Disciplined Optimism

Consider this intro to a great piece titled How to Be an Optimist (Without Being an Idiot):
It’s easy to mock an optimist, isn’t it? Those who hope for the best are scorned as “Pollyannas.” Bart Simpson mocks Lisa’s idealism. Lou Grant mocked Mary Richards in the newsroom. Voltaire enjoys many a knowing smile at the expense of his Candide.

Yet optimism is one of the key strategies for overcoming fear, anxiety, frustration and skepticism in order to make a small business thrive, argue Clate Mask and Scott Martineau in their new book, Conquer the Chaos: How to Grow a Successful Small Business (Wiley, 2010).

The key, however, is to practice not unbridled, idealistic, romantic notions of cheerfully annoying optimism, but rather to practice “disciplined optimism.”

“Disciplined optimism,” Clate and Scott say, inspires you to maintain confidence and get to work removing whatever obstacle is in your way. It allows you to own the problem, and do something about it, because you have a sense that doing so gets you closer to your ultimate goal.

The authors define disciplined optimism as “faith you will prevail plus discipline to confront the brutal facts.” In other words, disciplined optimists do something about the little black rain cloud over their heads—they erect a very large umbrella, say—while blind optimists simply sit in the muddy puddle and cheerfully wish for the rain to stop (and then get wet and chilled and distraught when it doesn’t).
I liked the idea of being a disciplined optimist.. it has a better sound and attitude than the moniker I sometimes describe myself with - a realist.. which is really a lightened version of a pessimist. I agree that sometimes optimism get a bad rap and sometimes comes across as unbridled, idealistic and romantic.. hard to embrace that kind of optimism when you are going through a rough time. Yet the idea of believing the best about your future while doing everything you know to do in the present is a very healthy form of optimism.

Are you an optimist? Does their definition change your thinking about optimism?


  1. I am an optimist for sure... but I also believe in discipline, and so I agree and really like that definition...

    Discipline optimist... That's good!

    Bob, day after day you have such interesting posts... Love coming here.

  2. Bob, right after reading your post on Disciplined Optimism, I read this post, "Learned Optimism," on writer Kristi Holl's blog: http://institutechildrenslit.net/Writers-First-Aid-blog/2010/08/16/learned-optimism/

    Two blogs in one day about optimism? I think I need to dig into this topic and see what I can learn for myself!

    Thanks for sharing!


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