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What’s the most important piece of equipment you have to work with these days? A computer? Phone? Maybe a vehicle or some other piece of machinery?

Actually, what counts most is your brain—the three pounds of gray-colored electronic equipment that sits inside your skull. This is the all-important “3-pound tool.”

Performance begins inside the head. It always has. But in today’s “Knowledge Economy” it mostly stays there, because knowledge work is far more cognitive than physical:

  • The mind is now the main productivity tool.
  • Thinking has become the key competency.
  • People’s thought processes are the most important performance factor.

Work used to be so different. In times past, job performance depended heavily on muscle strength, manual dexterity, and agility or physical speed. But it’s probably safe to say that knowledge work is 90 percent cognitive—that is, mental and emotional—while a mere 10 percent physical. Knowledge work mainly requires us to think. We have to perceive, reason, and remember . . . imagine, create, and conceptualize . . . organize, analyze, and decide.

These days performance is shaped by our thought patterns, mindset, and mood. By how we frame things, and how we feel about ourselves. 

That’s where HardOptimism comes in. It coaches you on how to manage your mind.

The mental practices described here can make you far more effective. You’ll build confidence and creativity to help you take advantage of opportunity or overcome adversity. You’ll develop a buffer zone against stress, setbacks, and disappointments. These powerful thought patterns also will give you staying power and resilience when your future is fogged with uncertainty. Finally, they’ll protect your health and overall quality of life.

Of course, some people distrust optimism. They consider it superficial, cotton candy thinking and pretty risky in the no-nonsense world of business. But there’s nothing soft or lightweight about this message. HardOptimism points you toward a tough, forceful, steadfast optimism. It’s not Pollyannaish. Not a rose-colored glasses view of the world. And not just a rehash of the old-time “power of positive thinking.”

  • This is about taking a hard look at reality rather than sugarcoating it.
  • It’s about managing your thinking processes in ways that improve hard results.
  • This message is based on disciplined scientific research—hard evidence.

A flurry of recent studies showcases the wide-ranging advantages of positive thoughts and emotions. Optimism proves to be a major asset across such diverse fields such as business, politics, academics, leadership, athletics, and health.

Positive emotions and optimistic thinking lead to higher pay and better evaluations from supervisors.

Throughout U.S. history, the more optimistic presidential candidates have consistently prevailed in elections.

High-level executives use positive words four times more often than negative words.

Pessimistic salespeople sell less and have higher turnover than optimists.

Optimistic baseball pitchers and hitters do better than the pessimists in close games. The more pessimistic basketball teams lose to the point spread more often than the optimistic ones do. Pessimistic swimmers have more substandard times and fail to bounce back as well from poor efforts.

Optimists are more helpful, flexible, creative, empathetic, and respectful toward customers.

Optimism contributes to good health, healing, and longevity.

The scientific evidence is solid: Optimism is a broad-spectrum force of tremendous value to individuals and organizations. Regardless of what life leaves on your doorstep today, HardOptimism positions you to handle it better.


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Practice 1—
Control the life-shaping power of your thoughts and attitudes.

W. Clement Stone made this knockout observation a good half century ago:

"There’s very little difference in people. But that little difference makes a big difference. The little difference is attitude. The big difference is whether it’s positive or negative.”

The Scientific Argument for Optimism

There’s a hot new field of research in the behavioral sciences. It’s called positive psychology, and it’s proving that attitude profoundly affects performance. Study after study spells out the benefits: Optimists get paid more, are healthier, win more elections, live longer, plus they are better at dealing with uncertainty and change.

A lot of people have pretty much felt this at a gut level. What’s new is the confirming evidence from sophisticated research. It highlights the power of our thinking patterns, and shows the broad influence optimism has on personal effectiveness, happiness, and overall health.

Now we’ve got hard data. Science proves that optimism is a huge asset—for you as a person, or as a cultural trait that cuts across the whole organization.

Optimism vs. Pessimism: The Payoff

Why is optimism so valuable?

An attitude of positive expectancy energizes us and calls out our potential. It heightens our awareness of opportunity. Optimism points a powerful beam of light into the darker corners of our lives, revealing possibilities that are hiding in the shadows. The positive-minded person interprets events from the angle of hope, finding benefits and creative solutions the pessimist overlooks.

Compare that to the price tag that pessimism carries.

A negative frame of mind saps your energy, as well as the energy of people around you. It weakens your confidence. It hurts your creativity and problem-solving skills. You end up focusing on obstacles, and that interferes with your ability to spot opportunities. Finally, pessimism drains the joy out of life, leaving you emotionally spent and less effective in dealing with others.

Building Psychological Muscle

The good news? Optimism can be learned. Practiced. We can develop it, much like any other skill.

First, let’s make a clear distinction between “hard optimism” and the old-time “power of positive thinking.” Research shows that the real muscle in hard optimism doesn’t come from merely repeating positive statements to ourselves. Instead, it comes when we change how we deal with our negative thoughts and feelings.

Let’s put it a different way: Positive thinking is important, but non-negative thinking is the essence of hard optimism. The secret is to manage the way we explain situations to ourselves—especially when we experience failure, difficulties, uncertainty, or loss, but also as we encounter opportunity and success.

Psychologists have discovered that optimism and pessimism are not two poles on a single scale. They’re two quite separate dimensions. And the best results seem to come when we consciously reshape our mental activity that’s pessimistic.

Hard optimism represents a disciplined, deliberate way of thinking about whatever life throws at us. It’s about focusing on blessings rather than bad things . . . emphasizing opportunities instead of obstacles . . . explaining events to ourselves in a way that enhances performance and improves our quality of life.

You’re the Boss of Your Attitude

Nobody can do our thinking for us.

Optimism or pessimism—ultimately, it’s your choice. You get to decide how you want to frame events. You choose how you’ll interpret circumstances. Each of us is the engineer of our emotional life, the architect of our own happiness.

There’s a lot riding on this issue of attitude . . . design optimistically.

"What an interesting life I had. And how I wish I had realized it sooner.”

— Collette


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