Optimism is for Amateurs

5 Ways Pros Manage Their Emotions and Succeed

Smiley faces for Optimism is for Amateurs, 5 Ways Pros Manage Their Emotions and Succeed
Einstein played poker like a pro.

His career in theoretical physics taught him that winning is in the long game.

While amateurs think their goal is so exciting and ideal that nothing can stop it from happening exactly as they wish, pros see it differently.

They know that there will always be challenges along the way, and that no idea goes from inception to execution without finding out what doesn’t work.

Pros learn early how to manage their emotions and end up succeeding much more often than others who tend to get discouraged and quit the minute the going gets tough.

Let’s look at five ways pros manage their emotions and succeed with these five actions.


1. Practice realistic optimism

2. Embrace the hard work paradox

3. Conduct “pre-mortems”

4. Apply growth mindset

5. Prepare for personal shortcomings


1. Practice realistic optimism

Successful people recognize that, while they can be optimistic about their ability to accomplish what they want, the path will be indirect, and let’s face it, hard.

Gabriele Oettingen, is a Professor of Psychology at New York University and the University of Hamburg. Her research focuses on how people think about the future, and how this impacts cognition, emotion, and behavior.1

Her book Rethinking Positive Thinking: Inside the New Science of Motivation2, notes that optimism definitely has its place.

Optimism can help us when we’re in suffering right now, and helps us endure in challenging times.

However, as the mountain of research reflects, if all you do is dream about the future as though all of your goals are instantly here now, ultimately, this makes you more frustrated, unhappy and less likely to achieve those dreams.

Fun facts: When people were brought into labs and told to day dream about their goals, their blood pressure went down and they felt mellow and gratified.

You’d think this would be a good thing, right?

Not so much. It seems that you actually need to feel a disconnect between where you are now and where you want to be.

Think of this disconnect as dynamic tension. This tension between where you are now and where you want to be is exactly what you want because it gives you the energy and motivation to press forward and act.

Your subconscious mind doesn’t distinguish between imaginary and real.3

When you imagine that you’ve already achieved your goal, your brain doesn’t fuel you with a sense of urgency to get busy, but rather sends signals that you can kick back, because mission accomplished.

A better use of emotions and imagery, would be to imagine the work it takes to achieve your goal, and imagine confidently being able to work through any and all challenges.

2. Embrace the hard work paradox

“Get comfortable being uncomfortable.” ~ A saying from Navy SEALs the Navy’s primary Special Forces organization

Here’s the hard work paradox: It takes hard work to accomplish that great goal you really want. And, hard work doesn’t necessarily get you what you want.

When I deliver seminars on Emotional Intelligence, we talk about emotional mastery and what causes well-meaning people to miss their mark and not reach their goals even when they’re working so very hard.

An example is one of my clients, Roxanne, who is a director in a Fortune 100 health care company.

“We are so busy.” Roxanne and her team would say. Roxanne and I were just starting a series of my leadership seminars for her team and coaching to a few of her high potential employees.4

As I consulted with Roxanne and her employees, it became clear that, in fact they were busy. Many of them would come in early and stay late.

While they did enjoy some key achievements, they were behind in their goals.

As we talked, it became clear that Roxanne and her team were focused on effort, rather than results.

Your priority definitely takes hard work. But hard work doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re accomplishing that priority.

Another thing I’ve noticed about some of my clients when we first start working together, is they will have people are their team who take discomfort as a sign to stop what they are doing and take a break.

What ends up happening, is that every time they get to a crucial part in their project, and it gets a bit challenging, they will take that moment to take a break or maybe do something easy that feels like real work, but it usually just busy work. Like checking email.

Is that something you also do? Or is the pattern of some people on your team?

Each time you stop working on your priority because it gets hard, you lose your focus and must spend a great amount of time and mental energy reorienting yourself to the task.

As a consultant who helps people leverage their time, talent and energy, one of the first skills I help clients with is the ability to stay focused, single-mindedly on their priority and to develop the drive to finish each portion of a task completely before moving on to the next task.

And if you have a tendency to get frustrated when your hard work isn’t paying off the way you expected it to, remember the words of Sir Winston Churchill.

Sometimes it’s not enough to do your best. You must do what is necessary.

Let this quotation fine tune your focus and let you concentrate on whether or not your effort is leading to the results you want, or whether you should change your course of action.

3. Conduct pre-mortems

Pre-mortems allow you to benefit from hindsight by playing a “back to the future” kind of game.

Amateurs get excited about their goals, and believe that anticipating things could go wrong is negative thinking that could actually attract failure.

People who are super-achievers know that anticipating problems helps bring these issues into the light of day so they can be addressed before they ever take place.

When you’re having a discussion with your team about an upcoming project, invite them to brainstorm with a pre-mortem.

It might sound like this: “Let’s project into the future. It’s six months after we launched this program, and it’s been a disaster. What went wrong?”

Make it clear that you’re going to list first what went wrong.

Then, you’ll circle back while your team is still in the meeting and talk about how you can fix these problems before they happen.

Group think is pretty common. Especially when the leader is well-respected and everyone trusts them to always make the right decisions. Or, when people don’t feel comfortable speaking up about what might not work.

Successful people put ego aside and are willing to accept that no plan is flawless. They eagerly invite others to point out their blind spots so fewer challenges happen along the way.

Finally, pros also know that pre-mortems, while a great use of time, talent and energy, cannot possibly anticipate every problem that might arise.

But, they do find more opportunities to refine their plan than if these issues had never been addressed.

4. Apply growth mindset

Stanford University Psychology Professor Carol Dweck wrote Mindset, a book which explains the difference between fixed and growth mindset, and the benefit of cultivating the growth mindset.

Here’s the gist of Dweck’s research, in her own words. As you read this, feel free to substitute the word people for students, and coaching for teaching.

“In a fixed mindset students [people] believe their basic abilities, their intelligence, their talents, are just fixed traits. They have a certain amount and that’s that, and then their goal becomes to look smart all the time and never look dumb. In a growth mindset students understand that their talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching [coaching] and persistence. They don’t necessarily think everyone’s the same or anyone can be Einstein, but they believe everyone can get smarter if they work at it.”

Successful people have growth mindset and the dynamic duo of humility and confidence.

With humility, they understand, “I don’t know all I need to know.”

With confidence, they understand, “But I can learn it.”

Think of the possibilities growth mindset offers.

You can get better in pretty much anything you need to get better. (Assuming you’re not 5 feet tall and want to be a pro basketball star. That would pose some problems.)

But as long as physical restrictions haven’t placed limits on you, growth mindset opens up a world of possibilities.

I recently delivered the first in a series of programs on Emotional Intelligence for one of my clients in the health care field. They’ve booked me to present the first class to all of their employees in the region.

After class, one of the participants eagerly said that this is just what her team needs and asked if I were giving the exact same class when I came back in a month.

“No,” I answered, “I’ll be one month smarter!” She laughed, but I was serious.

For years, since I was an Assistant Professor at the US Air Force Academy, I’ve been using an end of day process to enable tiny improvements in my teaching each day.

It’s been said that some people brag about having 20 years of experience when really, they’ve had one year of experience, 20 times.

People with growth mindset look for constant and never-ending opportunities to grow.

Use this process, that I’ve been using since 1991. It’s a tiny habit you can start using right away, and it will support you in your desire to make steady improvements in your professional and personal life.

It’s the LB/NT process. LB stands for like best and NT stands for next time.

At the end of each day, ask yourself, “What did I like best about what I accomplished today?” and “What would I do differently next time?”

The first question invites you to notice when you’re doing something really well, and perhaps look for actions you took leading up to it that made success possible.

The second question lets you look at where you could have done better without falling into the pattern of beating yourself up because you made mistakes.

It’s possible to have a successful day without having a perfect day. Since, of course, no day is perfect anyway. The LB/NT allows you to consistently take tiny steps to learn, grow and improve each and every day.

5. Prepare for personal shortcomings

People who are super-achievers are self-aware.

Participants in my Emotional Intelligence seminars5 often tell me one of their favorite parts about the class is becoming more self-aware because it helps them in their personal and professional life.

Successful people recognize what their shortcomings are and are ready to overcome, minimize or work around them.

You’ve read about Gabriele Oettingen in point number 1 above. She came up with the WOOP process. It’s one I often teach in my Managing Change seminars.

WOOP stands for Wish, Outcome, Obstacle and Plan.

Wish = What do you want?

Outcome = Why do you want it?

Obstacle = What, within you, would hold you back?

Plan = If that thing within yourself starts to hold you back, what will you do?

When I’ve taught the WOOP process, although I tell people, “The obstacle is within you. Not things outside of your control,” too often, people will still mention barriers over which they have no control.

While there surely are many circumstances outside of your control that could slow down or even stop your progress to success, rather than acknowledge they are they, and create a Plan B or C or whatever, the WOOP process is a chance to focus just on what’s within you that holds you back.

You might have self-doubt, for example, about your ability to carry out the project you wish to accomplish.

When you come to the Obstacle part of WOOP, you can say, “Sometimes I doubt my ability to do a good job and I end up procrastinating or not wanting to even get started on the project.”

Now, fill in your Plan part of WOOP. The Plan preplans implementation intentions.6

You might fill in your Plan like this: “When I start to have self-doubt and think ‘this is too hard, I’ll never get it right.’ I will say, yes, it’s hard, but I’ve done hard before. I can do it well enough right now, and if I need to do it better, I’ll learn how.”

This is also called “pre-decision.”7 You might think that such a simple “If. . . then” strategy works. Amazingly, it does.

Prove it to yourself by using it.

Oettingen writes “The solution isn’t to do away with dreaming and positive thinking. Rather, it’s making the most of our fantasies by brushing them up against the very thing most of us are taught to ignore or diminish: the obstacles that stand in our way.”

Rather than have unchecked optimism, ramp up your chances for success by tempering your optimism, adding a healthy dose of realism and thoughtful planning, and watch your success soar.

Free 30 Minute Consultation
If you’d like to learn more about how Emotional Intelligence seminars could help your employees manage their emotions and leverage time, talent and energy, let’s chat. Call 719.291.0366 or text Crystal@CrystalJonas.com and we’ll set up that free consultation.


  1. From Wikipedia’s bio of Oettingen.
  2. Gabriele Oettingen’s book Rethinking Positive Thinking proves that “Starry-eyed dreaming isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and as it turns out, dreamers are not often doers.”
  3. From the website of Dr. David H. Hamilton Using Science to Inspire. Learn more about how the brain doesn’t know real from imagined and what possibilities and pitfalls that fact might hold for you.
  4. Case study for health care leader who received personal coaching                          (contact Crystal to see the case study)
  5. If you’d like to learn more about how Emotional Intelligence seminars could help your employees manage their emotions and leverage time, talent and energy, let’s chat. Reach me by call or text at 719.291.0366 or email Crystal@CrystalJonas.com
  6. Fun fact, the Plan part of WOOP was created by Oettingen’s husband, who is also a researcher and psychologist.

Timothy Pychyl described pre-decision in Solving the Procrastination Puzzle. He writes, “We are trying to delegate the control over the initiation of our behavior to a specified situation without requiring conscious decision.”

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