A CONCERN: EAP Exclusive Article
As managers, we recognize the positive impact that an optimistic work culture can have on employees, with much research and data supporting that optimists tend to be:
With all this going for it, it may surprise you that some people question the value of optimism. For them, the word optimist conjures the picture of a head-in-the-clouds, overly perky person (OPP) who cautions the world to “stop being negative” anytime someone voices sadness or a valid concern.
With that OPP stereotype out there, it’s no wonder that people can be suspicious about the value of optimism.
As a manager, you can help to dispel this stereotype by helping employees recognize that optimism can be either realistic or idealistic.
Realistic optimists tend to believe that they will succeed, but only with effort, planning, and persistence. Rather than imagining an easy path to success, they think seriously about probable obstacles, and how to overcome them. This kind of visualization helps them to feel better prepared and more confident.
Idealistic optimists (like our friend the OPP) might instead believe that success will come to them if they just picture it hard enough. They imagine that obstacles will evaporate without effort, that is, if they picture obstacles in their path at all. This kind of visualization can be good for an immediate mood boost, but studies show that it’s not the best strategy for success.
In one weight-loss study, for example, researchers asked participants how optimistic they were about reaching their goals. Not surprisingly, those who felt more confident in their eventual success lost an average of 26 pounds more than those who were doubtful.
What is surprising? Those who anticipated a harder struggle also lost more weight than subjects who visualized an easier path. That’s right. Dieters who recognized that they were going to have a hard time saying no to those breakroom donuts lost around 24 pounds more than those who thought passing up the weekly birthday cake in the conference room was going to be a breeze.
Other studies have uncovered similar results in a variety of situations from job-seeking to looking for love to improving sports performance. In every instance, realistic optimists put in more focused effort, which led not only to higher success rates but also to a more resilient mood and higher life satisfaction.
In her book Rethinking Positive Thinking, New York University motivational expert, psychologist, and author Gabriel Oettingen details a stepwise technique that applies the principles of realistic optimism to setting and achieving goals. It’s called WOOP, short for Wish, Outcome, Obstacles and Plan.
Here’s how WOOP works, and how you might encourage employees to try it for optimistic and realistic goal setting: