It is much easier to be optimistic about the future when you are actively creating it with intention and doing so out of desire and not fear.”
Do you consider yourself to be an optimist, a pessimist, or a realist? Optimism, pessimism, and realism are three different paradigms that impact how we approach life and interpret life’s events. For some, they’re even identities.
When we face difficult times, our dominant paradigm tends to become amplified, which can be the determining factor in whether we suffer or thrive.
I’ve experienced this in a unique way. For many years of my life, I was what I would call a delusional optimist. While this helped me through some difficult times, it also stopped me from healthily processing negative emotions and events, and I had to learn quite a few tough lessons the hard way.
In this episode, I want to dive deep into the differences between optimism, pessimism, and realism–and help you identify how these paradigms can be most useful and effective as you optimize and make the most of the life you live.
- What it really means to be an optimist, a pessimist, or a realist.
- Why so many self-identified realists are focused on the negative–and why it’s just as realistic to be excited about the possibilities and positives in life.
- The dangers of blind or delusional optimism–and how it can make it extremely difficult to process or make sense of negative emotions.
- An exercise you can do to truly understand what’s going on in your life and reframe your reality.
- The genius of being able to hold two opposing ideas in your mind simultaneously.
- The ABCs of realistic optimism.
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Hal Elrod: Hello and welcome to the Achieve Your Goals podcast. This is your host, Hal Elrod. And thank you so much for listening today. I really appreciate you and your valuable time and attention. I know it is limited. You got a lot of things pulling for it. So, let's make today a really valuable episode for you.
And we're going to talk about the differences between optimism, pessimism, and realism, and then see if we can identify which is the most useful, which is the most effective, or which combination is the most effective for us to optimize the life that we live and to deal with the challenges that lie ahead, either individual challenges or collective societal challenges. So, optimism, pessimism, realism, we're going to go deep into the three of these.
And before we do, I want to just take a minute to give a shout-out, thanks, and acknowledgment to our two sponsors. The first is Organifi. If you have any goals that involve your health and longevity, I highly recommend checking out Organifi because your body is an amazing organic machine. It turns food into energy, it heals wounds, it supports your consciousness, and so much more, but it needs the right fuel and signals to function at its best.
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And then, last but not least, my good friends at Self-Publishing School have helped hundreds of members of the Miracle Morning community and over a thousand individuals, might be in the thousands, plural, to write and publish their first book. So, if you've ever wanted to write a book to share your story, to positively impact others’ lives, to create a stream of income, or if you have already written a book, but you want to become like a full-time author, head over to Self-PublishingSchool.com/Hal, that’s Self-PublishingSchool.com/Hal, and you can learn how to write and publish your first book or your next book in as little as 90 days and turn your dream of writing a book into a reality. Now, without further ado, I invite you to join me in evaluating the pros and cons of optimism, pessimism, and realism.
Hal Elrod: Hey, goal achievers and members of the Miracle Morning community, it's Hal. And today, we're going to talk about three different, yet often overlapping ways of approaching life. These are even identities for a lot of people. One is optimism, the other's pessimism, and the third is realism. And see if we can figure out which of these or which combination will be most effective for you and I, for all of us, to optimize our lives and to handle the challenges that lie ahead, because guess what? I'm really talking to you, optimists especially, challenges are an inevitable part of life. And we're facing challenges as a society right now that we've never faced before, at least in my lifetime, or at least that I was aware of. And of course, the ongoing interpersonal individual challenges that life presents for each of us, those are still present as well. And for many of us, they are amplified. They're amplified.
So, I want to start by asking what you consider yourself, which camp you fall into, which category would you consider yourself to be an optimist, someone who is generally a positive person who tends to focus on and expect positive outcomes in life? Or are you a pessimist, someone who tends to focus on what's wrong with situations and maybe is more inclined to expect negative outcomes in the future? Or would you consider yourself to be a realist, a person who kind of more thoughtfully considers what's real or what's possible in a particular situation, maybe spends more time assessing or evaluating the future, trying to be as accurate as possible, and then typically somebody who accepts and deals with things as they really are. That's how I would define a realist.
So, think about that for a minute. And by the way, if you talk to somebody, typically, you can tell pretty quickly which of these three is their primary mindset, somebody who is pessimistic, typically, they're complaining about what's going wrong in the present or they're pointing out what they believe is likely to go wrong in the future, whereas an optimist will naturally talk about what's going well, what they're happy about, what they're excited about, what they're excited about for the future. And then a realist might talk about both or with more kind of a neutral or balanced interpretation and expectation. So, where do you fit? Or how would you identify, as an optimist, as a pessimist, or as a realist?
Now, personally, I have been generally a positive person for my entire life. Like even as a kid, I was always pretty positive, and it really went to the next level when I was 19 years old, I started a career in sales, and my manager, my mentor, Jesse Levine, introduced me to the concept of positive thinking. At 19 years old, I don't even know if I've heard those two words together, positive thinking. I didn't know what that was. And my manager, Jesse, taught us in training about positive thinking and schooled us on different ways to apply it to our new venture of going out there and facing– when you're selling a product, you face rejection and disappointment. You set goals, you don't achieve them. It's a whole set of new challenges that you're presented with. And it was interesting, but when I went home and I teased my parents about this sometimes, but I went home from my Cutco training and I started to notice how negative everybody else in my life was.
It was absurd as I had kind of the veil pulled off of my eyes to see the difference between positive and negative, between expecting the best and expecting the worst, between being pessimistic focusing on what could go wrong versus being optimistic and imagining and exploring what could go right. And I started to notice that my family, I was like, “Mom and dad, you guys are negative. You guys complain like all the time.” So, I started to really become, like my antenna went up, and I was really aware if people were pessimistic or optimistic in general or realistic. And usually, there's a blend. Well, we'll talk about that how typically realistic, if you're a realist, tends to lean toward either the flavor of optimism so an optimistic realist or pessimism being a pessimistic realist. So, usually, it's rarely right in the middle, but again, you talk to somebody pretty quickly, you can usually tell what their general mindset is.
And by the way, something to consider as we move through today's episode when it comes to those three identities, optimist, pessimist, realist, you can apply each through two different contexts. So, it's kind of the past and present that fits into one context. I would call that interpretation. So, in the first context, you can apply, optimism, pessimism, or realism. Isn't when you're interpreting either the past events or the present, what's going on right now. And the second context would be the expectation. So, there's an interpretation of the past or present, and then the expectation for the future. So, you can have a pessimistic and optimistic or a realistic expectation for the future as well as you can apply any of those three when you're interpreting the past or the present. And again, typically, an optimist is going to have both. So, if you're an optimist, you'd have an optimistic interpretation of your life up until this point and as it is now and an optimistic expectation for the future of your life, or you can have a pessimistic interpretation of life and a pessimistic expectation of the future. So, usually through the lens of optimism, pessimism, and realism, you're going to be applying that through an interpretation or an expectation, and typically, both.
Now, in my life, I found that pessimists often self-identified as realists, meaning that if you meet someone that is complaining, and they’re focused on all the negative, and if you call them out on it or you even just bring it to their attention, I've often found that someone that identifies as a realist will stand by the perspective, kind of justify to say, “I'm not negative, I'm just realistic.” “I'm not negative, I'm just realistic,” but what I've always thought when I've heard someone say that is how is it any more realistic to focus on, to think about, to dwell on, to talk about that which is unfavorable, that which is “negative” in life. How is that any more realistic than the person that chooses to focus on, to think about, to talk about, to dwell on, that which is positive in life, that which is favorable, that which makes the person feel good.
So, think about that for a second. Neither one is more realistic, it's equal. It's equally realistic to assess the positives in life and the possibilities for the future that is exciting. That is just as realistic as someone who chooses to focus on the negative in life and to worry about the worst-case scenarios for the future. So, consider that both are equally realistic, whether you are optimistic or you are pessimistic. So, what I have found the hard way, however, is that when it comes to being an optimist, again, I identify as an optimist.
Well, actually, I should say through most of my life, my young adult life, from age 19 until about 37, I identified as a delusional optimist. Like I was optimistic to a fault, to where I would ignore the realistic aspects of life or the potential pitfalls for the future that I should have, could have, would have prepared for, but I didn't because I leaned so far toward being optimistic. And I would say in the last, I don't really, I would say probably the last four or five years, I've really found a center ground to really be much more of a pure realist that leans toward optimism, but that also brings pessimism into my evaluation of life in the future and in the present so that I can be adequately prepared to deoptimize how I handle challenges as they come my way if that makes sense. And we'll, we're going to get more into this.
But in terms of finding out the hard way as an optimist, that there's a fine line between optimism and delusion. And if you're an optimist, you may have crossed that line. I used to always say there's a fine line between optimism and delusion, and I cross it more often than I'd like to, but for example, probably started in 2007, but 2007, 2008, around that time, there were signs of the economy being very shaky. There were signs the economy was headed toward a crash. And I totally ignored that, I was so optimistic that when people asked me, “Hal, are you worried about the economy?” I'd say, “I create my own economy.” And they're like, “but aren't you watching the news? Don't you see what's going on?” “I don't watch the news.” Like, “I focus only on the positive.” I was so proud of my optimism, I guess.
And what happened was the factors that caused the economy to crash in 2008, they were very real. They were being spoken of in advance of coming to pass, or in advance of the fallout of those consequences, the context or the effects or the causes may have already been laid out, but we were kind of warned of what was coming. And the point is, the downfall of being the blind optimist, if you will, is that you're just that, you're blind to the possibilities that one might want to be aware of so that one could prepare for it. And not only prepare for it logistically but also prepare for it mentally and emotionally, go, oh, okay, the economy is about to tank, (a) how can I prepare for that? What can I do now to be as prepared as I possibly can for that challenge that is coming my way? And then number 2, mentally and emotionally, how am I going to handle that? How am I going to be at peace with the challenge once it occurs so that I can maintain my mental and emotional health and well-being and I can move through, I can still enjoy my life and live my life even in the midst of some unchangeable circumstances that are coming my way?
So, that's the downfall of being this blind optimist, is that you're not paying attention. And what I found, and I think this is true for me, is that when someone is a blind optimist, you can call it an extreme optimist, it's often out of an inability to handle painful experiences, at least I believe this is true for me. And it took some counseling and some like hypnosis. I don't even remember how I finally got there. Actually, I was working with a coach, Jenai Lane. I think she identifies as a spirit coach. She wrote the book Spirit Led Instead, which is a great book if you want to really understand how to tap into your intuition.
So, Jenai helped me to go back into my childhood, go back into my life, and identify that at nine years old. And I mean, I knew this had happened, but I didn't realize potentially, how this impacted my psychology for the rest of my life beginning at nine. At nine years old, you may know the story, you might not, I woke up. It was just me and my mom and my 18-month-old sister, Amery, at home. It was a Saturday morning. My sister Haley, who was a year and a half younger than I was, she was visiting my grandma Sally, who I am actually going to go see next week, my dad was at work, and so, it was just me and my mom and my baby sister, Amery. Again, she was a year and a half, home on a Saturday morning. And I woke up to the sound of my mom, my mother saying, “Oh, my baby, my baby.” It's amazing how I can recall this, but I remember rubbing my eyes. And at first, I thought my mom was playing with Amery, I thought she was saying, “Oh, my baby, my baby,” in a playful tone, but then as I woke up and I came to, I sensed real despair and turmoil and fear and angst, I don't even know how to describe it, in the tone of her voice as she said, “Oh my baby, my baby.”
And my parents’ bedroom was across the hall. I jumped out of my bed. I ran across the hall, and my mom was giving mouth-to-mouth CPR to my baby sister Amery. And Amery had been breastfeeding with my mother, and then my mom was looking down at her as she was breastfeeding. And apparently, my baby sister Amery’s eyes just glossed over, and my mother started performing CPR. And Amery wasn't responding and she never responded and she died that morning. Now, I really don't understand what was going on at that moment, but not my mom talking about before she died, I'm saying she died at the hospital, or at least that's when she was pronounced dead. So, I'm talking about that morning as I'm looking at my mom and I'm going, “Mom, what's going on?” And she's like, “Amery needs help, Amery needs help.”
So, it wasn't, Amery’s dying or dead. It was, Amery needs help. And she sent me, said, “Go to the neighbor, go to Grant's house. He has oxygen.” He was an older gentleman, probably in his 70s or 80s. And so, he had an oxygen tank that he used for his own oxygen. And she said, “Go get Grant, get his oxygen tank.” And so, I ran over to the neighbor's house, and it was probably eight or nine in the morning. And Grant, he answers the door and he's walking with a cane, I mean, he's not the fastest. And I'm saying, “Hurry, Grant, hurry. My sister.” And he slowly made his way– we lived in the mountains. So, like, we didn't live in a normal neighborhood. He had to go, like, up a dirt hill to try to get to our house. And he brought it. I couldn't carry the oxygen tank. It was too big. It was like five feet tall or whatever.
So, he wheeled it over, and we brought it in, and he put it on Amery’s face. And the mouthpiece, the oxygen, it was too big for her little baby’s mouth. It was an adult mouthpiece and it blew oxygen right out the sides. And I remember Grant, I remember him, the despair in his voice, as he said, “It's too big. It's too big for her face.” And an ambulance showed up, and my dad showed up right around the same time from work. And my mom and my dad got in the ambulance and they went with my sister to the hospital where I figured everything was going to be okay, as my good friend Ben, his mom Janine picked me up, drove me to their house so I could not be at the hospital, but just hang out and get my mind off it and just play.
So, I went over to Ben's house, played with him for a few hours, and my dad called me. Well, Janine came out, Ben's mom came out, and said, “Hal, your dad is on the phone.” And her voice was cracking. She looked white as a ghost. And I think my dad had already told her what happened, but I was a kid, I didn't pick up on it, but I remember it now, but I didn't pick up on it then. And I ran to the phone and I can picture where I was at, in Ben's dad's office on the phone, and I said, “Hey, dad. Is Amery okay?” In my mind, I was a naive kid. I thought she's going to the hospital, that what they do at the hospital, they fix people. She's going to be good as new. Everything's going to be okay.
And my dad, it was the first time I'd ever heard him cry, and he said, “Hal, Amery’s up in heaven.” I said, “What do you mean, she's in heaven? So, she died?” And that's my dad lost it, sort of crying and he said, “Yes, but she's in a better place now. She's in heaven.” And I don't remember exactly what my thought process was at that point. All I know, I have a vague memory of not knowing how to process this and having a wave, like a really weird mix of emotions inside me that I didn't like the way that they felt. And so, I just remember what I said, I went out into the living room, and Ben was playing with his little brother Andy on the floor, and Janine was looking right at me, and I said, “Hey, everybody.” And everybody looked at me, and I said, “Guess where Amery is?” Like with a real positive, upbeat tone. “Guess where Amery is?”
And Janine, I remember, she tilted her head and just kind of furrowed her brow and just got a really sad look on her face because, again, I think my dad had told her what happened. And I said, “Guess where Amery is?” And Ben and Andy looked up at me, “Where?” I said, “She's up in heaven. Isn't that great? Isn't heaven supposed to be, like, the best place ever? She's in heaven.” And again, I don't remember everything that I was thinking or feeling at that moment. I just know that I had a myriad of emotions that were swirling around inside of me, and I didn't like the way that they felt. And so, I went to positive. I went to optimistic. I went to focus on the positive, “Hey, she's in heaven. Heaven's great. That's great.” And I never felt any pain over Amery's death.
And so, the reason I'm sharing this story with you, by the way, other than a little understanding of how my mindset came to be, is I want to invite you to consider. If you are a pessimist or an optimist or a realist, where do you think that might have stemmed from in your past? So, think about that. So, if you're a pessimist, for example, maybe your parent was a pessimist or both your parents, maybe they complained all the time and they focused on the negative. Maybe your dad was always watching the news and saying, “This is going wrong and the world's falling apart, Johnny, and this is a mess.” I don't know, I'm throwing it out there, but if you are a pessimist, an optimist, or realist, you identify as one of the three or a blend of two or three of them, I guess, could you blend of all three? I don't know, but however you identify, just consider for a few seconds here, where might that have come from? And take that into consideration after the episode. Where may have you developed being an optimist, a pessimist, or a realist? Where might that have come from?
So, for me, at nine, my sister died. I didn't like the way I was feeling inside. I didn't even understand. I didn't understand the feelings or the emotions, I just knew they made me uncomfortable. And by immediately focusing on the positive and smiling and bringing up my energy, I felt better. And so, what's interesting is I wore optimism as kind of a badge of honor for many years, not when I was young, I never even knew the word, but when I was, I’d say 19, and I started in my sales career and I learned about being a positive person and positive thinking and being an optimist, really, my judgment was optimism is better than pessimism. And I'm the most optimistic person. In fact, I was 19, I wrote an affirmation that said one of my goals for self-improvement, which actually I found in my journal the other day, when I was 19, we moved into a new house, and I'm going through all my stuff. It's kind of cool to see this, but it was my self-improvement list. In fact, hold on, let me see if it's right here. I don't know where it is. Maybe I'll read it to you in a future episode, but one of the self-improvement goals I had is to be the most positive person I know. That was one of them. So, there was a sense of pride in that.
And I didn't realize until about a year ago, a year and a half ago, when I was working with Jenai, my coach, she helped me to reexamine this situation that I just described to you and the story I just told with Amery, my sister, who I lost that morning. And what I realized is that I became an optimist, not out of strength. I thought I was really strong because I could see the positive in everything and I could make positive out of any situation, no matter how negative I was in. And there is strength, and then we're going to talk about the benefits of that and how to apply it, but what I realized was a total blind spot, which is, “Oh, I can't deal with negative emotions. It's not a strength, it's a weakness. So, I had to figure out a way to deal with it, which for me, it was just not acknowledging, it was just not dealing with it. And it really started to change– I guess when I had my car accident at 20 was when I started to realize that I can accept the things I can't change, even if they're painful without denying them or just avoiding them. I can actually take it in, okay, this is the worst-case scenario. And you may have heard me share that story before that, when I was told I might be in a wheelchair the rest of my life, I decided, okay, well, if I'm in a wheelchair for the rest of my life, I can't change it. So, I might as well be the happiest, most grateful person I've ever been in a wheelchair.
So, that's some of the strength of optimism, is you can literally make the best in simple terms of any situation, of any challenge, no matter how difficult it might be, but I do believe now that emotions are not meant to be avoided just because they're painful, they're meant to be transmuted, meaning they're meant to be acknowledged, considered, evaluated, and you could say transmuted, then extracting the value from them and not letting them rule you or own you or dictate your thoughts and your mood and your behavior. So, it's about you being able to take those painful emotions, not avoid them, not push them down so they come up later, possibly as cancer. I don't know if that's how I get cancer, but that is one theory is that I pushed all my negative emotions down for so many years that they finally showed up in different ways in my body. I don't know if that's true or not. Nobody will ever know. That's just a theory.
But the point is that whether it is being an optimist or being a pessimist or being a realist, consider how that came to be for you. And then let's move into talking about each one of these, the value of each, the pitfalls of each. And then what is the most effective of the three or the most effective combination of the three for you and I both to be able to enjoy life while dealing with the challenges that are going to come our way. One, I'm going to share with you right now a visual that's been very helpful for me over the years, and that is to imagine that we all have two pages to focus on at any given time. So, you can literally if I share this in a speech, I'll often say, hold both of your hands up and imagine on your left hand, it lists everything you have to feel good about. That's your optimist page. Everything you have to feel good about, grateful for, excited for, that's the page you're holding in your left hand. Right now, I literally have both my hands up in front of me, which I'm encouraging you to do as well unless you're driving, then keep a hand on the wheel, but that left hand, that's everything you feel good about. And then, now, look at your right hand, that's everything you have to feel bad about. That's your pessimist page. That's all of your faults and your shortcomings and your failures and people that don't like you, and it's all of your fears and all of your worries. And it's all of it.
So, I imagine there are two pages in life, and we have the choice of which page we focus on most of the time, but there's value in both pages, right? One page sees and experiences life, current and future situations, events, circumstances, and even people through that optimistic lens, while the other page sees and experiences your life through a pessimistic lens. So, for example, when something bad happens to you, you can choose to either focus on, see and experience everything that you perceive as unpleasant or unfavorable or painful, or that's one page, every person, every event, every experience, every circumstance, past, present, future, each you can apply these two pages, too. One page of this is everything you have to feel good about, and then you feel bad about it on the other page. And so, you get to choose.
And so, it goes back to what I said earlier, which is when someone who is complaining, defends their complaining by saying, “I'm not negative, I'm just realistic.” And then, you say, “Well, how is it any more realistic to focus on, dwell on, and talk about that negative page, that pessimistic page? How is that an ounce more realistic than for me to focus on, dwell on, talk about the optimist page, both are realistic. Neither is more realistic than the other, so when someone's positive, and a pessimist says, “Get your head out of the clouds. You're delusional, you need to be realistic.” It's like, well, it's no more or less realistic to focus on the positive than it is negative. However, we're going to get to the point where we're going to talk about what realism is and how it incorporates both.
But before we do, first, I want to explore optimism. So, is there value in optimism? Absolutely. For example, personally, I believe it's crucial to maintain optimism when you're going through difficult times and you may be going through difficult times right now. Or as I said earlier, if you're not, challenges are on the horizon. Like I'm not trying to be negative, but I'm being realistic that virtually, that's part of life. Challenges come and go, and we go through peaks and valleys or as Tony Robbins says, different seasons of life. Sometimes you're in the winter when things are cold and dying, but right after winter is what? The spring when things come back to life.
So, we go through seasons of life. So, I believe it's crucial to maintain optimism when you're going through those difficult times. And I can say without hesitation that optimism was one of the most crucial, if not the most crucial determining factor for me to get through every major adversity that I faced. Cancer, being told I’d never walk again, losing all of my money, going deep into debt in 2008, like every challenge I faced, going through a suicidal depression in 2020, that was the lowest point in my life, physically, mentally, and emotionally. All of those it was optimism that I can walk again, I can beat cancer, I can cure depression, I can overcome these things. I can rebuild my business and my income. That optimism was absolutely crucial.
So, for you, if you're going through difficult times now or if you're anticipating difficult times in the future, pay attention, consider optimism and how that's going to benefit you, and maybe, it could be life or death for a person, right? If someone is pessimistic and they live in a state of worry and fear and they consume themselves with the negativity in the world, that can lead to depression and it can lead to not wanting to live anymore. Life can become very overwhelming when you focus on that pessimistic page, but you have to realize both pages are real, both pages exist. Now, another benefit of optimism is that choosing to be optimistic can be summed up with the famous Henry Ford quote, whether you think you can, or you think you can't, you're right either way. There is a reason that quote has stood the test of time because if you think you can, you'll figure it out and you'll find ways to do whatever it is. If you think you can't, you'll make excuses, justify why you can't, find reasons why you can't, and not try because you've told yourself that you can't. Like, when you really think about that, that is so profound, this entire episode almost could have just been that quote and that explanation, whether you think you can, or you think you can't, you're right either way.
An optimist thinks that she can or thinks that he can. So, he or she figures out how takes action typically makes mistakes, but they are an optimist. So, even when they make mistakes or things don't go according to plan or they encounter obstacles or setbacks, the optimist says, “Well, I'm going to figure it out.” They still think they can, even if it's looking like they can't, they still think they can. And they just keep trying and trying and trying and trying and trying until they do, whereas the pessimist typically never even starts, never even tries because they don't believe they can. Think about that, by the way. I think it's useful to consider that optimists are the ones who create the future. Most of what we have in our lives that's useful was created by optimists who focused on what was possible and who took action because they believed what was possible, versus the pessimists who said, “Here are all the reasons it won't work. So, you might as well not even try.” Are you following this so far, this tracking?
So, another benefit of optimism which, by the way, is related to that Henry Ford quote, is that one could assess that it determines how you feel about your life, meaning if you choose optimism or you choose pessimism. And by the way, if this is a choice, it isn't I am an optimist or I am a pessimist, and that's a life sentence. It's I am this, like for me, I was a delusional optimist, an extreme optimist, a blind optimist for a lot of years, and then became aware of that and made the conscious choice to incorporate more realism with a little bit of pessimism so that I could plan for, prepare for challenges so that I could be realistic in assessing where I'm at in my life in terms of me, personally, by the way, which is another nuance of optimism, pessimism is how you see yourself through an optimistic lens or a pessimistic lens, but in terms of how you feel about your life, like whether or not you're happy or not, whether you're happy or unhappy, it's kind of similar to the Henry Ford quote, whether you think you can, or you think you can't, you're right either way, but here's the modification. Whether you think your life is wonderful or terrible, you're right either way because remember, we all have those two pages to focus on at any given time. And they're both real, just as real as one is, just as real as the other. Yeah, there are aspects of your life that are probably terrible, that suck, that are painful, that are discouraging, if you allow them to discourage you. And if that's all you focus on, that becomes your reality, and your reality is terrible, but there's another page, and that page lists everything you have to feel good about, everything you have to feel grateful for.
And I am a big believer that you already have everything you need to be the happiest you can ever be, and it's called life. And what that means is, even though we all have a painful page, we all have a pessimistic page, we all have that terrible page, we don't have to live there, no matter how terrible or difficult or challenging it is. I've been in death's doorway before and still positive and happy and optimistic and grateful like I was still enjoying life even in the midst of unimaginable, painful circumstances because I realized that is my choice. I get to choose how I experience life. I get to choose what I focus on. And so, do you. You get to choose what you focus on.
So, again, another benefit of optimism is that it determines how you feel when you focus on that optimistic page, the positive page, you feel good. When you focus on that pessimistic page, that negative page, you feel bad. So, the consideration is, which do you focus on most of the time? I'm literally asking you right now, think about that for a second. Which do you focus on most of the time? And it's really easy to figure out which one, just ask yourself, how do I feel most of the time? Am I typically excited and happy and grateful? If you are, then you're focusing on the optimistic page. Or ask yourself, am I typically worried and stressed and unhappy and anxious? If you are, then there's a chance that you're focusing and often unconsciously focusing, by the way, for most of us, this isn't conscious, this is unconscious, which I’m going to invite you to make it conscious, but unconsciously focusing on the pessimistic page and then feeling unhappy, so I'm asking you right now, and this goes back– you might even change your answer that I opened up by asking, are you an optimist? Do you identify as an optimist, a pessimist, or a realist? And we're still going to talk more about each of these, specifically the pessimist, the benefits and the pitfalls, as well as being a realist.
So, with all these benefits that there are for optimism, first of all, you might think that, okay, Hal, you're biased, you're an optimist, like, of course, you're going to say optimism is so great. Are there pitfalls to optimism? Let's look at the other side of this. Can optimism be detrimental? And the answer is absolutely. As I said earlier, there's a fine line between optimism and delusion. So, for example, if you are an extreme optimist like I was, you refuse to anticipate challenges, and thus, you fail to prepare for said challenges. It goes back to 2008, right? I was the blind optimist, so I didn't even want to acknowledge that life, that these painful experiences might come.
And because of that, I lost over half of my income, my house was foreclosed on. I just bought my first house a year and a half prior to the crash, lost the house, lost it to the bank, ruined my credit, all because I fell prey to the pitfalls of optimism, of that blind, delusional optimism. So, yes, there are absolutely pitfalls. And then, the other one would be probably just annoying your pessimistic/realistic friends. Like, you're so annoyingly positive all the time, I've gotten that before.
So, let's talk about pessimism. So pessimism, focusing on what's wrong, and wrong is a relative word, focusing on the unfavorable aspects of life, the things that don't bring you joy. Those are some simple kind of distinctions that you can identify what pessimism looks like, focusing on the things that don't bring you joy, that don't make you happy, that are unwanted events and circumstances and personality traits in other people, which by the way, let me give you a quick bonus thought here, a bonus lesson. Go back to the two pages, and if you want to, just put them in front of your face, put your hands up in your face. Remember, your left hand is your optimistic page that lists everything you feel good about, and your right hand is your pessimistic page, everything you feel negative about, painful. And consider that every person in your life also has both pages, and I don't mean that they have both pages the way I'm describing that you have both pages where they can focus on what makes them happy or not happy. I'm talking about them as a person, their personality traits are compiled on both pages. So, take somebody close to you. In fact, I would take someone that is right now causing you pain. Take a relationship in your life, could be a colleague or a spouse, but imagine that that person, you can list a list of positive traits about that person, those things you love about that person, that you appreciate, that you admire. In fact, remember why you fell in love with that person, if it is your partner.
And then there's a page of traits that annoys the crap out of you about that person. There's a whole page of things that you would change if you could, like if you could wave a magic wand, your spouse or boyfriend or girlfriend or child or parents or whoever, colleague or boss, they'd be less this and more of that. And they wouldn't do this thing that just gets under your skin. Every person has both pages. And just like the quality of your life at any given moment is really affected, if not determined by which page you are focusing on. Consciously or unconsciously, the quality of your relationship with that person is determined by which page you are focusing on in terms of their traits.
Are you focusing on the things that you love about that person, that you're grateful for, that you admire, that attracted you to that person in the first place, that you fell in love with? Are you being an optimist in your relationships? Or are you being a pessimist? Are you focusing on the aspects of that person that bother you, that annoy you, that turn you off, that aren't in alignment with you and how you see the world and your values? Again, each person has both pages that list all of their attributes and personality traits, but how you feel about that person at any given moment is less about which page is longer and all about which page you're focusing on. I found that that's one of the secrets, for me, to being happy in my marriage, is to not focus too much of my attention on all the things that, if I had a magic wand, I might change, and instead, make my reality, like this goes back to we create our own reality, like that Henry Ford quote modification. If you think your life's amazing, it is. If you think it's not, it's not. It's however you choose to see it, even if your life isn't exactly as you thought it was going to be before. And that's what makes us unhappy, is when our current situation doesn't meet our expectations for what we want it to be or where we thought we would be at this point in our life.
And the same thing goes in a relationship. When we have an expectation of, okay, I’m focusing on the pessimistic page and I'm looking at all these things and I'm measuring this person against these things, they're not lining up, and I'm not happy. It's like, why are you wasting your energy and your time on the things that are out of your control, which realize that other people and their personality traits are not in your control. So, you can either focus on the things that you can't control, that you don't like and make that your reality and that becomes your relationship. And good luck being happy in a relationship.
Now, you'll blame it on the other person. Of course, I'm not happy. Look at all these personality traits on this pessimistic list. Look at all these things about them that I don't like and that they don't do and that they used to do or that– look at all this negativity. Look at all this. How could you be happy with a person? And I would take the person that was looking at the pessimistic page and I would turn their head over to their other hand. I've still got my hands in front of me, by the way, in case you don't. And I would go, “Hey, look over there. Look at all those amazing qualities.” How much time do you spend focusing on those positive qualities in that other person in your life? Because if you live over there, if you live on the optimist page, both in relationships and life in general, you become a more optimistic person. It's like a self-fulfilling prophecy. The more you focus on the positive, the more you feel positive. And the more you see the positive in other people and in the world and in your life and the more you experience positive emotions, the more optimistic you remain. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy.
And so, here's a little bonus exercise for you. I would invite you to actually make both pages. Okay. I'm not joking. If you need to pause this and pull out a journal right now or open up a Microsoft Word document or pull out two pieces of printer paper and write on one “optimist page” or “optimistic page” and then “pessimistic page,” and then start a list. I've done this before. I've literally done this multiple times. I'm inviting you to try this exercise. Write down everything that you have in your life that you feel good about on the optimist page, everything that you have in your life. And you could apply this to your current life. You can even apply it to the future, like if there's a lot that you're worried about in the future like if you're nervous about the country, where we're headed, whatever, write that down on your pessimist page and then write down all the things that you have in your life to be grateful for and to feel good about and that you're looking forward to, and that could go right, not just wrong in your life. And the other thing is I would encourage you to focus on being optimistic about your ability to handle anything that comes your way. In fact, that's one of my favorite forms of optimism that we're going to talk more about here in a few minutes. So, there you go. That's an exercise for you. I invite you to do that. Either pause it, do it now, or start it now and then finish it later.
But I’ll give you a real visual. You can write two pages on your computer. Like I said, print them out and make the negative one like in black and then the positive page like make the font in your favorite color, bright blue or pink or whatever. Just a quick representation of, yeah, that makes me feel good. And so, when you have those two pages and you realize both of these are my life, both of these represent my life, which one I choose to focus on determines my reality. Think about that. Both pages, both the positive and the negative, the optimistic and the pessimistic, both of them represent aspects of your life. They're both realistic. But which one you focus on becomes your reality and creates your internal quality of life, your emotional well-being. So, diving into pessimism, is there value in pessimism just like optimism? Absolutely, there is. And I would say the biggest value is that considering and acknowledging what could go wrong enables you to prepare for it, and doing that and preparing for it, it's either in order to minimize the chances of it going wrong. So, maybe thinking it through, preparing for it, you can actually take precautions so that it doesn't go wrong or you can prepare to put yourself in the best possible position to handle it.
So, for example, I've seen many people are considering and preparing for what's going on in America. I don't know if you study any of this, but hyperinflation, there's a chance of food shortages. There are all these things that could be kind of scary. But if you put on your pessimist hat, you can prepare for those things, right? You can save more money. You can buy extra food. You can do things, you know, if there's going to be like there was that gas shortage on the East Coast when somebody hacked the pipeline, you can go buy canisters of gasoline. I'm throwing out random examples but the point is, if you're a blind optimist, then you're not even going to pay attention to what could be coming in the future that might be difficult, challenging, unpleasant. So, the value in pessimism is that you actually consider, acknowledge, and prepare for what might go wrong in the future. And by the way, we all have worn that hat. If you have insurance, if you have car insurance or life insurance, that's an example of the value of pessimism because you're not hoping that you get in a car accident. You're not hoping that you die but you're just simply being realistic, that those are possibilities and so I would rather be prepared.
There was an old saying, it's better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it, which could go with preparing for anything. You're prepared. Even if I don't need it, I'd rather have it in case I do. So, putting on your pessimist hat is valuable. So, consider that if both optimism and pessimism have significant benefits, it would make sense to harness the power of both. And I think that's why great thinkers balance optimism and pessimism and you can call that balance, realism. But there's really two different versions of realism that can produce radically different outcomes and radically different experiences and that would be simply what flavor of realism you held. Is it an optimistic realism or is it a pessimistic realism? Because, again, being right in the middle is rare. Usually, someone veers one way or the other. I think if you’re identified as a realist I mentioned earlier, if you self-identify as a realist, then you tend to often you're a pessimist, just kind of masquerading as a realist if you will. But both of these balancing the two, optimism, pessimism, I believe is where you get the most value. I once heard someone say or I read this somewhere that an aspect of a genius, and I'm butchering I'm sure the way I say this, but that a genius is able to hold two opposing ideas in their mind simultaneously so that they can consider and evaluate both of them and extract value from each of them.
So, again, a genius, you hold two opposing ideas in your mind. You look at the nuances of each. You evaluate where there's truth in opposing perspectives or ideas, and then you extract the value from each of those. And that's kind of what we're doing here with looking at optimism and pessimism and then finding that balance between the two, that is realism. Well, I think an important question, and you might be considering this, is how do you remain optimistic in the midst of impending challenges, impending doom? That could be watching a loved one's health decline, seeing a parent or a grandparent where their health’s declining, and maybe their death is imminent. Or it could be anticipating the next economic crash that’s pretty much inevitable. The economy goes in cycles. There's a lot of things now that are showing that is not too far away or we don't know how far away it is. If something is inevitable or blind optimism doesn't work because you go, "Look, I can't just be optimistic that my parents are going to live. They’re 99 years old and they have stage four cancer and their health is declining.” So, that's a reality. You have to deal with that reality. So, the question I pose is, how do you remain optimistic in the midst of impending doom when something that is unfavorable is on the horizon for you?
Well, I mentioned a second ago that there are two types of realism. There's the optimistic realist and then there's the pessimistic realist. And so, the realistic optimist or the optimistic realist that you can kind of use whichever term you want. I actually like realistic optimist better, but that occurs, being a realistic optimist occurs when you thoughtfully consider and assess all possible scenarios, and then you decide in advance that you will positively and proactively respond to even the worst-case scenario so that if it does come to pass, you're prepared. You're prepared not only logistically but you're prepared mentally and emotionally. And your optimism isn't necessarily applied to the scenario going the way you want it to. It's not that delusional hope since that's often out of your control. You often aren't controlling what's coming down the pipe. And this is key. This is about applying optimism to your ability and will to handle anything that comes your way. That's what I'm talking about. A realistic optimist applies optimism to their ability, our inherent ability, to handle anything that comes our way. So, in that, you apply optimism to the only thing that you can control, which is how you respond to any situation in your life. You can't control other people. You can't control natural disasters. You can't control the government. You can't control world events. The only thing you can control is you.
And so, ultimately, for me, my optimism is rooted in my ability to positively and proactively handle any situation that I or my family are presented with. I maintained unwavering faith in myself and my family that we can handle and that I can handle anything that comes my way. And there's a great quote from Jim Rohn. I think this sums this up. Jim Rohn said, “Don't wish it was easier. Wish you were better. Don't wish for less problems. Wish for more skills. Don't wish for less challenge. Wish for more wisdom.” So, again, it's not optimism that you're wishing it were easier, optimism that you're wishing for less problems, optimism that you're wishing for less challenges that you're delusionally optimistic like I was when I was younger, that everything's just going to be okay. No. Have optimism in yourself and your ability to get better, optimism in yourself and your ability to develop more skills, and optimism in yourself and your ability to gain more wisdom so that you can handle anything that comes your way. I'm going to share with you, I wrote this down, the ABCs of being a realistic optimist. I'm going to give you three really simple an A, a B, and a C to apply what we're talking about right now.
The A and I've talked about this ad nauseam because it's one of, I believe, the most important aspects of just being able to move through life and that is the A is for accept all things you can't change. I talked about this a few weeks ago on the podcast, How to Be Happy in 3 Simple Steps. I said, "Accept the unchangeable,” which is just another way of saying accept all things you can't change. Don't put your energy into wishing you could change things that are out of your control. So many of us with so much energy and time, many of us, a large majority of our lives, putting energy into, “I wish they did that differently. I wish that didn't happen. I wish he or she didn't say that. I wish this went a different way. I wish my life were different. I wish I had what she had. I wish I had what he had.” We live in a state of delusion. It’s the most painful form of delusion to wish you could change things that are out of your control including the past. “I wish I could go back and change,” no. It is what it is. What happened, happened. You can either continue to resist it or accept that exactly as it is. And by accepting it exactly as it is and taking a breath, “I can't change it. I can't change it. There's no point in wishing that I can because I can't. It's in the past or it's out of my control. I'm going to be at peace with it.” Because if we want to be happy, it's really the only choice that we have. If we live in a state of resistance, wishing and wanting things were different that can't be different because they're out of our control or at least that we can't control the difference, causes us pain.
The B in the ABCs of being a realistic optimist is be grateful for everything. When you are grateful, you can't be grateful and miserable at the same time. Like being grateful and miserable can't coexist in the same moment. Think about it. Think of something you're grateful for right now. I'm picturing my kids. Things are going great with my kids right now. My daughter is 11. My son is 8. Our relationship is awesome. We’ve been playing outside so much and playing board games. I wake them up every morning with a back massage. We eat dinner together. Life’s just great with my kids and I'm so grateful for that. And I express that gratitude every single day to them, to God, to myself. To me, I don't need to focus the gratitude to a thing. I don't have to. I just go, “I'm grateful.” I just kind of send the gratitude out into like whatever, the ether. It doesn't matter. It's just me experiencing that gratitude. So, be grateful for everything. And by the way, gratitude, you could replace that with be at peace, if that resonates more with you. Be at peace. Be content. Be happy. Be _____ whatever the state that you want. If you could choose any state to be in, happy, excited, joyful, grateful, you name it, optimistic, be grateful for everything, be joyful for everything, be optimistic for everything. Focus on the positive. Live on that positive, that optimist page.
And then last but not least, the C, create progress every day. Create progress every day toward your ideal future. So, the health you want, the wealth you want, the happiness you want, the relationship you want, create progress every day toward your ideal future. Because think about it, it is much easier to be optimistic about the future when you are actively creating it with intention and doing so out of desire and not fear. When you are consistently putting forth effort and you're making meaningful, even if it's small, progress every day that makes you deserving of good things to happen in your future and so you expect them. Of course, you're optimistic because you're doing the things that are going to create the future that you are positively anticipating. It's real hard to be optimistic if you're not doing anything. If you're not doing anything to create a positive, exciting future, of course, you're going to be pessimistic because you're not doing anything to deserve to be optimistic. You kind of deserve the optimism by creating progress every day towards your ideal future. So, again, the ABCs of being a realistic optimist, accept all things you can't change, be grateful for everything, and create progress every day towards your ideal future.
Hal Elrod: And I'll just close by saying this. You know, remember that with over 7 billion people on the planet, it's a lot of people, you can't even fathom, but you have control over only one. Out of 7 billion people on the planet, you have control over one. You don't have control over your spouse or your neighbor or politicians or world leaders. You have control over you, and that is it. So, my recommendation is to accept all those things you can't change so you can be at peace with all the things that are outside of your control. And in doing so, then you can focus all of your energy, including your emotional energy on what you can control, and that begins with you and it ends with you. And specifically, you can control. You might not feel like it at times but you can control how you experience every moment of your life. It can be unpleasant or it can be wonderful. You can live your life stressed out or you can live your life blissed out. And it has little to do with what's going on around you and everything to do with what's going on inside of you. So, I ask you, how do you want to experience every moment of your life? You have to decide that. You have to decide that. You have to make a conscious decision and then begin to think, speak, and live in alignment with the decision.
Personally, I decided a long time ago that I want to enjoy every moment. I have a sign when you walk in my house, it's a picture of a dock and a lake and it just says, “Enjoy every moment.” And every morning at 10:00 where I do a Miracle Morning in the front room, I look at it, I close my eyes and I meditate on feelings of joy, of just enjoying every moment. So, you have to decide how you want to experience every moment of your life and ever since I made that decision that I wanted to enjoy every moment, that was how I want to experience life, I've been learning how to do it. It's not that I snap my fingers and I'm like, "Oh, cool. I decided I wanted to enjoy every moment so now life's easy and I enjoy every moment.” No. I've been learning how. I've been learning how. We only get one life and no one is perfect despite how it looks on Facebook and Instagram and on TV. Nobody's life is perfect and no one's life is without challenges. So, we only get one life. You might as well experience it exactly as you want. And my recommendation is to show up every day and practice being a realistic optimist. Assess life as it is and maintain optimism in your ability to handle anything that comes your way. And then decide how you want to experience every moment of your life and live in alignment with that decision.
My friends, I love you so much. I hope you enjoyed today. More importantly, I hope you will apply what you learned today. I love you and I'll talk to you all next week.
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