Tuesday, November 29, 2011

What is a Realistic Optimist?


My Twitter bio includes the phrase “realistic optimist” and somebody recently asked me what that means.

I carefully included that descriptor when establishing my Twitter account.  Twitter bios are designed to be extremely short at 160 characters.  The two terms use up a precious 18 characters with space, so why include it?  And more importantly, what does it mean?

The term ‘realistic optimist” appears in my bio for both crass reasons, and more lofty, altruistic ones.

Crass Commercial Reasons:

The term ‘optimist” is a critical keyword. 

Twitter bios are searchable. That means folks use keywords when they seek other like-minded Tweeps to follow on Twitter. A bio is a form of SEO (search engine optimization) for connecting with fellow optimists via Twitter. 

Yes, pretty slick, eh? Crafting a Twitter bio to attract fellow optimists!  And you know, it works!  

Lofty, Altruistic Reasons

Nearly two decades ago, I read a seminal book about optimism by Martin Seligman entitled “Learned Optimism.” The practical strategies shared in that book have become a way of life for me.  I reread it annually. 

In a nutshell, Seligman’s scholarly work makes the case that optimism can be learned; and has everything to do with “explanatory style” and framing situations as a way to optimize energy and outcomes. 

Thus, including the term “realistic optimist” in my Twitter bio reflects the “true me” and patterns of thought I aim to cultivate.

So What Does It Mean?

Realistic optimists …believe they have to make success happen — through things like effort, careful planning, persistence, and choosing the right strategies. They recognize the need for giving serious thought to how they will deal with obstacles. This preparation only increases their confidence in their own ability to get things done.

I would modify that description as follows, weaving in key themes from Seligman’s research:

A realistic optimist cultivates an energy-affirming mindset, consistently seeking to frame obstacles as temporary setbacks, forging ahead by taking the best course of action one can at the time, as best as one realistically can. 

Well, that’s a tad wordy. Let's try this definition instead: 

A realistic optimist does the best one can, where one is, with what one has.

And that, dear reader, explains those two terms in my Twitter bio.  What’s your take on realistic optimism?  

And more importantly, what words do you use to describe yourself in your Twitter bio?

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