The concept of realistic thought
As anyone knows who’s been out of school for a few years, there’s usually a huge gap between a college education and the reality of the working world. Honestly, early in my career, I went out of my way to avoid too much realistic thinking because I thought it would interfere with my creative thinking. But as I’ve grown, I’ve come to realize that realistic thinking adds to my life.
Reality is the difference between what we wish for and what is. It took some time for me to evolve into a real thinker. The process went in phases. First, I did not engage in realistic thinking at all. After a while, I realized that it was necessary, so I began to engage in it occasionally. (But I didn’t like it because I thought it was too negative. And any time I could delegate it, I did.) Eventually, I found that I had to engage in realistic thinking if I was going to solve problems and learn from my mistakes. And in time, I became willing to think realistically before I got in trouble and make it a continual part of my life. Today, I encourage my key leaders to think realistically. We make realistic thinking the foundation of our business because we derive certainty and security from it.
Why You Should Recognize the Importance of Realistic Thinking
If you’re a naturally optimistic person, as I am, you may not possess a great desire to become a more realistic thinker. But cultivating the ability to be realistic in your thinking will not undermine your faith in people, nor will it lessen your ability to see and seize opportunities. Instead, it will add value to you in other ways:
1. Realistic Thinking Minimizes Downside Risk
Actions always have consequences; realistic thinking helps you to determine what those consequences could be. And that’s crucial, because only by recognizing and considering consequences can you plan for them. If you plan for the worst-case scenario, you can minimize the downside risk.
2. Realistic Thinking Gives You a Target and Game Plan
I’ve known business people who were not realistic thinkers. Here’s the good news: they were very positive and had a high degree of hope for their business. Here’s the bad news: hope is not a strategy. Realistic thinking leads to excellence in leadership and management because it requires people to face reality. They begin to define their target and develop a game plan to hit it. When people engage in realistic thinking, they also begin to simplify practices and procedures, which results in better efficiency.
Truthfully, in business only a few decisions are important. Realistic thinkers understand the difference between important decisions and those that are merely necessary for the normal course of business. The decisions that matter relate directly to your purpose. James Allen was right when he wrote, “Until thought is linked with purpose there is no intelligent accomplishment.”
3. Realistic Thinking Is a Catalyst for Change
People who rely on hope for their success rarely make change a high priority. If you have only hope, you imply that achievement and success are out of your hands. It’s a matter of luck or chance. Why bother changing? Realistic thinking can dispel that kind of wrong attitude. There’s nothing like staring reality in the face to make a person recognize the need for change. Change alone doesn’t bring growth but you cannot have growth without change.
4. Realistic Thinking Provides Security
Any time you have thought through the worst that can happen and you have developed contingency plans to meet it, you become more confident and secure. It’s reassuring to know that you are unlikely to be surprised. Disappointment is the difference between expectations and reality. Realistic thinking minimizes the difference between the two.
5. Realistic Thinking Gives You Credibility
Realistic thinking helps people to buy into the leader and his or her vision. Leaders continually surprised by the unexpected soon lose credibility with their followers. On the other hand, leaders who think realistically and plan accordingly position their organizations to win. That gives their people confidence in them. The best leaders ask realistic questions before casting a vision. They ask themselves things like… Is it possible? Does this dream include everyone or just a few? Have I identified and articulated the areas that will make this dream difficult to achieve?
6. Realistic Thinking Provides a Foundation to Build On
Thomas Edison observed, “The value of a good idea is in using it.” The bottom line on realistic thinking is that it helps you to make an idea usable by taking away the “wish” factor. Most ideas and efforts don’t accomplish their intended results because they rely too much on what we wish rather than what is. You can’t build a house in mid-air; it needs a solid foundation. Ideas and plans are the same. They need something concrete on which to build. Realistic thinking provides that solid foundation.
7. Realistic Thinking Is a Friend to Those in Trouble
If creativity is what you would do if you were unafraid of the possibility of failure, then reality is dealing with failure if it does happen. Realistic thinking gives you something concrete to fall back on during times of trouble, which can be very reassuring. Certainty amid uncertainty brings stability.
8. Realistic Thinking Brings the Dream to Fruition
British novelist John Galsworthy wrote, “Idealism increases in direct proportion to one’s distance from the problem.” If you don’t get close enough to a problem, you can’t tackle it. If you don’t take a realistic look at your dream—and what it will take to accomplish it—you will never achieve it. Realistic thinking helps to pave the way for bringing any dream to fruition.