The proverbial glass of water is neither half-full nor half-empty, it’s both — that is realism.
Optimism is the inclination of a person to focus on praising and beneficial sides of incidents and to expect the most favourable outcomes. It is the act of preaching that good eventually prevails over evil.
Pessimism is a frame of mind defining life as meaningless. It is the converse of optimism. It states the hopelessness towards good and pleasure in the world.
Realism is a blend of optimism and pessimism. Realism is accepting reality as it is without the illusions and limitations. It’s the ability to understand that pure objectivity is nearly impossible as all of our perceptions are rooted in our experiences and environments.
How to be a realist
The following are some practical steps that can help you understand whether you are thinking overly optimistic or overly pessimistic.
Understand and confront your unrealistic ways of thinking
- Mental Filtering means you emphasise only the negative aspect of the situation and completely ignore the positive, and vice versa. For example, in a romantic relationship, you may excessively dwell over that one comment made by your partner and think that the relationship is lost. In reality, this is not the case, and you are completely ignoring all the good things they have done for you.
- Believing in all or nothing, You believe that just because of your one major setback such as failing in college, your life is completely meaningless. Similarly, just because you earn enough to meet your needs, you spend lavishly and do not consider that you should save some amount in case you lose your job. You believe either life is perfect or completely meaningless. In reality, life always exists in between and does not exist in extremes and such thinking is only against reality.
- Jumping to conclusions and mindreading others based on little to no evidence and holding them as true. You look at a stranger with an unpleasant expression and automatically assume that there is something wrong with you. In reality, they are thinking about something else in their mind and it has nothing to do with you but you assume it without any real evidence.
- You interpret your emotions for facts by thinking if you feel that way, then it must be true. For example, If I feel that my partner is cheating on me, then it must be true. Or that I feel that I am well prepared for the test despite not studying enough, so I should not study further. In reality, such feelings have nothing to do with reality.
- Exaggerating or minimizing your future depending on a single instance. For example, an athlete who could not win thinks that she is a complete failure and won’t be able to perform in the future. In reality, winning and loss is a part of the game and she can perform better next time.
- Control fallacies in which one believes that either you have no control over your life, or that whatever happens is due to your personal choices. For example, “I can’t help if my quality of work is poor, because my boss demanded I work overtime on it” or looking at your unhappy partner and thinking “why isn’t she happy, is it because I did something?” In reality, both these mindsets are damaging and inaccurate.
Challenging and changing your negative thought patterns towards realistic ones
- Start by writing your thoughts down and comparing them with the cognitive distortions described above to see if what’s concerning you is realistic or your own biased thinking.
- You think “No one likes me” consider the evidence, do your friends or family comment about how they enjoy being around you? Are you really always alone? Do people purposely try to be with you sometimes? Are you sure you are not undergoing one of the cognitive distortions described above? Is your thinking really according to reality?
- Be honest with yourself by becoming aware of your own biases, flaws, and internal assumptions. Is what I’m feeling a fact or an opinion?
- A good understanding of the reality of your situation is necessary for you to develop an accurate outlook on life. Whenever you are assessing a situation, look at both the positives and negatives. For example, if you get fired from your job, it is understandably a bad thing, but it will also open doors for you to change your profession or try something which might turn out to be better. So, not everything is doomed and there are still lots of opportunities around.
- To be realistic, you have to accept that everyone is prone to mistakes. You will often realize that the way you thought, felt or believed was wrong.
- Re-examine your beliefs and use logic to beat negative thinking. You think that one of your co-workers hates you. You ask yourself, why is that? Is there a more likely explanation? Perhaps your coworker is having a bad day or they simply have a more serious demeanour. It does not mean that you are generally disliked, rather it’s a false belief and using your logic, you can overcome and fix it.
- Dealing with your thoughts on your own can be sometimes challenging. In such cases, the best way to get a reality check is to talk with someone else, a friend, a family member, or even a coworker. Don’t hesitate to ask your circle for suggestions and help. You can also consult a therapist for proper guidance. It could be that you have emotions involved in the problem you are facing and because of which you cannot think clearly. Other people can help you see through your flaws and biases in a better way and help make decisions that are more realistic and true.
Both optimism and pessimism can lead to problems if taken to the extreme. For a successful life, you need to find a spot between the two and start looking at things from a more balanced and realistic point of view.