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Is Being Too Optimistic Harmful

Is Being Too Optimistic Harmful?

Everyone knows that being optimistic is a good thing. But is there anything such as too much optimism? Is there a point at which this feel-good attitude fails to help you? Yes. Individuals that strap on optimism-only glasses can set themselves and their dreams up to larger failures than those who are more realistic. Here are a few insights (Shermer, 2012) according to psychologist Daniel Kahneman from his 2011 book Thinking, Fast and Slow into how too much optimism can cause more damage than good:

You take bigger risks.

When you’re overly optimistic, you tend to think that if you close your eyes and jump into your new endeavor, you can’t fail. Therefore, you take bigger risks because you don’t see any chance of failing. For example, let’s say that you’re unhappy at your job as a bank teller and decide you want to become the next Stephenie Meyer. You’re so optimistic that you’ll succeed that you quit your job the next day and sit down to your computer to write the next best-selling book.

Five months later, you’ve burned through your savings, and you can’t find a single agent willing to publish your book. If you hadn’t had too much optimism clouding your mind, you would have approached the situation with more caution. You probably would have kept your day job and written at night. This would have been a safer move that allowed you keep your situation stable and secure while still nurturing your dream.

You’re blind to red flags.

Take the example above. If you were certain that your book was a best-seller, you probably would have shrugged off all the rejection letters you received. While a more realistic mind would have realized that those letters were red flags telling you that your book isn’t ready to be published. It still needs work. But you didn’t think that. Instead, you told your heart not to listen to the letters because it could poke a hole in your optimistic attitude. You keep sending out your manuscript to other agents and seriously consider self-publishing, all while you ignored the opportunity to improve your book and make it better.

Protecting your overly optimistic attitude can lead to your dream being neglected. You’re more likely to ignore red flags telling you something is wrong and miss chances to help the situation.

It makes your failure more difficult.

If you’re too optimistic, you won’t know when to throw in the towel. This can lead to your failure hitting you twice as hard. You were so convinced that you’d succeed that you mortgaged your house and racked up credit card debt to support your dream. If you had pursued your dream with a more realistic attitude, you wouldn’t have allowed your potential losses to get that big.

Have you ever been overly optimistic?



Shermer, M. (2012, March). Opting out of overoptimism. Scientific American, 306(3), 78.


By Brittany Roshelle Davis