I wrote a post a few months ago about optimism, which captured the essence of what drives me as a person. There are definite benefits, which I can attest to, of thinking positively, being optimistic and feeling hopeful; I hope you have experienced this too 🙂
Recently I have been wondering more about hope and optimism, considering whether there are any disadvantages to having this type of mindset; how easily does optimism turn into blind optimism? When does hope become wishful thinking?
Collins (the dictionary) is going to help me start my exploration:
Optimism – “confidence about the future or the success of something.”
Hope – “a feeling of desire for something & confidence in the possibility of its fulfillment”
Blind optimism – “to be optimistic without any rational reason”
Wishful thinking – “the mistaken belief that one’s wishes are in accordance with reality“
From those definitions I can immediately take three things:
- Hope & Optimism related to XYZ are fundamentally supported by confidence in the possibility that XYZ could happen.
- Blind optimism related to XYZ involves expressing confidence, and expecting favourable outcomes, without any evidence to back it up.
- If you engage in wishful thinking related to XYZ – you may have a desire to believe XYZ could happen, but such an outcome would be highly unlikely.
Optimism and hope are perhaps more grounded than they sometimes appear; as more often than not, there is actual evidence to inspire confidence in positive outcomes.
For example: As a well-qualified woman, with a great track record of securing jobs following interviews [evidence], she was optimistic when she began searching for a new job. She increased her chances of securing an interview by submitting several application forms that matched her skill-set [positive action]. When she was offered an interview, she presented herself well, as she believed in her ability to do the job [confidence]. She was hopeful based on her performance in the interview that she would be offered the job; when they called to hire her she accepted immediately.
Change a few fundamental details in the case-study and you would quickly be dealing with a case of wishful thinking.
We often see wishful thinking personified on ITV talent shows. A member of the public stands on the stage, and they proclaim their wish to be as successful as Taylor Swift. They open their mouths to sing, and all we can hear is the sound of a squealing cat. A swift no from all four judges, and their dreams have been dashed. Question: was it realistic they would go on to win the show when they were unable to sing – how could there be genuine confidence in that outcome?
Optimism becomes blind when rationality goes out the window
Of course, there is nothing wrong with aspiration and dreaming of wonderful things happening to you. So long as you know when and where to draw the line for yourself.
In lighthearted situations engaging in wishful thinking is harmless. When, deep down, you know whatever you’re talking about or aiming for won’t happen or is highly unlikely, it can be amusing to even consider the possibility that it could!
An exciting experience at a National Speed Awareness Course – haha!
People dream big every week when they buy a lottery ticket. The odds are well-known to be slim, but it could be you! So as long as your expectations of becoming a multi-millionaire match the likelihood of it happening, you’re golden; disappointment crisis averted.
Disappointment – “sadness caused by the non-fulfillment of one’s hopes or expectations”
Despair – “the complete loss or absence of hope”
These two bad boys are the two major disadvantages I can see of stepping over the ‘hope’ line, and venturing into wishful thinking.
All of us have expectations, specific personal expectations have been discussed in a previous post. It can be common for people to feel disappointment in themselves when they do not live up to their expectations, especially when they are unrealistic. For a depressed person or a person experiencing a difficult time the absence of hope can feel very real. One way to manage the more typical disappointment people feel, is to lower the expectations you have for yourself, and remember to be kind to yourself about it.
Though adjusting personal expectations is challenging, it is within our power
A danger-zone when it comes to wishful thinking is when it is applied to other people. At least when you are wishing something for yourself you have some control over it. When you are wishing someone else would say, do, be something different to usual, and they have never demonstrated the capacity to change in the past, you’re likely to end up disappointed. Some people have ingrained patterns dating back years that they are not even aware of, never mind motivated to change.
As we can never be 100% certain of anything, there is always some room for hope. In fact, we can make a big space for hope in our hearts and minds when we want to, no matter how much evidence we have to the contrary; we might even make hope a cup of tea and encourage them to settle in with us.
Hoping is much better than accepting the facts, right?
The reality is the likelihood of a person changing a drastic amount during their lifetime is limited, especially if they don’t want to. I’m not saying this as a pessimist, as I’m a natural optimist, but for one of the first times I’m concluding this as a realist. Of course, you can highlight it when someone’s behaviour or attitude affects you in a certain way, and people can learn to change. I have to emphasise again here: they have to want to change for change to happen. You may have some influence over this – but this just might be hope talking.
The very people who are disappointing you, who are not living up to your expectations or who you despair of at times – they could very well be, and probably are, absolutely fine with the way they are and the way they behave.
The only person that is upset by this type of wishful thinking is you.
Instead, perhaps your energy could be better spent wishing for…
- The serenity to accept the things you cannot change
- The courage to change the things you can
- The wisdom to know the difference
Look out for ‘Wishful Thinking: Part 2‘ next week.