Motivation comes from thought.Every act we take is preceded by a thought that inspires that act. And when we quit thinking, we lose the motivation to act. We eventually slip into pessimism, and the pessimism leads to even less thinking. And so it goes. A downward spiral of negativity and passivity, feeding on itself like cancer.
I like to use this example in my seminars to illustrate the power of continuing to think: Let’s say a pessimist has made up his mind to clean his garage on a Saturday morning. He wakes up and walks out to the garage and opens the door and is shocked to see just how much of a mess it is. “Forget this!” the pessimist says with disgust. “No one could clean this garage in one day!”
And at that point the pessimist slams the garage door shut and goes back inside to do something else. Pessimists are “all-or-nothing” thinkers.They think in catastrophic absolutes. They are either going to do something perfectly or not at all.
Now let’s look at how the optimist would face the same problem. He wakes up on the same morning and goes to the same garage and sees the same mess and even utters the same first words to himself, “Forget this!No one could clean this garage in one day!”
But this is where the key difference between an optimist and a pessimist shows itself. Instead of going back into the house, the optimist keeps thinking.
“Okay, so I can’t clean the whole garage,” he says. "What could I do that would make a difference?"He looks for awhile, and thinks things over. Finally it occurs to him that he could break the garage down into four sections and do just one section today.
“For sure I’ll do one today,” he says, "and even if I only do one section each Saturday, I’ll have the whole garage in great shape before the month is over."A month later, you see a pessimist with a filthy garage and an optimist with a clean garage.
There was a woman in one of my seminars in Las Vegas who told me that this one concept—the optimist’s habit of looking for partial solutions—had made an interesting difference in her life.“I used to come home from work and look at my kitchen and just throw up my hands and curse at it and do nothing at all,” she told me. "I’d think the exact same thing as the pessimist in your garage story.
Then I decided to just pick a small part of the kitchen and do that, and that area only. It might be a certain counter, or just the sink. By doing just one small part each night I never resent the work, it’s never overwhelming, and my kitchen always looks decent."Pessimists like to set their problems aside. They think so negatively about “doing the whole thing perfectly” that they end up doing nothing at all!The optimist always does a little something. She or he always takes an action and always feels like progress is being made.
Because pessimists have a habit of thinking “it’s hopeless” or “nothing can be done,” they quit thinking too soon. An optimist may have the same initial negative feelings about a project, but he or she keeps thinking until smaller possibilities open up. This is why Alan LoyMcGinnis, in his inspiring book The Power of Optimism, refers to optimists as “tough-minded.”
The pessimist, as far as the use of the human mind goes, is a quitter.Recent studies show, says McGinnis, that optimists “excel in school, have better health, make more money, establish long and happy marriages, stay connected to their children and perhaps even live longer.”
To witness one of the most profound illustrations of the practical effectiveness of optimism in American history, you’ll want to rent the movie, Apollo 13. Although the job of bringing those astronauts back from the far side of the moon looked daunting and overwhelming, the job was accomplished one small task at a time. The people at MissionControl in Houston who saved the astronauts’ lives did so because even in the face of “impossible” technological breakdowns, they kept on thinking.
They never gave up. They looked for partial solutions, and they declared that they would string these partial solutions together one at a time until they brought the men home safely.While the astronauts’ lives were still in doubt, there was one glaring pessimist in Houston ground control who made the comment that he feared that Apollo 13 might become the “worst space disaster” inAmerican history. The ground commander in Houston turned to him and said with optimism and anger, “On the contrary, sir, I see Apollo 13 as being our finest hour.” And he turned out to be right, which illustrates the life-or-death effectiveness of optimistic thinking.
Whenever you feel pessimistic or overwhelmed, remember to keep thinking. The more you think about a situation, the more you will see small opportunities for action—and the more small actions you take, the more optimistic energy you will receive. An optimist keeps thinking and self-motivates. A pessimist quits thinking—and then just quits.
In the Broadway musical South Pacific, the heroine sings apologetically about being a “cock-eyed optimist.” She admits she’s “immature and incurably green.” This was an early version of a blonde joke. She confesses, as the giddy song soars melodically, that she’s “stuck like a dope on a thing called hope and I can’t get it out of my heart…not this heart.”
That’s how our society has viewed optimists—they are dopes. Society thinks optimistic thinking is something that comes from the heart, not the head.Pessimists, on the other hand, are “realistic.” In fact, pessimists will never tell you they are pessimists. In their own minds, they are realists.And when they run into habitual optimists they sneer at them for always"blue-skying" everything, and not facing grim reality.
Pessimists continually use their imaginations to visualize worst-case scenarios, and then concluding that those scenarios are lost causes, they take no action. That’s why pessimism always leads to passivity.
But even lying on his couch, bloated with junk food and foggy from too much television, the pessimist knows somewhere in his heart that his"what’s the use?" attitude is not effective. He is living a life that is reflected in what Nietzsche once said: “Everything in the world displeased me; but what displeased me most was my displeasure with everything.”
Optimists have chosen to make a different use of the human imagination. They agree with Colin Wilson’s point of view that"imagination should be used, not to escape from reality, but to create it."