The Optimism Bias

Above all, it is necessary for a person to have a true self-estimate, for we commonly think we can do more than we really can.

- Seneca

Depression gives me a crushingly realistic perspective on life. Possibly too realistic, which can be a problem on those rare times I want to be absurdly optimistic about my future prospects. Rose-colored glasses never quite fit comfortably over my eyes because I am always aware of the world beyond the pleasant tint.

What if a glass of water was, all of a sudden, literally half empty?   —Vittorio Iacovella

What if a glass of water was, all of a sudden, literally half empty?

—Vittorio Iacovella

I thought I was a typical “glass half empty” kind of person, until I discovered that every person has their own view of the glass and it’s contents, of their life and it’s value. The optimism bias is a useful bias to have as a human being. It generates momentum for a reward that only exists in the future.

That optimism is neither good nor bad. It merely is.

Same with pessimism.

Depression rewards me with an unfettered view of the facts. I cannot escape what many would consider a ruthless degree of critiques on what I am doing and how I am doing it. Years ago I wrote an article for US Lacrosse entitled: “The Worst Evaluation Ever;” about how I used a harsh critique of my officiating skills to develop into a more capable and more professional official.

I do the same type of realistic critiquing of my own performance at work, as an official, in my writing, and even in how I go about my day. What I have to be careful about, is seeing too much in the realistic perspective.

A dash of optimism can change a project, change a day, and even change an entire life. This is why I tell people: “Yes, I am a depressive, but I don’t have to be sad about it.” I took one of the best parts of depression. The harsh, realistic perspective, and turned it loose on the work I do, and I slowly began to add more optimism in to how I go about my work. For me, that leads to a high degree of professionalism in whatever I do, coupled with a deep satisfaction for the manner in which I do it.

If you would like to learn more about the optimism bias, I highly recommend watching the video below. After watching, ask yourself if you could benefit from adding some more realism into how you evaluate the world, or maybe you’re like me, and some more optimism may be the answer.