Faith Tempered With Reality, Not Optimism

You need to have faith that you can make it through whatever is going on in your life. But you can’t afford to be blindly optimistic. (My original title for this post was “Blind optimism kills” and I thought that might be a little extreme.) Admiral Stockdale actually said this the best about his survival of his Vietnam prisoner of war experience:

“I never doubted not only that I would get out, but also that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience into the defining event of my life, which, in retrospect, I would not trade.”

However, the most optimistic POWs did not survive.

“They were the ones who said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they’d say, ‘We’re going to be out by Easter.’ And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart.”

Does a positive mental attitude work? Yes. Does blind optimism work? No. How do you tell the difference? Always seeing the reality.

If you are blindly optimistic about a future change, you are bound to be disappointed. You will rarely be satisfied. But if you have a positive mental attitude, and keep seeing the reality, you won’t be disappointed.

Let me give you an example. When I started on the medicine for my vertigo, I was hoping for something. Back when I started the medicine, every time I moved my head up and down, what I saw moved up and down. When I turned my head side to side, what I saw moved side to side. That’s the definition of oscillopsia, the form of vertigo I have. When I started the medicine, I hoped it would make a difference.

I saw zero difference at the lowest two doses of the medicine. Zero. I had the side effects of the medicine with no discernible difference in my vertigo. At the dosage below the current dose, my vertigo still punched through the medicine. And, although there are no other reports of it, I appear to have built up a tolerance for the medicine at lower dosages.

I had faith that I would work though the dosages of the medicine. That’s because I was tracking my symptoms (the reality). If I had been merely optimistic, I would have been deeply disappointed often during the past four months. I still had good days and bad days, but I didn’t give into depression. As it was, the only time I lost patience and control of my emotions was when my doctor (temporarily) refused to give me a prescription for the maximum dose of the medicine. She was concerned about the side effects, and I can understand why. The side effects are difficult to manage. I need to ask for help to stay sufficiently hydrated.

I’m now at the maximum dose of the medicine. My up-and-down vertigo at the max dose is under control. That means that when I sleep enough and stay sufficiently hydrated, I don’t get dizzy. My side-to-side vertigo is better, but not under control. I still get dizzy when I turn my head. I am happy with this outcome. Not thrilled, but happy.

My mom is not happy with my progress. She was hoping for my vertigo to go away. She wanted me to be “cured.” She was optimistic. I am a realist with a positive mental attitude. With incurable conditions, positive mental attitudes and small successes along with reality are enough. I think that if I’d expected a cure and had been let down as Stockdale’s optimistic POW colleagues were, I would have been quite depressed. Instead, I’m pretty happy with the medicine and what it allows me to do. I wish I didn’t have the medicine side effects, but I do like walking straight.

When you think of your adaptable life, think about your optimism level. Are you thinking this change will “cure” all ills? Will make you all better in some way? What if it doesn’t? What then?

Or, if you are thinking about your organization, what happens if your organization takes a while to change? Or doesn’t take to the change right away? Or takes a very small step towards the change?

Being positive about the change and seeing the reality of it is not the same as being blindly optimistic. In the first case, you can see small steps towards where you want to go. In the second, it’s all or nothing.

I’m not ready for all or nothing. I’d much rather have small incremental steps towards my goal. Then, when I have to replan, I can. How about you?

3 thoughts on “Faith Tempered With Reality, Not Optimism”

  1. James Jahraus

    This post really helps me! I wrote some key points in my journal to reflect on.

    Looking back I can see the small steps I have made have helped me – tremendously, but my hope has been tied to an all or nothing perspective. This has caused me to struggle. This post puts things into perspective for me, and gives me some ideas to work on.

    I found this blog from your blogroll, glancing through I see there is lots of useful wisdom on this blog.

    Thank you so much for sharing this wisdom.

  2. Pingback: Book Review: Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life | Create An Adaptable Life

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