Virtually everyone wants to enjoy happiness and success. Today, achieving those goals is challenging. Fears, economic pressures, relationship difficulties, job and school stress, as well as changing conditions keep getting in the way.
Yet, it is definitely possible for both adults and children to succeed in today’s world. Research finds that important keys include how we view ourselves and our world as well as our expectations for the future. To make it at any time, but especially in tough times, we must balance two important qualities.
A business giant helps uncover the first key to success
Business professionals have heard for years about the importance of a positive mental attitude. You need to know why.
Business journal Forbes reports that in the 1980s insurance giant MetLife hired 5,000 new sales reps annually and spent $150,000 on each over two years to help them succeed. Nevertheless, 50% quit in the first year. Four out of five were gone within 4 years. The rigors and disappointments of trying to sell life insurance on straight commission took a tremendous toll on sales representatives – and the company itself.
Met leadership hired Dr. Martin Seligman, former President of the American Psychological Association, to study the factors that determined agents’ success or failure. His research found that how agents viewed the discouraging trials they faced daily made a major difference.
Seligman’s research revealed that new salespeople who passed MetLife’s sales aptitude test AND scored high in optimism outsold pessimists who passed the aptitude test by:
- 8% in the first year
- 31% in the second year
Impressed MetLife managers bent their rules and followed Seligman’s recommendation to hire new salespeople who scored high on optimism but fell just short of passing MetLife’s aptitude test. They tested these “Super-Optimists” against pessimistic new agents who had passed the aptitude test. Here are the results:
- Super-Optimists outsold more qualified pessimists by 21% in year one.
- Super-Optimists outsold more qualified pessimists by 57% in year two.
Optimists can not only keep going through difficult terrain, but studies show they spot opportunities that pessimists miss. Social psychologist Heidi Grant Halvorson wrote in Harvard Business Review:
Albert Bandura, one of the founding fathers of scientific psychology, discovered decades ago that perhaps the best predictor of an individual’s success is whether or not they believe they will succeed. Thousands and thousands of experiments later, he has yet to be proven wrong.
Success Key #2: Realism
To truly help people achieve their goals, optimism must be tempered with realism. Continuing to pour money into a losing investment will not turn it into a winner. Putting a bright coat of paint and a new roof on a rotting house will not make it a lasting home.
Harvard Business Review’s “Be an Optimist Without Being a Fool” shows the benefits of realistic optimism through a study by psychologist Gabriele Oettingen. This researcher asked obese women in a weight loss program how confident they were that they would reach their weight goal despite temptations. As expected, those who believed they would succeed lost 26 more pounds than those who didn’t.
Oettingen also asked those women how hard they believed losing weight would be. Those who recognized the difficult challenges ahead, but were still confident of success, lost 24 pounds more than those who thought shedding excess weight would be easy.
A strong belief that things will turn out well can power you through difficult terrain – or drive you into a ditch. A realistic view can help you recognize and move towards genuine opportunities while avoiding the wrong road. How can you successfully cultivate both?
Recognizing the truth about yourself and your surroundings
Before you can fearlessly and accurately assess yourself, you must first recognize this important fact: human beings have tremendous intrinsic value. The human brain is the most complex thing and represents the highest technology in the material universe. However, we each have obvious strengths and weaknesses. Psychiatrist Dr. Daniel Amen reports than in conducting more than 30,000 brain scans, he has never found a perfectly functioning brain.
There is therefore no shame in recognizing that while we do well in some areas, we inevitably fall short in others. Wisdom allows us to frankly assess and maximize our strengths. At the same time, our realistic view permits us to courageously recognize our shortcomings and work to upgrade areas that will bring the greatest benefit.
Additionally, a realistic view can help us see the challenges we face in our environment. Setting realistic goals and recognizing things that could get in the way of our success can help us immeasurably. Great football coaches put together game plans based on their opponents’ strengths and weaknesses – and then frankly recognize what’s working and what isn’t to make successful game-time adjustments. Doing that well often wins Super Bowls.
Optimism balanced by realism can prove a tremendous asset during challenging times like ours. How can we successfully cultivate optimism when many disappointments and difficulties force themselves into view? The next article will consider what years of research have revealed.