Burnout is nature’s way of telling you, you’ve been going through the motions your soul has departed; you’re a zombie, a member of the walking dead, a sleepwalker. False optimism is like administrating stimulants to an exhausted nervous system.
— Sam Keen
I came across this quote today and thought wow. That is powerful. And since one of the aspects of Modern Consciousness® is called Automaton 2.0, I felt compelled to dive into this a bit for our benefit.
Before I get started, let me tell you about Automaton 2.0 which is the first aspect of Modern Consciousness® and the foundation from which everything expands. People in this stage tend to run on autopilot executing behaviors, plans, and actions likely put into place some time ago without our total presence, engagement, or intentionality (to the bigger picture) in the present moment. We are somewhat disconnected when we run our lives on autopilot as our minds drift to what else we need to accomplish that day which robs us of our ability to fully enjoy and savor the moment we are experiencing.
The continued and unyielding pace that often characterizes Automaton 2.0 can result in burnout, which is a state of mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion. In this state, our nervous system is as fatigued as the rest of us. Our container of self isn’t overflowing with abundance, it’s overflowing with the constant stress of our ‘to do’ list. We rushing one thing to get to the next. Now you know why the quote intrigued me so. But now, let’s shift this conversation to the term ‘false optimism.’ What is that?
Optimism vs. False Optimism
Optimism is an important character strength and one that’s strongly linked to flourishing in our lives, so let’s begin there. Optimism is hopefulness and confidence about the future or the successful outcome of something. Optimists naturally see the positive side of things and we expect things will turn out well.
Optimism positively impacts our lives in the following ways:
- Enhanced Resilience: Optimism fosters resilience, allowing individuals to bounce back from setbacks and challenges more effectively. Optimists view difficulties as temporary and surmountable, enabling them to persevere and find alternative solutions.
- Positive Outlook: Optimists tend to focus on the positive aspects of life, seeing opportunities where others may see obstacles. This positive lens can lead to greater happiness and contentment, as they appreciate and savor the good moments.
- Improved Mental and Emotional Well-being: Optimistic individuals often experience better mental health, lower levels of stress, and reduced symptoms of anxiety and depression. Their positive mindset helps maintain a balanced perspective and promotes overall psychological well-being.
- Increased Motivation and Goal Attainment: Optimism fuels motivation and determination. With a belief in their abilities and a positive expectation of success, optimists are more likely to set ambitious goals, persist in their pursuit, and ultimately achieve them.
- Stronger Relationships: Optimism contributes to healthier and more fulfilling relationships. Optimistic individuals tend to attract and maintain positive connections, as their positive energy, resilience, and supportive outlook create an uplifting atmosphere in their interactions.
- Better Physical Health: Research suggests that optimism is associated with improved physical health outcomes. Optimistic individuals are more likely to engage in healthy behaviors, such as regular exercise, proper nutrition, and adherence to medical recommendations, leading to better overall health.
- Increased Problem-Solving Skills: Optimists approach problems with a solution-oriented mindset. They are more likely to identify creative solutions, seek assistance when needed, and persist in finding ways to overcome challenges.
- Enhanced Leadership Abilities: Optimistic individuals often make effective leaders. Their positive outlook inspires and motivates others, and their ability to see possibilities and opportunities encourages innovation and growth within teams and organizations.
Quite a list of benefits! But, as with most things, even optimism can be excessive, leading to unrealistic expectations or a disregard for potential challenges and risks. You’ve heard the saying, too much of a good thing? This is what I really want you to hear and take away from this article.
So, what is ‘false optimism?’
The phrase refers to a mindset or attitude characterized by an excessive or unrealistic expectation of positive outcomes, despite evidence or circumstances suggesting otherwise. It involves an overly optimistic outlook that may ignore potential risks, challenges, or negative aspects of a situation. It’s problematic because it can lead to a lack of preparedness, denial of potential problems, or the avoidance of necessary actions. It can even prevent individuals from accurately assessing risks and making informed decisions. False optimism can also be perceived as ignoring or downplaying the potential consequences or difficulties associated with a situation. From my perspective, it’s also a way of ‘stuffing’ our emotions by cloaking them in what we believe is our genuine optimism.
Kudos to those of us who have transformed the habit of constant worry into a habit of tranquility. We intentionally and deliberately cast being in a continual state of distress and anxiety out of our lives and are ever so grateful and happier! We’re calm and content and easily roll with the flow of life. Others admire our ability to deal with highly inconvenient and unforeseen circumstances like a flight delay or missed airline connection in stride (actually, they probably don’t notice us as much as we notice them having a meltdown over a situation completely out of their control which leaves us even more grateful for the work we did to achieve our tranquil state but that’s another topic altogether). Anyway, I digress.
But what about when we, in our elegant state of flow, actually begin overlooking or underassessing a situation that we should actually be paying attention to and that might just require action on our part? What if our optimistic outlook is serving to numb us? What if we are so protective of our seemingly permanent state of tranquility that we never let some legitimate concern, irritation, or worry come to the surface lest it disrupt our peace? See where I’m going with this?
I’ll give you an example.
I’m having some random lingering physical issues that, so far, are evading a diagnosis. That’s fine with me as I don’t want a diagnosis. I want to rule things out, not in. But my typical self-care with alternative therapies such as acupuncture, chiropractic and massage aren’t helping so, at the suggestion of my trusted acupuncturist, I’m looking into it. She referred me to some awesome medical professionals that I’m really happy to have on my investigative team.
If I check in with myself on the surface about this situation, I don’t feel concerned about it other than how much time I’m spending in doctor’s offices, labs, and imaging centers. There are other things I’d rather be doing. I really do not feel concerned outwardly. It isn’t a preoccupation of my conscious mind, but because of my training, experience and personal work, I know that deeper within me there must be a level of concern. It’s natural. So, I need to be intentional and also check in with this part of me and show her some compassion, self-love and soothing. I need to acknowledge all of me, and my point is that you need to acknowledge all of you, too, and not brush off important feelings or situations with false optimism.
Distinguishing between healthy optimism and false optimism involves assessing the genuineness of the optimism, its alignment with reality, and its impact on the individual’s well-being and decision-making.
Some factors to consider when differentiating between the two include:
- Realism and Acknowledgment of Challenges: Healthy optimism acknowledges the presence of challenges, obstacles, and potential risks. It involves a balanced perspective that considers both positive and negative aspects of a situation. False optimism, on the other hand, may dismiss or downplay challenges, ignoring or denying potential difficulties.
- Evidence-Based Outlook: Healthy optimism is grounded in evidence and rational thinking. It takes available information, past experiences, and realistic expectations into account. False optimism tends to rely on wishful thinking, baseless assumptions, or an unwarranted belief in positive outcomes without adequate support.
- Adaptability and Learning: Healthy optimism involves adaptability and a willingness to learn from experiences and feedback. Optimistic individuals with a healthy mindset are open to adjusting their approach or goals based on new information or feedback. False optimism may resist adapting or learning from failures and may persist in unrealistic expectations without considering the need for adjustments.
- Emotional Resilience: Healthy optimism is associated with emotional resilience, which allows individuals to acknowledge and process negative emotions while maintaining a positive outlook. It involves understanding that setbacks and negative emotions are a natural part of life. False optimism may suppress or ignore negative emotions, avoiding or denying their existence.
- Decision-Making and Actions: Healthy optimism leads to proactive decision-making and action-taking. Optimistic individuals with a healthy mindset take calculated risks, consider potential challenges, and develop contingency plans. False optimism may result in impulsive or reckless decision-making without considering potential consequences.
- Long-Term Well-being: Healthy optimism contributes to long-term well-being, personal growth, and realistic goal attainment. It promotes overall psychological well-being, resilience, and positive relationships. False optimism may lead to repeated disappointments, frustration, or a lack of personal growth if it consistently fails to align with reality.
It’s important to note that the distinction between healthy optimism and false optimism is not always clear-cut, and context and individual circumstances play a role. It’s possible for us to display a mix of both types of optimism in different areas of their lives.
It’s also important to strike a balance between optimism and realism. While maintaining a positive outlook can be beneficial, it is equally important to acknowledge and address potential challenges or drawbacks to make well-informed decisions and take appropriate actions.
Is there something you are ignoring in your life that you shouldn’t be? Have you been telling yourself with all the optimism you can muster that a situation you are involved in will work out just fine, when, in your heart, you know it likely won’t and you are simply postponing the inevitable through false optimism?
If so, click the link below to learn more about my Elevate Your Life® program and apply for a consultation. It’s just a conversation and you never know, you just might find the solution you are seeking!