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Optimism is Realism

The Centre for Optimism believes the times call for realistic and infectiously optimistic leaders.

Javier Fiz Pérez, Professor Psychology Università Europea di Roma

“A realist sees reality, and says, “This is real.” An optimist sees his dreams, and says, “This will be real.” An optimist will meet with greater success, will attain more of his dreams, is happier, grows more, and has better relationships and greater self-esteem than a pessimist. Perhaps in other times this would not have been the case, but in the society in which we are fortunate to live, where there are abundant opportunities, the environment favors optimists. Optimists will suffer more setbacks than realists, but actually, these difficulties are enriching experiences. In the not-very-remote past, or in other societies today, perhaps the most intelligent option would be to be a pessimistic realist and avoid disappointments. However, times have changed, and in places where opportunities abound, they favor the optimist.”

Ginna Guiang-Myers

"Realistic optimism should be the educator’s goal. Realistic optimists recognize reality constraints and aspire to probable outcomes. They see the path to success as full of twists and turns. Consequently, they are not risk-averse. Teaching students about optimism can help them see unpleasant events as learning opportunities."


John Hagel, co-chairman for Deloitte LLP's Center for the Edge

Optimism is the key to cultivating more of our human potential. We have infinite potential, but most of us tap into a very small portion of our potential because of fear or an inability to imagine the possibilities. Optimism is essential, but so is a realistic sense of the obstacles and roadblocks we will face on our journey. In fact, that is what will motivate us to make the journey because the opportunity is so big that it is worth addressing the challenges along the way.”

Alexandra Gouleva

"Optimism might have helped me believe tomorrow will be better. Realism has fueled my determination to make it so."

Optimism and realism for the future

Shannon Huffman Polson, Author

“We need moreoptimists, really. Realistic optimists. The only way anything gets done.”

Sheriff Russell L. Martin

”Inspirational & trustworthy leadership is always realistic but optimistic providing a message of hope & possibility"

Allen Little, School Principal

"Reality makes me optimistic.  Because in reality, optimism is our natural state of being. We figure out how to be negative."

Professor John Hewson AM

Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of recent politics has been its increasing negativity - the politics of NOPE rather than HOPE. A fundamental challenge of leadership is to provide realistic optimism, and to validate it by delivering against those expectations.”

Professor Alan Duffy

"Scientists are the greatest optimists I know, how else could you confidently set out to uncover the secrets of our universe? But without a rigorous scientific method that optimism is just wishful thinking. Optimism and reason can solve any problem."

Frank Orlowski, President and Founder, Ation Advisory Group

"Optimism balanced by realism shines when faced with extreme challenge. Optimists choose to look for positivity in the situation, and most importantly, they always take action towards a better outcome, regardless of the problem."

In this COVID-19 World Be realistic, But Optimistic

Tamar Chansky, Author of Freeing Your Child From Negative Thinking

Optimism actually requires thinking realistically more than positively. That way your child is prepared for whatever he faces.”

Mark Matthews, Chief Operations Officer at Business for Development, former soldier and diplomat

“Optimism is a source of inspiration, in ourselves as well as others. We want to connect with optimists! Optimism is not (just) bravery. It's the sense of creating positive, forward momentum.  This does not give us the right to abrogate our responsibility and accountability for outcomes. We cannot be 'blind'. We have to have a strong sense of reality to navigate the path to success, as well as highly developed situational awareness - the foresight to predict and understand the consequences of our actions. Reflection and critique should not be seen as pessimism, nor an opportunity to cynically blame others for the things for which we are responsible.”

Simon Terry

Optimism is tomorrow: Optimism is not inconsistent with realism because it does not describe today. Optimism is a hope for a better future. We can’t be realistic about the future, only optimistic or pessimistic. All managers should embrace hope because it is the only way to validate their potential to be the actor that brings about improvement. If you don’t have hope for your own influence, why are you there?

Sue Barrett, Author of the “Selling Better Manifesto"

“It all starts with opportunity. Opportunity makes it possible to do good things. Optimism is ignited when real opportunities for growth and prosperity become clear to us. Different from blind optimism, Purposeful Optimism is built on substance: derived from strategy and underpinned by well-resourced people who are enabled to pursue opportunity and do something meaningful with others. Optimism keeps the light of opportunity glowing even when the world seems dark.“

The Time is NOW for Purposeful Optimism

Andrea Dempster-Chung

Realism and optimism can coexist: Optimists take a minute to process the facts and learn the lessons, but they also genuinely believe that a better opportunity could be just around the corner, so they tend to persevere"

Sally Osberg, former CEO of the Skoll Foundation

“We’re incredibly optimistic about the potential for the world.  At the same time, we’re driven by reality and the need to be rigorous, because the challenges are many and they’re morphing. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed sometimes, but that tough-minded optimism always served me and the foundation well.”

DrGary Small

"Healthyoptimists are realistic — they can see the positive elements in their lives, but remain aware of their limitations. If we maintain a proper perspective on the positive aspects of our failures & negative experiences, we can cope better with anxiety"

Kate Nasser

"Great leaders are optimistic and realistic. They have healthy scepticism without being pessimistic and jaded."

Tim Kasser, Professor & Chair of Psychology, Knox College, Illinois and Author of The High Price of Materialism

“I’ve long told my students at Knox College that part of my job as their professor is to “pop their unrealistically optimistic bubbles.” But I am not trying to make them into pessimists. Instead, I hope my students come to be realistic optimists, people who can look at whatever situation they face, assess it clearly and objectively, and then still believe that there is something they can do to improve their lives and the state of the world.”

Elena Carstoiu, Founder,  Hubgets

"I cover myself in many layers of realism, have a couple of pessimist facets, but deep down I strongly believe in humans. I’m an optimist touched by a healthy dose of reality check."


Sabina Read, Psychologist

"I'm forever optimistic that realistic optimism can be nurtured and manifested in every single one of us.

"It's not about being glass-half-full or wearing a smile on your dial, but rather about choosing to see ourselves, each other and the world around us through a lens that we will be OK. Things work out in the end.

"Through the lenses of realism and optimism, we cope better, preserve hope, have faith in humanity, and hold the belief that we are here to help and support one another, regardless of the adversity and challenges that cross our paths."


Raya Bidshahri, Founder & CEO of Awecademy

“There is nothing to be gained from blind optimism. But an optimistic mindset can be grounded in rationality and evidence. It may be hard to believe, but we are living in the most exciting time in human history. Despite all of our ongoing global challenges, humanity has never been better off. Not only are we living healthier, happier, and safer lives than ever before, but new technological tools are also opening up a universe of opportunities.”

Dr. Craig Sawchuk, Mayo Clinic psychologist

"It's important to have a positive outlook.  The brain is naturally hard-wired to pay attention toward threat. That's actually superadaptive for our brain to do, in that it helps with our survival mode. But what's been happening over the course of 2020 has been one threat after another, after another, after another. We actually have to work harder to shift that focus. It's not trying to ignore the fact that we've had a lot of struggles, and there's a lot of things that we're dealing with. But trying to maintain an upbeat positive attitude is extremely important. You can be optimistic, and you can also be realistic at the same time."


Professor John Kaag 

"I am not, and have never been, a naive optimist.  The world is brutally difficult and many days I feel that it is wholly indifferent to my purposes and life.  I do, however, harbor some sense that maybe, just maybe, the universe is suited to my growth and flourishing.  And this, I think, is enough to make me an optimist of a certain stripe.  Live while you still can.  Really -- live."  

John Kaag

Ilona Jerabek

"Optimism isn't about pretending to be happy when you're not, acting like problems don't exist, or taking chances on blind faith.  It also doesn't mean that you should repress your negative thoughts. Those are the kind of pie-in-the-sky optimists who refuse to accept reality as it is and can actually be quite reckless. The best outlook is optimism with a dose of realism. These are the optimists who recognize that there is a lesson in every negative situation and every failure. They prepare and plan ahead in case something could go wrong, but they also stay positive and focus on possibility, hope, and success. Most importantly, they understand that their outlook has a huge impact on their circumstances, and as our study and many other studies have shown, the benefits of being optimistic are numerous. You don't have to force yourself to be cheerful. Just strive to remember that how you view a situation impacts how you cope with it and how you approach it. So why not do so with an attitude of hope, promise, and positivity?"

Professor Joseph Lo Bianco, Professor of Language and Literacy Education at the Melbourne Graduate School of Education

“In general terms I would call myself a realist rather than an optimist. I know that things go wrong, that there is much injustice in the world, but that there are many reasons and benefits to be had from a more optimistic outlook, however I do not believe it can always be justified on the evidence around us.  I have a clear and present pessimistic streak, which I believe would overwhelm if allowed to and so I must combat it.  I usually confront the pessimism with a forced dose of realistic analysis and as a result I occasionally enjoy the fruits of the optimist’s worldview.  So, I cannot claim to be naturally either optimistic nor pessimistic, I am realistic about events and circumstances. I recognise that some people are disposed towards optimism, either for themselves or more generally for the social environment of which they are a part, and some are even optimistic about the world in the most general terms.  Others are pessimistic in an identical mirror of the optimists. I think neither is entirely warranted, nor wrong. I also recognise that from a personal point of view an optimistic outlook is healthier, and provides more resilience in life.  Optimism itself can become a resource for improvement, whereas pessimism can and does drag people down, infecting the individual with a defeatist attitude that itself causes failure, sadness and worse.  In light of all this I believe the ideal would be to have personal optimism, leavened by a realistic appreciation of constraints, difficulties and injustices. I cannot assess whether I personally achieve this.”

Suzanne B. Phillips, Psy.D., ABPP

Use Realistic Optimism. Optimism is considered to be a fuel that ignites resilience and empowers other resilience factors. That said, there is a very big difference between blind optimism and realistic optimism. Blind or unrealistic optimism underestimates risk, overestimates ability and results in inadequate preparation. For example, a group of young adults believe that if they only go out to bars with each other, they won’t contract Covid-19.

Realistic optimism, as opposed to blind optimism, is active not passive. The person using realistic optimism does not miss the negatives but disengages from problems that appear unsolvable and attends to problems they can solve. For example:

A single mother who worried how she could work if schools closed again, started calling other working parents whom she knew. She didn’t stop until she had a few parents with similar concerns for safety, kids, job security and a plan for pooling together to cover school and work time. The plan was  to keep changing the plan until it worked.

A frontline medical worker bought his own back-up PPE’s and face-shields. He took his scrubs off in the garage every time he returned home and showered before he saw his family. He wore his mask at home. He was committed to his work. But with his wife and four children, he could not relax until he knew he was protecting his family as much as he could. 


Andrzej Smiech

"Realistic optimism is the ability to balance out negative and positive things in situations, circumstances and people. It is the courage to explore opportunities, where others are blocked by risk and failure, with the belief that the future will be better than the past...

"When we face the dilemma of what will become the basis for our decisions and actions — a pessimistic or optimistic vision of the future — it is worth remembering that we do not have to function in this dichotomy. There is still realistic optimism, which takes into account all the circumstances of the crisis and gives us hope for the future."

Laura Gordon

"Instead of denying reality, optimism is about accepting things are tough but believing there is a light at the end of the tunnel.  Unlike positivity, it’s less draining because it doesn’t mean feigning emotions that we don’t really feel or believe."

Vikas Arora

"Maintain a rational optimism. Today, and every day, is the most important to have optimism on your side. Take the positive, future view of every situation, but stay grounded in reality. We've seen firsthand in 2020 how a false sense of positivity and optimism only has short-term benefits for any leader.

"Irrationally optimistic people are perceived as lacking credibility. As the saying goes: "You can fool some of the people some of the time, but you can't fool all of the people all of the time." Remember, this is a long game, and you will need people at your side for the full race.

"To maintain your optimism, expect the unexpected, focus on the positive, and make your move. The perfect plan is unattainable– don't hold back waiting for it."


Some Clippings on Optimism and Realism

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