Half Empty or Half Full?


This image was Selin Jessa’s entry in the 2010 Positive Posters International Poster Competition. Here’s her description:

Consider that technically, the glass is completely full – half of air and half of water. Just as you can perceive a glass of water in different ways, I think we need to take a moment and look at our lives from a different perspective – a more optimistic one. Our lives right now may seem too stressful, too hard or too busy but we can make every day better for ourselves and for one another. A positive, optimistic attitude is more than seeing the bright side of a situation, it’s believing in a brighter future.

As an entrepreneur, you’re an optimist, whether you realize it or not. Simply put, the odds are against you, and everybody knows it. But you think – know, even, deep down in your gut – that you can beat those odds.

Optimism alone isn’t enough for success, but it’s a key factor in it. Dr. Martin Seligman, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, has conducted more than 600 studies that demonstrate, consistently, that people with an optimistic explanatory style are more likely to be successful, in most circumstances. For instance, a study among life insurance agents showed that the most optimistic salespeople sold a whopping 88% more than the most pessimistic ones.

However, optimism isn’t about being delusional. The most successful optimists still have a firm grip on reality – they are able to assess the situation, and then generate, evaluate and explore their options. This is wherein the optimist’s greatest strength lies. Pessimists tend to quit considering alternatives once they believe the outcome to be inevitable. So, of course, their predictions become self-fulfilling, re-affirming their world view. Optimists keep moving forward because they believe there are always options and possibilities that may not yet have been discovered.

At this point, you may be thinking, “That all sounds great, but how do I become more optimistic? My business/life/whatever sucks right now, and I just can’t see past that.”

Pessimists tend to see problems as permanent (“We’re never going to hit our numbers”) and pervasive(“These leads all stink”). Optimists see problems as temporary (“This quarter’s been rough, but we have some new things in the pipeline for next quarter”) and specific (“There may still be some gems in there that just haven’t shown themselves because the timing isn’t right yet”).

So how do you get from permanent/pervasive to temporary/specific?

Ask yourself a few questions:

  • Do you have a crystal ball? Is the future ever truly certain? Of course not…at least not from your perspective. We’re not trying to get into a philosophical debate here – even if the future is predestined – you don’t know what it is.
  • What are some possible positive outcomes? Explore the possibilities, no matter how unlikely they may seem.
  • What can I do to influence those outcomes? It doesn’t matter if you can’t ensure the outcome – what steps can you take that would simply increase the likelihood of any of those desirable outcomes?
  • What are the exceptions? Whatever your negative generality is, find the exceptions and study them. What makes them different? How can you find more of those exceptions and attract them into your experience?
  • What’s the third option? Pessimists tend to see things in black-and-white, while optimists see shades of gray. Any time you think there are only two choices, consider all the alternatives – yes or no (maybe), left or right (reverse), fries or onion rings (neither).

Change won’t happen overnight, and it won’t happen just because you consciously want it to happen. But transformation is possible if you practice it on a regular basis.

“Be careful what you water your dreams with. Water them with worry and fear and you will produce weeds that choke the life from your dream. Water them with optimism and solutions and you will cultivate success. Always be on the lookout for ways to turn a problem into an opportunity for success. Always be on the lookout for ways to nurture your dream.” – Lao Tzu


  1. Walter Paul Bebirian

    Relaxing into life and allowing much of it to happen after a certain amount of planning and work is done is a very important element of living a successful and happy life – just as after a seed is placed in the ground – it is necessary for that seed to be surrounded by earth – to receive sunshine and warmth and to be quenched with water – our lives as well must have all of the proper elements in the right proportions in order for things to work well – and most important – which is often overlooked – is a relaxed and calm attitude to allow both our minds to function properly and for the different circulatory systems within our bodies to work properly as well –

    Much of what causes what is referred to as stress in anyone’s life is due to the fact that a person is both attempting to do too much all at once and is also trying to do whatever they are doing – in a much too hasty manner –

    Slow yourself down and learn to live and love life on the way to wherever you think that you are going –

    your friend – Walter 🙂

  2. Ian Jones

    You’re right Walter; relaxation is definitely a key component in the development of a healthy mental attitude. Ironically, it’s also one of the things that we have to work hardest at! Today, the average lifestyle leaves little time for relaxation, what with the demands of work and family life, but I believe the importance of down time should not be underestimated. Just by taking half an hour each day to really relax, it is possible to noticeably improve your general state of well being.

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