How to Become a Greater Optimist!


A new study shows why optimists do better over the course of their careers, make more money and are more likely to be promoted. Can optimism be learned? If so, how can someone become more optimistic?


Author’s Note: This is the second of a two-part series. In Part 1 we explored how to hire optimists and in this Part 2 we’ll uncover ways to become more optimistic.

You gotta love Dilbert! Nobody captures a caricature of corporate culture like Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams.

If you identified with the cartoon above in your own work experience you realize that circumstances can make it difficult to keep an optimistic outlook on life. So let me share the good news:


Optimism can be learned and become a quality that characterizes us!


I was drawn to this topic after reading the March 2019 Harvard Business Review article by Michelle Gielan entitled The Financial Upside of Being an Optimist. In Part 1 of this series I cited her research-based findings about the power of optimistic people in the workplace, and these bear repeating:

  • People in the top quartile of optimism are:

    – 40% more likely to get a promotion over the next year,

    – Six times more likely to be highly engaged at work, and

    – Five times less likely to suffer burnout, compared to non-optimists and pessimists.

  • Optimists outperform their peers in the job market.
  • Optimists search less intensively than their peers but receive job offers more quickly.
  • Optimists are more likely to be promoted in the first two years after graduation than their peers.

In Part 1 I shared some ideas on how to identify whether or not a job applicant is an optimist. If you’re a job seeker you may want to look at Part 1.

Now to the burning question at hand..


If Optimists Make Better Hires, How Can I Become One?

Optimists are not born, they are made! As a radio talk show host for the Mid-Atlantic Region’s Number One business radio show, Executive Leaders Radio (ELR), I interview successful CEOs and focus on who they were ages 8 to 13, to help them tell their stories of what shaped them to become successful leaders. ELR has interviewed over 8,500 CEOs, and we have a weekly listening audience of more than 7 million listeners. During the past two years of being on ELR I have yet to meet a non-optimistic CEO! More often than not, successful CEOs often come from difficult childhoods – poverty, broken family, death of a parent, and the like – yet their difficulty motivated them to rise above circumstances and achieve.

What I hear from our CEO guests is that each person made a choice to be optimistic about their future despite their then-present circumstances. What some people saw as tragedy, they saw as opportunity. They weren’t afraid of failure, and they relentlessly put in long hours of hard work over time. They took control of their education and became curious learners. They look forward and don’t live in the past.

Here are some actions you can take today to raise your level of optimism:

  • Conduct a personal focus audit. We become where we focus, so a personal focus audit is you checking yourself multiple times an hour and noting whether your focus – how you are feeling in that moment – is positive, neutral, or negative. This requires honesty! You can do this on a small piece of paper with three boxes (one each for positive, neutral, and negative) and enter a check mark into the appropriate box each time you assess how you are feeling. At the end of the day see where you focus has been. Over the course of a week you’ll see your tendencies.
  • Set your mindset early each day. As early in your day as you can, spend five distraction-free minutes and think about your happy place. What are the things that bring you joy? Michelle Gielan suggests doing this by “listing three things you’re grateful for, and why. This two-minute daily practice rewired elderly pessimists to become more optimistic after just two weeks.” Hard to be a pessimist when you inventory all for which you are thankful. Plus, this exercise will set the tone for a positive day.
  • Enlist an encouragement partner. Find someone who, like you, wants to raise their optimism. Connect with them for five minutes at least 3 times per week for an encouragement conversation. Here’s the most important rule: no negative conversation, criticism, or complaining – only encouraging conversation. For every complaint or negative comment you make, you owe your partner $1.00! As you pay for your education, you’ll begin to see your conversations becoming more encouraging…and therefore optimistic.
  • Another Michelle Gielan suggestion: focus on your progress and not perfection. She advises, “whether you’re trying to switch roles at work or launch a new idea, waiting for perfection can be your greatest enemy. Set a meaningful goal, and take the smallest measurable step towards achieving that goal. That win will propel continued positive action as your brain gets a boost from perceiving progress.”
  • Stop feeding your mind negative meals. Your incredible brain will absorb its surroundings like your stomach absorbs food. Negative news broadcasts will not raise your optimism so give yourself a 30 day news holiday and your optimism will rise. Ditto the movies, TV and videos you watch – opt for the positives only. The same goes for reading and your hobbies – if they take you to dark places, you’ll be feeding your brain negative food. Stop hanging out with negative people – they’ll only bring you down. In today’s highly connected world there are lots of positive brain meals you can enjoy. A 30-day brain diet will change your outlook!


Bottom Line

Optimists make happier souls in this voyage called life. Optimism is a learned choice anyone can make, and the life and career implications are fantastic!

I love working with people and organizations who want to improve their effectiveness! Here are several outstanding resources that can help you and your organization to go to the next level:

I work with some of the world’s top employers by helping them get the most out of their talented people. My company’s extensive leadership development course catalog provides effective skills-building for everyone in the organization, from the new / developing leader to the seasoned C-level executive. My company’s coaching programs produce significant results in compressed periods of time. I also help job seekers, higher ed, and employment services connect people to better jobs faster. My company’s acclaimed career development tools help people navigate the ever-changing landscape of conducting a successful job search. To find out more, please visit us at, email us at, or call us at 215-942-0982.


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