In popular culture, people know that they are supposed to “think positive.” We all sort of know that we should scotch-tape affirmations to our bathroom mirrors and say “I love you” to ourselves, and keep our chins up (presumably while reading those mirror-stuck affirmations)
Well, on the surface of it, if you think positive, you’re not thinking negative, and therefore, you’re not grumpy and depressed. That’s a pretty good reason on its own. After all, who else but a poet or an emo musician wants to be grumpy and depressed?
But research shows that there are very real and measurable benefits to consciously cultivating and maintaining a positive, optimistic view on life.
The Mayo Clinic has proved conclusively that optimists have lower levels of cardiovascular disease and longer life-spans. Furthermore, they found that pessimists’ health deteriorated more speedily as they aged.
Researchers at Yale and the University of Colorado discovered that pessimism is correlated with a diminished immune response to tumors and infection.
Dr. Martin Seligman, the founder of Positive Psychology, has done landmark work that shows that positive, optimistic people have deeper and broader social networks, are more effective communicators, and are more resilient, seeing failure as a learning experience rather than as a confirmation of their ineptness, and therefore they believe they can do better in the future.
Moreso, in a broad study of insurance salespeople, he found that the optimistic ones sold 37% more policies than pessimists, who were twice as likely to abandon their career during their first 12 months of employment.
Seligman gives guidelines on how to cultivate optimism for those of us who have developed negative habits in his book, Learned Optimism.
But you don’t have to only look at the research to see that a positive outlook on life and optimism breeds success. When you look at the lives of billionaire innovators, you see that a positive mindset keeps the minds of the highly successful focused on what is possible rather than on what blocks them; on alternatives rather than on roadblocks; on creative solutions rather than on blame.
1. Imagine you’re on the threshold of success.
Andrew Carnegie, though often viewed as a shrewd and tight-fisted Scotsman, was actually a veritable starburst of sunny optimism.
“Think of yourself as on the threshold of unparalleled success. A whole, clear, glorious life lies before you. Achieve! Achieve!”
Carnegie, who famously hired Napoleon Hill to gather up the wisdom of the rich and powerful in a project that produced the book Think and Grow Rich, grounded his optimism in utter 100% responsibility in his own internal resources.
“Immense power is acquired by assuring yourself in your secret reveries that you were born to control affairs.”
Positivity gives the mega-successful the internal fuel to power through downturns and what others would call failure.
2. Keep moving forward.
Mark Zuckerberg veritably defined our fast-paced innovation culture with his most famous quote:
“Fail fast and break things.”
3. Think like a queen.
Or in Oprah’s words:
“Think like a queen. A queen is not afraid to fail. Failure is another stepping stone to greatness.”
4. Failure isn’t the end; it is the beginning.
Failure among billionaires is understood to be part of the creative whirlwind that is the very life of a business. Success is not an endpoint. It’s merely a link in the continuing spiral.
“Failure is just a resting place. It is an opportunity to begin again more intelligently.”
– Henry Ford
“I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
– Thomas Edison
5. Abundant chance is all around you.
Sheldon Adelson, the toilet-kit salesman come multi-billionaire mastermind of the Las Vegas Sands Corporation expresses the optimistic mindset that failure is not only necessary, but that opportunity is unlimited.
“For me, businesses are like buses. You stand on a corner and you don’t like where the first bus is going? Wait ten minutes and take another. Don’t like that one? They’ll just keep coming. There’s no end to buses or businesses.”
6. Find the courage to continue.
Optimism may come easy to some. For others, it’s the cultivated result of another quality, which Churchill identified as courage:
“Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts.”
7. Own your mistakes—
Optimism and positive thinking feed our courage. Courage need not be heroic. Rather it may merely be the cool-headed outgrowth of a positive belief in yourself.
When Howard Schultz discovered that one of his most costly innovations had utterly flopped and cost the company nearly $100 million, he walked into his boardroom, looked his board in the eye and said, “Tactical mistake. Next.” No hand-wringing. No self-loathing. In fact, his entire ethos is summarized in the title of his memoir, “Onward.”
8. —and then move on.
Similarly, Steve Jobs:
“Sometimes when you innovate, you make mistakes. It is best to admit them quickly, and get on with improving your other innovations.”
Jobs elaborated on his philosophy by applying his belief in innovation not only to his work but to himself as well.
“If you want to live your life in a creative way, as an artist, you have to not look back too much. You have to be willing to take whatever you’ve done and whoever you were and throw them away.”
An optimist is open to the adventure of self-growth and doesn’t cling to the past or present as a pessimist might, believing things can only get worse.
9. Trust your hard work.
Optimism is akin to faith, not merely in yourself but in something greater than yourself. Jobs, a noted mystic, put it this way:
“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”
10. Seek to help others.
Billionaires optimistically believe in a better world and see their efforts as contributing to it. As Peter Diamantis observed:
“The best way to become a billionaire is to help a billion people.”
Sergei Brin, Co-Founder of Google, when asked what really drove him, and what spurred his company to its stratospheric growth, replied:
“I would like to see anyone be able to achieve their dreams, and that’s what this organization does”
11. When in doubt, don’t be evil.
In fact, Google’s well-known slogan “Don’t be evil” stemmed from nothing other than a profoundly positive intent:
“We have tried to define precisely what it means to be a force for good—always do the right, ethical thing. Ultimately, “Don’t be evil” seems the easiest way to summarize it”
12. Have high expectations of yourself.
Billionaires often seek to create something great. Some are driven by the desire to have a great impact. Others just expect that greatness is before them. As Sam Walton says:
“High expectations are the key to everything.”
13. Be relentless.
However, this doesn’t mean that billionaires go about their businesses like starry-eyed Pollyannas. Kazuo Inamori, a Japanese entrepreneur who founded two multi-billion dollar companies claims that while developing a new product or strategy, you begin optimistically.
However, once the planning stage begins, he says you must “become a pessimist” in order to spot every obstacle in the way. Then, he says, he returns to optimism for the execution phase.
In the end, billionaires teach us that optimism is not a gift. It is a strategy.
Featured photo credit: Markus Spiske via imcreator.com
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