Be a realistic thinker
How to recognize the importance of realistic thinking
Because I’m naturally optimistic rather than realistic, I’ve had to take concrete steps to improve my thinking in this area. Here are five things I do to improve my realistic thinking:
1. Develop an Appreciation for Truth
I could not develop as a realistic thinker until I gained an appreciation for realistic thinking. And that means learning to look at and enjoy the truth. President Harry S. Truman said, “I never give ’em hell. I just tell the truth and they think it is hell.” That’s the way many people react to the truth. People tend to exaggerate their success and minimize their failures or deficiencies.
They live according to Ruckert’s Law, believing there is nothing so small that it can’t be blown out of proportion. Unfortunately, many people today could be described by a quote from Winston Churchill: “Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing has happened.”
More recently, television journalist Ted Koppel observed, “Our society finds truth too strong a medicine to digest undiluted. In its purest form, truth is not a polite tap on the shoulder. It is a howling reproach.” In other words, the truth will set you free—but,t first it will make you angry! If you want to become a realistic thinker, however, you need to get comfortable dealing with the truth and face up to it.
2. Do Your Homework
The process of realistic thinking begins with doing your homework. You must first get the facts. Former governor, congressman, and ambassador Chester Bowles said, “When you approach a problem, strip yourself of preconceived opinions and prejudice, assemble and learn the facts of the situation, make the decision which seems to you to be the most honest, and then stick to it.” It doesn’t matter how sound your thinking is if it’s based on faulty data or assumptions. You can’t think well in the absence of facts (or in the presence of poor information). You can also find out what others have done in similar circumstances. Remember, your thinking doesn’t necessarily have to be original; it just has to be solid. Why not learn all that you can from good thinkers who have faced similar situations in the past? Some of my best thinking has been done by others!.
3. Think Through the Pros and Cons
There’s nothing like taking the time to examine the pros and cons of an issue to give you a strong dose of reality. It rarely comes down to simply choosing the course of action with the greatest number of pros, because all pros and cons do not carry equal weight. But that’s not the value of the exercise, anyway. Rather, it helps you to dig into the facts, examine an issue from many angles and count the cost of a possible course of action.
4. Picture the Worst-Case Scenario
The essence of realistic thinking is discovering, picturing, and examining the worst-case scenario. Ask yourself questions such as:
What if sales fall short of projections?
What if revenue hits rock bottom? (Not an optimist’s rock bottom, but real rock bottom!)
What if we don’t win the account?
What if the client doesn’t pay us?
What if we have to do the job short-handed?
What if our best player gets sick?
What if all the colleges reject my application?
What if the market goes belly up?
What if the volunteers quit?
What if nobody shows up?
You get the idea. The point is that you need to think about worst-case possibilities whether you are running a business, leading a department, pastoring a church, coaching a team, or planning your finances. Your goal isn’t to be negative or to expect the worst, just to be ready for it in case it happens. That way, you give yourself the best chance for a positive result—no matter what.
If you picture the worst case and examine it honestly, you have experienced a reality check. You’re ready for anything. As you do that, take the advice of Charles Hole, who advised, “Deliberate with caution, but act with decision; and yield with graciousness or oppose with firmness.”
5. Align Your Thinking with Your Resources.
One of the keys to maximizing realistic thinking is aligning your resources with your objectives. Looking at the pros and cons and examining worst-case scenarios will make you aware of any gaps between what you desire. Once you know what those gaps are, you can use your resources to fill them. After all, that’s what resources are for.