Is optimism is the enemy of action?

Contributing Blogger:   Dennis Dey, MSc, Agricultural Economist

“While being upbeat and optimistic clearly isn’t the worst thing we can do for ourselves, it seems like it’s not exactly spurring behavior change, either.”  ~Maggie Puniewska

Positive thinking alone may not be sufficient to changing our behaviour.   The Harvard Business Review article “Optimism Is the Enemy of Action” provides an interview with Dr. Gabriele Oettigen (Author of the book Rethinking Positive Thinking).   She argues that visualizing the desired future and then imagining potential obstacles can actually help individuals to be more successful than positive thinking alone.  Examining and understanding obstacles that stand in the way to changes in behaviour enables people to become more energized and more committed to goals such as improved health and improved job performance.  

The bottom line: Managing expectations is a key element in business planning.  The challenge is that the future is unknown.  Business plans based on predictions for the future can create the illusion that the business can deal with the many uncertainties of the future.  Rather than predicting the future, business plans can build in processes for continuously adjusting to changing conditions.   Incorporating “if-then” thinking into business planning can explore the factors that might be hurdles to achieving business goals and prepare how to respond to these potential obstructions.



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