Realism and Optimism

My meditation teacher SN Goenka used to tell a story about having a positive work ethic and attitude. 

A long time ago in India, a mother with three sons was cooking dinner and asked her youngest son to take a cup to the local market to buy some oil. (You could buy oil by the cup in those days…)

Being a good and obedient son, he raced to the market and bought the oil.

In his rush to get home to his mother, the young boy tripped and dropped the cup of oil, spilling in onto the ground.

The boy was able to catch the cup before all of the oil had spilt, saving half of the oil.

He went home crying to his mother. Mother”, he said, “I fell and now the cup is half empty.”

The mother was understanding and made do with a half cup of oil,

The next day the mother asked her second oldest child to take a cup to the market and buy some oil for her cooking.

He was also a good and obedient son and raced to the market to buy the oil.

Like his brother, in the rush home the boy fell, the cup tipped over and the boy also managed to save half of the oil.

He went home smiling with pride and explained what happened to his mother. “Mother,” he said, “I fell and managed to save half of the oil. The cup is half full.”

Again, the mother was understanding and made do with a half full cup of oil.

On the third day the mother asked her eldest son to go to the market and buy oil for her cooking.

The child took the cup, bought the oil and raced home.

On the way home, the third son also fell.

Again half of the oil spilt out before he could save it.

He went home to his mother smiling and said, “Mother, I fell but I managed to save half of the oil and thus the cup is half full.”

But, he didn’t stop there, “Unfortunately though, the cup is also half empty”

Again, he didn’t stop there, “So, what I’m going to do is go out and work hard to earn the money I need to buy more oil so that I can replace the oil that spilt.”

The Moral of the Story

I tell myself this story fairly frequently because nothing is perfect.

As a coach, I work with clients who have to deal with organisational inefficiencies, unproductive cultures, and difficult markets. Some of my clients have to deal with gender, cultural, age and other biases.

Rather than letting negative circumstances define them, I encourage my clients to rise to such challenges by being:

1. Realistic: We should always accept our reality as it is. “The glass is half empty”

2. Optimistic and Grateful: We should be grateful for and leverage what we have. “The glass is half full”

3. Hard Working: We should be clear on our goals and work for what we want. “I’m going to work hard and fill the rest of the glass up.”

How to Shift Your Mindset from Negative to Positive

Try this process next time you have a problem and you feel the negativity of circumstances weighing you down:

Step 1: Write down the negative and stressful problem.

Step 2: Focus on negative facts first. Gather the “negative” facts relating to the problem you’re facing. Make sure you’re focusing on facts and not emotions.

Step 3: Look for positive facts. Look for other facts which are more positive and assume the positive intent of all concerned; and

Step 4: Identify an appropriate, balanced and positive solution based on all the facts.

Negative facts tend to be the first that come to mind when we face any problem and if we react to them without considering other angles, we’re less likely to identify an optimal solution. We can also be discouraged from trying at all if circumstances are particularly negative.

When we take time to assume that everyone we’re dealing with has good intentions (or we are at least able to consider their point of view) and look for positive facts, we’re usually able to come up with more creative win/win solutions.

It’s important that we are realistic and we don’t “stick our heads in the sand”, however optimism helps us to identify what’s possible so we can keep moving forward.

Let me know how you go… I always enjoy hearing from readers.

Keep moving forward! You deserve to be happy and productive.


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