To properly approach this subject, we should define both what optimism means in general and we should also define failure so we know what we’re dealing with.
When I look at optimism, I see the bright side of whatever that optimism is related to. Also, optimism is both practical and rational. You can’t have an optimistic perspective if you’re doing nothing about the better things that you want in your life. At the same time, as long as you’re emotional, there’s no control over your optimistic perspective – as soon as your mood changes, your optimism goes away.
On the other hand, when I look at failure, I see ways of not being able to meet your expectations. If you set yourself to paint a perfect copy of Monalisa, the chances are pretty high (close to impossible) that you’re going to fail. Instead, if you set yourself to print an artwork of Monalisa that you find on the Internet so you can frame and hang it on a wall, the chances are pretty high that you’re going to succeed.
At the same time, the expectations are strongly related to the clarity you have over your ability to do something. If you believe you are better than you actually are and you set your expectations according to how you believe you are, then the chances are you are going to fail.
What does optimism mean when you’re dealing with failure?
When it comes to failure, having an optimistic perspective helps you see the bright side of whatever you failed doing. But failing at something can be seen from two different perspectives:
- First, when you fail entirely – when you don’t move at all towards something;
- Second, when you fail after advancing towards something.
Let’s take them one by one and see what optimism means.
What does optimism mean when you’re failing entirely?
When you don’t move at all towards the set goal, there are a few things you should pay attention to. I can help you shift your attention to these things by asking you a few questions.
- Why did you want it in the first place?
- Whatever that reason was, is it still present?
- If yes, why isn’t it motivating you enough so you keep going?
- If no, what made it disappear?
- Whatever that reason was, is it still present?
- What are the factors that made it important?
- To what aspect of your life were these factors related to?
- What made disappear the factors that are not part of the equation anymore?
- When it comes to those factors that are still present, what makes them stay compared to those that are not present anymore?
- What would need to happen in your life, right now, so you want to keep moving forward?
- What are three things that are missing?
- What are three things that were present but are not anymore and because they’re not present anymore, you stopped?
- What are three things that are present in your life but you feel like you want them out of your life?
In case you failed and your failure was based on you not even trying, then taking all these questions one by one is going to come in handy. Take your time and allocate at least 10 minutes to answering every question. Make sure your answers are 200 to 500 words each.
What does optimism mean when you fail halfway?
When you start doing something towards the goal you set yourself but you don’t get to achieve it, the first thing you should pay attention to is your limitations.
Somewhere along the way, you felt like the thing that you have to do is too much compared to what you can do or what you’re willing to do. This usually happens, as I mentioned before, because of the lack of clarity you have over your skills. But as long as you are able to focus on what is limiting you, then you are close to what I call an optimist’s opportunity.
To help you better understand what the optimist’s opportunity is, think of when you set yourself to do something and you seem you can’t get to the finish line. When you start struggling, that’s when you want to quit, right? Right at that moment, if you can become aware of your limitations, push yourself to make at least one more step forward.
The optimist’s opportunity is the step forward you’re making when you should have failed.
The most common reasons we fail and how to have an optimistic approach when it happens
Now that you understand optimism a bit better when failure happens, I thought it’s better to dive deeper and see how optimism should look like in some specific situations.
While optimism can be seen as the bright side of something, that bright side is different when we compare, for example, procrastination with impatience, both being factors for failure.
Therefore, let’s take the most common reason people fail and see what’s the optimistic approach for each of them.
- Lack of persistence
The lack of persistence can also be seen as a halfway failure, which we’ve already discussed.
As long as you lack persistence, there will be many moments in your everyday grind when you’ll feel like you have to stop because things may get too hard.
If this is how you usually end up failing, just remember to look at your limitations and make one step forward.
As important as that, when it comes to having a lack of persistence, taking breaks may help you decide on taking a pause instead of stopping everything.
Optimistic approach for failure as lack of patience: know your limits, make one more step, take breaks and pauses.
- Lack of discipline
Whenever you’re lacking discipline, don’t think of yourself that you’re not a disciplined person. Instead, think that you haven’t found yet the right routine for you so you can be disciplined.
Discipline is so tricky and it takes a lot of experiments to get to be disciplined.
If you want to lose weight, is there only one way of doing it? Of course not. You can lose weight by going to the gym, by running, or by eating less and healthier, and so on.
Are you going to be discipline in all of these activities? Of course not. Or maybe you will. But you will find out how disciplined you are only after you experiment it and try it out, not before.
Optimistic approach for failure as lack of discipline: understand that discipline is different for every activity you’re trying to be disciplined at and take your time to experiment with as many as possible.
- Poor self-esteem
People with low self-esteem are those people who find it hard to trust themselves. But trusting yourself is easy because it has a lot to do with the activities you’re paying attention to.
For example, let’s say you are a graphic designer and you can draw amazing characters. You’ve been doing this job for 10 years and your experience is way higher than the market’s standard. If Disney approaches you with a gig, you’ll probably trust yourself that you can do a pretty good job.
On the other hand, if Tesla approaches you to create their next version of the software, you’ll know from the start that you won’t be able to do it.
While self-esteem is the feeling of trust you have when you think of your person, in general, trusting yourself has a lot to do with specific skills and activities. Therefore, instead of thinking about your person, in general, think of something specific that you can do.
Optimistic approach for failure as poor self-esteem: pick something you’re great at and focus on that – if you believe you don’t have any skills, decide on something that you become great at and do it until you become great.
- Fatalistic attitude
A fatalistic attitude is what happens when you believe that the obstacle you’ve reached is the end of the road. Unless you’re sure you’re going to die, then the encountered obstacle is not your final obstacle.
Saying that things are not possible or that you can’t do it is what going to make that obstacle final, even though it is not.
The best way of overcoming a fatalistic attitude is to ask someone else what they would do in your situation. I bet you’re going to find a few alternatives to what you believe is impossible.
Optimistic approach for failure a fatalistic attitude: whenever you feel like things get impossible, ask a friend what would they do and focus on the positive answers.
- Fear of failure
For many people, the fear itself is what makes failure happen.
If you are one of these people, then you should treat as an experiment whatever you set yourself to do.
Do you want to start running? Go out and run and see for how long you can run.
Do you want to cook something for the first time? Buy the ingredients and do it differently than the recipe says. Then see if what you did is any good.
As long as you don’t set yourself a specific end, you set yourself to experiment and discover whatever end there may be.
Optimistic approach for fear of failure: don’t set goals but try to experiment and have fun in the process.
I’ve had my fair share of impatient moments and I believe that most of my failures have been the result of impatience.
When it comes to dealing with patience so you can avoid failure, there’s one thing I recommend doing and that is letting go. Impatience always feels like rushing to get somewhere. As soon as you let it go and you focus on something else, the rush disappears and so does the impatience.
For example, let’s say you’re rushing into something big, something as signing a contract with a big client. If you’re impatient and the potential client notices that, then they may think there’s something wrong and may terminate whatever possible collaboration you may have. Instead, shift your attention to your current clients.
One thing to have in mind in such situations is that whatever you’re rushing to is just an illusion. The thing that you desire to have is part of the future and the future is really volatile, which makes it an illusion.
Optimistic approach for failure as impatience: shift your attention from whatever you want to happen in the near future to the things that are happening in the present moment.
Excuses are just a smart way of saying ‘no’.
They’re smart as in it makes you find alternatives for saying ‘no’, but excuses are nothing more than a simple ‘no’.
As soon as you start seeing your excuses as simple ways of saying ‘no’, that’s what you should focus on.
Therefore, ask yourself:
- Why am I saying ‘no’ to this?
- Was there a moment where I wanted to do it?
- What changed and why am I not interested anymore?
As soon as you answer these questions, you may understand that you don’t want to do it for other reasons that we’ve already discussed, as the fear of failure, lack of discipline, poor self-esteem, or even procrastination.
Optimistic approach for failure as excuses: understand your excuses and the ‘no’ behind your excuses.
Doing nothing and wasting time are two concrete steps toward failure.
If procrastination is why you’re usually failing then you should start asking yourself why you procrastinate. After you know why you procrastinate, here are more questions to help you better understand why you procrastinate.
- For how long am I supposed to do what I am doing now?
- Why is it important that I finish what I started?
- Why I started it in the first place?
- If I stop right now, what will happen?
- Who are the people that will be negatively impacted by me stopping?
- Am I the only one involved in this activity?
- Is this activity providing any safety?
- In what ways I could enjoy what I am supposed to do?
Procrastination happens when you usually lack excitement. If you are not supposed to do the activity you’re postponing and nobody depends on you doing it, then you should totally stop doing it.
Optimistic approach for failure as procrastination: understand that lack of enjoyment may cause procrastination and try to find activities that bring you joy.
- Ignoring past mistakes
Ignoring past mistakes is not always bad as past mistakes may limit your current actions. But, at the same time, if you ignore your past mistakes to the point that you do them over and over again, you’ll end up failing.
One way to overcome your past mistakes so you can avoid failing is to try and understand your past mistakes better. Even more, if your past mistakes are fueling your fear of failure, then it’s important to understand that who you are right now is different than who you were back then.
Optimistic approach for failure as past mistakes: understand your past mistakes and realize that you are not your past mistakes.
How to use the optimistic approach to never let failure be permanent ever again?
The more things you set yourself to do in this life, the higher the chances you’ll fail, right?
If you don’t want to fail, then do nothing. Or, if you want to fail in the right direction, set yourself one thing to do for the rest of your life and do only that.
In my case, I decided that I won’t create other projects and davidtheoptimist.com will be my only project, for the rest of my life. I used to create at least one big project every year and, in most cases, I ended up somehow disappointed.
In other words, I set myself that I want to help people and I don’t need more than one project to do that.
That’s how I decided to never let failure be permanent in my life. And if I’ll ever fail again, it will be in the right direction.
With love and optimism,