The optimist smells the roses and the realist looks for the funeral. Being optimistic and realistic are opposites, right? According to the Stockdale paradox, it's necessary to recognise both views to accomplish your goals.
Photo by Michael Cardus.
The Stockdale paradox, named for Admiral James Stockdale, highlights the paradox of hoping for the best, but realistically expecting complications. The purely hopeful will believe that everything will work out, no matter what. The pure realist believes that things will only work out if you solve your problems. However, as Stockdale noted, both mentalities are necessary to accomplish difficult goals:
You must retain faith that you will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties AND AT THE SAME TIME you must confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.
The key to this is addressing BOTH parts. I think most of us are natural optimists (or we would probably not be business owners) and we believe that all things will work themselves out, BUT we CANNOT afford to over look problems and problem people who are in our hospitals.
The optimistic approach allows us to believe that difficult tasks are possible. Sure, I've failed to eat better and exercise a million times before, but I can still believe it's possible. At the same time, the realistic side of me can examine the problems that have kept me from getting there, and change what needs changing.
As Stockdale highlights, if you rely solely on optimism, you may never deal with the practical roadblocks in your path. However, if you rely solely on cynical realism, you're less likely to tackle the more difficult challenges.
How the Stockdale Paradox Can Make You a Better Leader [CatalystVETS]