There’s a mode of thinking that says that if you want to do well or survive in this world you need to engage in positivity. The idea goes that if you spend all of your time dwelling on negative thoughts you won’t succeed at anything.

It makes some sense to me. I know that when I’m focusing on the negative I’m less motivated or willing to see the point in going forward with any goal. But I think a distinction needs to be made between positive intention and ignorant optimism.

Success in the face of adversity does require a positive belief that we can make our ideas into reality. But without the willingness to check that there is still ground beneath our feet we could be happily running straight over the cliff’s edge.

On the small scale, the trend towards positive thinking is a reaction, a backlash to spending a lot time in negativity. “I’m too negative,” says the individual, and they fight it by denying the negative and trying to be overly optimistic. On the large scale we demand this kind of positivity from our leaders. We’d rather have a politician lie to us with stories of how rosy things will be than tell us the awful truth. When their promises fail to deliver we blame the politician and not ourselves for enabling the tendency with our popular support.

While seeing only the negative in things will lead to defeat by destroying motivation, choosing to see only the positive is delusional and a willful blindness to reality. Avoiding the negative and focusing only on the positive removes a large portion of useful and relevant information.

We should be a little less afraid of reality if we really want to be as successful as we can be. A clear and sober examination of any situation should precede any action and regular checking in on the current state of things should be done with an honest approach. Rather than choosing only negative or only positive, we should weigh them against each other. If the goal is to make wise decisions, then all relevant information is positive.

So I advocate what I would call positive realism. Take an honest stock of yourself and your situation in this moment. If your goal makes sense and is inside the realm of your abilities then it’s a no-brainer and you should go ahead. If the goal is outside then you need to make a judgment call of whether you can generate the positive intention to acquire the skills and resources needed, or change the situation so the conditions will support success.

Anything that you believe beyond the realm of possibility, is, at least for you right now. It might be a long term goal or it might be a bad fit. Put it aside and reassess at a later date and consider your other decisions in the light of whether they might eventually make what was impossible, possible.

In all of this remember that a challenge is not a negative thing, it is just a challenge. You will either believe you are capable of overcoming the challenge or you will not. Choosing to do only what you know you have done before is a recipe for regret.

Once a choice has been made to follow any particular path, this is where a positive intention can be the driving force that moves us towards our goals. Setting a positive intention can get you up in the morning and is required for any first step towards completing a goal. The important thing is that you don’t let your positive attitude cloud your assessment of the relevant factors.

Seen this way, life is a series of assessments and choices. The present moment cannot be changed, only experienced and assessed. The more honest you are with your assessment, the more positive a choice you can make moving forward. Every moment is an opportunity for a strategy of realist assessment followed by positive intention. The more confident you become in your assessment, the more positive your choices will be.

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