Is Optimism the Foundation of Self Confidence?

Are you an optimist? Do you naturally look on the bright side of any situation? Do you expect the best outcome – or the worst? The reason I ask is I have just read that

"Optimism is the foundation on which all self confidence is built".

Whilst I'm more of an optimist that pessimist, I had never seen optimism as such a building block for self confidence.

optimism self confidence

The quote comes from blogger Bud Bilanich, who brands himself  "the Common Sense Guy". His thoughtful post Haiti, Optimism and Success takes in how people can still be optimistic despite great devastation and how ultimately most of our troubles and worries  pale by comparison.

Bud has three steps to self confidence:-

First, choose optimism.  Believe in your heart of hearts that today will be better than yesterday, and that tomorrow will be better than today. 

Second, face your fears and act.  Procrastination and inaction feed fear and rob you of self confidence.  Action cures fear. 

Third, surround yourself with positive people.  Don’t let the naysayers into your life.  Hang around with people who are positive about themselves, their careers and life in general.

Positive Thinking

Is this too simplistic?  And whilst I think optimism is a more narrow concept that positive thinking, are they basically the same thing?  "Positive thinking is the foundation on which  self confidence is built" doesn't sound so good!

In the UK there has been quite a bit of publicity for Barbara Ehrenreich's recent book, Smile Or Die: How Positive Thinking Fooled America and the World.  I've only read the reviews, but it seems she gives the whole culture of positive thinking a good kicking. To her the belief that everything will turn out right in the end if we remain optimistic and upbeat is "delusional".

In my view, Barbara's target is more at the Law of Attraction end of the positive thinking spectrum. Her comment about motivational speakers:-

"They are brought in to corporate meetings and the message is, again and again: you can have whatever you want so long as you focus your thoughts on it. I think that's nuts, frankly."

I also think that is "nuts", and have written before (Do you believe in fairies?) challenging those who believe that the act of thinking itself can lead to things happening.

The Optimist Creed

I don't think being optimistic, expecting positive outcomes, is wrong – so long as you don't become unrealistic.   And if you go into something expecting a negative outcome (pessimism) then its hard to equate that belief with self confidence.

So take action with an expectation of success, having created that expectation by preparation.  Bud writes about an organisation I have never heard of called Optimist International and says he has a copy of their creed in his office:-

The Optimist Creed

Promise Yourself:

  • To be so strong that nothing can disturb your peace of mind.
  • To talk health, happiness and prosperity to every person you meet.
  • To make all your friends feel that there is something in them.
  • To look at the sunny side of everything and make your optimism come true.
  • To think only of the best, to work only for the best, and to expect only the best.
  • To be just as enthusiastic about the success of others as you are about your own.
  • To forget the mistakes of the past and press on to the greater achievements of the future.
  • To wear a cheerful countenance at all times and give every living creature you meet a smile.
  • To give so much time to the improvement of yourself that you have no time to criticize others.
  • To be too large for worry, too noble for anger, too strong for fear, and too happy to permit the presence of trouble.

As he says, it does contain a great deal of common sense. What do you think?

photo by Robert Bahn on Flickr

Sherri February 3, 2010 at 12:20 am

Optimism is often equated with seeing life through rose-colored glasses. People are often mistaken for pessimists just because they may look at the challenges that take place in order to get what you want. It doesn't mean that they don't have an end result in mind as well. They just dwell too much on the challenges. Optimists tend not to look at the details and are seen as visionaries. It doesn't mean they always take action to make their vision a reality. Overall, I prefer to be an optimist.

Charles June 12, 2010 at 1:59 pm

Always thought that self-esteem and confidence preceded optimism. Do your abilities make you optimistic, or does optimism build your abilities?

Bruce November 15, 2011 at 7:58 pm

I think that optimism is a way of expecting things to break in your favor. In time of peace, this is easy. In times of difficulty, if you don’t know the actions to take that will yield the result you want, then just thinking it will be alright is “delusional”. I grew up on a farm. We prepared, we sowed and we reaped. Many things beyond our control influenced the harvest. It did not stop us from persisting. We were optimistic it would work out but we worked like failure was imminent.
I met some people later in life who thought farming was a great way to make a living, just plant some seeds and let them grow and get a harvest to sell with minimal effort. They decided on tomatoes, chickens and pigs. Why that combo even they had no idea. They got the crop in late, failed to give the chickens enough water so many died and when the pigs got out chased them on a 4-wheeler until 2 of the 3 died from heat stroke. They never got a ripe tomatoe and decided to make green tomato relish but had to use the bath tub to stir up such a large batch and it tasted bad and no one would buy it. They went broke yet they had been quite optimistic about the future. When optimism is based on facts and hard work, then good things happen.

David November 16, 2011 at 8:25 am

Thanks Bruce for this great comment, which reflects where I’m coming from – blind optimism doesn’t “make things happen”. Being optimistic feels better than pessimism, but neither replace hard work and preparation.

Debbie @ Happy Maker November 15, 2011 at 9:55 pm

Optimism, is believing something will turn out OK. Confidence is doing everything in your power to make it turn out OK, because you believe in yourself and your ablities. Getting the results that you want.

I like the way Bruce explains the farming. I to grew up on a farm. You did everything humanly possible to bring in a crop, but you also had to have faith that this would happen, because of nature.

In all you are optimismist about the end results, have confidence that you can do what needs to be done and have the faith that it wil happen.
The”The Optimist Creed” says a lot, but we have to remember we are not perfect and never can be.
Thanks for sharing these thought
Blessing to you,

David November 16, 2011 at 8:30 am

I must admit, the more I read the optimist creed, the more it irritates me! As you say, we’re not perfect and there is nothing wrong with having negative thoughts – its probably our default setting! Wear a “cheerful countenance at all times” – no way…. Thanks for your comment

Corinne Edwards November 15, 2011 at 11:55 pm

Dear David –

I always loved that crazy quote from someone (?) that says an optomist will say –

“With all this crap around, there has to be a horse somehere in there.”

I believe it starts when you are young.

I give my Mother the credit for my always (and sometimes foolish) optomism.
She always told us we were brillaint and we could do anything.

When you have the advantage of that – you don’t have to work so hard to think positively.

Do that with your children and grandchildren and you will have given them a leg up for life.

David November 16, 2011 at 8:34 am

I don’t think its wrong to get kids, or anyone, to think positively have belief in themselves. So long as they are also prepared to recognise that crap happens and positive thinking is no replacement, as Bruce says, for hard work and preparation. Thanks for commenting

Beat Schindler November 16, 2011 at 1:07 am

Everybody is right. Whether it’s Barbara Ehrenreich or not – people “get it” only once they accept reality is inclusive (of all realities), not exclusive (to yours). It’s not about opti or pessi mism. It’s about empowering and disempowering. Maybe what empowers isn’t Barbara E. what empowers me. Thing is, it’s alright.
Power to you for blogging about this stuff and increase peoples’ awareness.
PS. I myself blog about related themes, as here in “5 Steps To Increase Your Responsibility”

Joel November 16, 2011 at 11:35 pm

Interesting, I like Beat’s comment “Everyone is right” lol. There are many ways of looking at things and those will have different effects on different people. I do believe you can be happier if you’re a realistic optimist, which I try to be, yet don’t always succeed.

Amy LeForge November 27, 2011 at 5:19 am

I wouldn’t call me an optimist; at least I’m not completely one. I’m not a pessimist either. Maybe “realist” would be best. I do try to look for the best in situations, but I also try to always assess things as they are so I understand what to expect in any given scenario. Oh, and I usually play things out to their logical possibilities so as to be prepared for the worst.

Cheryl from thatgirlisfunny January 3, 2012 at 9:22 pm

Hello David,
I suppose the alternative would be – being miserable? I say, do whatever works to put you in motion and have you enjoy your life.

Tyrone January 10, 2012 at 9:48 am

Hi David,

Thanks for this as this keeps me reminded. I know for myself I can be pessimist at times but then I’m continuously learning to be consistent with optimism because you’re right, it brings up self-confidence and not only that, makes me see hope to reach my goals each time plus attracts positive outcomes! 🙂


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