • Dear Jackie:

    I think you are talking about being out of touch with reality. Sure dreaming is great, but dreaming without any action on our part can cause us to end very disappointed in the end.

    Many people will you that you are bringing them down when you tell them to be more realistic with out realizing that you are actually trying to help them.

    It might come down to using the right words. Hmm….you are making me think. People do not like to be told that they cannot do something, yet there is no really good way of telling them they are being overly optimistic.

    Maybe examining that facts can be good, maybe approaching from logical point of view can be helpful, but most of the time the overly optimistic will be taught by life a valuable lesson.

    Thank you for making me think…

    Best,
    Tomas

  • David, yeah I think optimism needs to be tempered by realism, but the amount of that varies from person to person.

    2 Cents, balance, that’s what I was trying to say :)

    Tomas, hm, I don’t think I’ve ever actually told someone to be more realistic. Probably because I’ve done some pretty unrealistic things myself, so I always lean toward the idea of things being possible.

  • Love this topic. I am SUPER optimistic, and sometimes I feel like the idealistic, naive guy in the room. But if you don’t think it can be done, it can’t be done.

    On the flip side, and I love using this analogy anywhere I can, you have boxers. Sure, they’re more cocky than optimistic, but they go into fights convinced that there is no other income than winning.

    The downside? You look like an idiot when you fail.

  • Writer’s Coin, I don’t think looking like an idiot when you fail is such a bad downside compared to the upside of how it feels to succeed :)