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The Inner Dragon: Stubborn Optimism

Are you a glass-half-full, sunny-side-of-the-street, every-cloud-has-a-silver-lining type person? If so, you might be in the vast minority. A 2015 survey reveal that only 6% of Americans think the world is actually getting better. Of course, that’s talking about the world as a whole. Other studies indicate that people tend to be more optimistic about their individual lives or local governments than they are about the general population or national governments. But still—only 6%?

I’d be lying if I said that didn’t make sense to me. The truth is, there are a lot of hard things happening in the world right now, and surely, more hard things are to come. Difficulty is part of the human race’s past, present, and forever future. 

But doesn’t that just make optimism all the more valuable, meaningful, and important?

Our Unleashing Your Inner Dragon series has been taking a deep dive into the beliefs we express in our Design.org manifesto. In this post, we’re exploring our belief in what we call stubborn optimism.

We believe in stubborn optimism.

Optimism is good. Stubborn optimism is better. This is optimism in the face of contrary evidence. It’s believing that there is always a positive potential outcome, no matter how bleak things look. Fear, discouragement, and self-deprecation are default settings. Stubborn optimism allows you to challenge those settings and allow yourself to see brighter possibilities, fueling action that helps sustain your creative fire.

Stubborn optimism may not be common, but we believe that it’s key to helping creatives unleash their inner dragon and use their fierce creativity to “create happy” in their lives and in the world. Here’s why. 

“Optimism is good.”

Let’s start by getting on the same page about the value of optimism. Now, don’t misunderstand: pessimism definitely has its role to play in the world. Like fear, pessimism can act as a protective mechanism, helping us be prepared for worst-case scenarios, catastrophes, and letdowns.

Sure, pessimism has its place in preparedness and protection, but it doesn’t really have a place when it comes to creativity and happiness. After all, what is creating if not hopeful? When you create, you do so with hope: you hope to bring more change, meaning, understanding, beauty, happiness, wealth, or any other benefit into your life and into the world. 

And the impact goes further. Studies have been done that correlate optimism with lower risk of heart attack, better blood pressure, lower risk of viral infection, and generally improved physical and mental function and health.  

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“Stubborn optimism is better. This is optimism in the face of contrary evidence. It’s believing that there is always a positive potential outcome, no matter how bleak things look.”

If optimism is good, we say that stubborn optimism is better. Stubbornness isn’t usually considered an admirable quality, so what do we mean by stubborn optimism? Basically, exactly what our manifesto says.

Stubborn optimism is being willing to stare down bleak circumstances or difficult situations, and still believe that things can (and will) get better. It’s when the odds are stacked against you, but you’re still willing to go for it, because you believe in the possibility of success. It’s when you meet every new piece of contrary evidence with:

“I’ll figure it out.”
“That doesn’t mean it won’t work.”

“I think I can find a solution for that.”

To be clear, stubborn optimism isn’t ignoring the challenges, setbacks, and difficulties that come your way. Rather, it’s being willing to believe that those challenges don’t necessarily mean inevitable failure. It’s believing that there’s always a way, always a solution, and always a path through, and all you have to do is find it. 

“Creative people do not see things for what they are; they see them for what they can be.”

Julie israel

“Fear, discouragement, and self-deprecation are default settings.”

As the 94% of Americans who believe the world is getting worse will tell you, it’s easy to be pessimistic. Fear is a very real thing, and not only that, but it’s a natural thing. We all feel fear. We also all feel discouragement: no one wins every time. Everyone has experienced a letdown in some form or another. And most people are not strangers to self-deprecation, either. It’s easy to see your problems as personal failures or shortcomings.

We go as far as to say that these feelings are “default settings.” For many creatives, they are. Fear, discouragement, and self-deprecation try to hold creatives back constantly. We face them every day. Because of that, we have to be proactive in our efforts to overcome them.  

“Stubborn optimism allows you to challenge those settings and allow yourself to see brighter possibilities…”

Stubborn optimism helps you address each of those default settings when they arise.

When fear says, “People aren’t going to like what you create…”…stubborn optimism says, “What I have to offer could help someone, somewhere.”
When discouragement says, “You don’t know how to do that…”…stubborn optimism says, “I don’t know how to do this…yet.”
When self-deprecation says, “You aren’t good enough to create anything meaningful…”…stubborn optimism says, “What I create isn’t a reflection of my worth. The effort is what counts.”

Stubborn optimism presents a new narrative—one that is full of the potential for the outcome you want. If what you want suddenly becomes possible, why wouldn’t you go after it? Which brings us to…

“…fueling action that helps sustain your creative fire.”

Stubborn optimism drives creative action, because it helps you push past the obstacles in your way. It gives you permission to see a future that you might not have dared to dream of before.

And because stubborn optimism is stubborn, it keeps this fire alive, even when negativity, contrary evidence, or doubt start to hold you back.  

The bottom line is: if you can develop stubborn optimism, your creativity will be sustained through hardship, encouraged through discouragement, and pushed forward even when the world is trying to push you back. 

Quick tips for being more optimistic

Some people are naturally more optimistic than others, but just like creativity, optimism can be practiced and developed. Even small steps that you can take right now can add up to more stubborn optimism in the long run, slowing releasing your inner dragon and helping you “create happy.”

Here are some quick things to try to give your day a little boost of optimism:

  • Avoid the news. News headlines are often heavily negative, highlighting problems and chaos in the world. While we don’t advocate burying your head in the sand or being uninformed, being able to take breaks from the news can help you feel more optimistic.
  • Try a gratitude journal. Gratitude is a focus on the positive. Writing in a gratitude journal also encourages you to be more present and more aware. And, most applicable to our discussion, gratitude invites hope.
  • Create a positivity playlist. Music has the power to transport us to new places—and new emotional states. A playlist full of songs that carry optimistic messages is bound to give you an optimism boost. 
  • Visualize success. Where do you want to go? How will you feel when you get there? What will your life look like? The more specific and detailed you can be about the success you want to have, the more it will seem within reach. 
  • Try affirmations. Positive affirmations—daily statements you tell yourself—can help retrain your brain to think and believe more positive, uplifting, optimistic thoughts. Learn more about how to incorporate positive affirmations into your life, and how to write your own affirmations

Whether or not optimism (or stubbornness) comes naturally to you, stubborn optimism is available to everyone. And when you’re trying to “create happy” in your life, it’s a must. It will help you see what is possible, encourage you to believe in a better future, and spur you to take hopeful, fiercely creative action. 

Try Design.org’s free, personalized coaching program.

Want to work on being more optimistic, more present, more grateful, or more content? Whatever you want to work on, Design.org’s free, personalized coaching can help. Start by taking our free assessment, and you’ll start receiving the guidance you need to create the happy you’re looking for.