The Art of Thinking Clearly

The Optimism Trap

If you've ever started a new project or goal, you've likely come up against the unpredictability that life often presents to us. We begin with wishful thinking and an eagerness to succeed. But are we setting ourselves up for disappointment? Why aren't we natural-born planners?

The Pitfalls of Wishful Thinking

According to Rolf Dobelli's The Art of Thinking Clearly, [1] the first reason for this is our predilection for wishful thinking. We are all victims of our optimism.

We want to be successful and anticipate achieving everything we take on, sometimes overlooking the complexities and potential obstacles that can appear along the way.

Blinded by The Project

We also focus solely on our project, closing our eyes to external influences that could and do often have significant impacts. Unexpected events have a funny way of sneaking up on us, throwing a wrench into our meticulously planned schedules.

A Personal Tale of Disruptions

Take it from someone who's been there. As a self-employed professional, I've often made the mistake of being overly optimistic about my goals and timelines. Most of them have taken much longer than I initially expected. Neglecting unexpected events—like my computer needing to update just as I was getting into the zone or the internet failing—have often disrupted my best-laid plans, especially if I have left something to the last minute! Simple chores like taking my car for service have swallowed half of my working day.

Or even worse, I had printed an expensive banner and stupidly went out for lunch with a client who liked a wine or two with lunch. Coming back after lunch, I had to trim that banner, and it did not go well. I did enjoy the lunch, though.

The Power of Meditation and Flexibility

But I've learned that we can only sometimes predict or control these disruptions. What we can control, however, is how we respond to them. I'm someone who's found great value in meditation. I've discovered that it can be incredibly helpful in managing the unexpected. It's taught me to go with the flow, be more flexible, and find peace in the chaos. In other words, things can fly over my head, and I won't be bothered too much most of the time, even if things are horrible, but not criminal!

Planning for the Unexpected

But it isn't just about responding at the moment. It's also about preemptively creating a buffer in our plans, accepting that they may go astray, and allowing for flexibility. Being realistic about what we expect to achieve can help maintain our progress without feeling frustrated or disappointed when things don't work out exactly as planned. Hence, keep your plans simple in light of your day ahead.

From Awareness to Action

"The Art of Thinking Clearly" underscores our vulnerability to wishful thinking, excessive project focus, and unexpected events. These are common pitfalls that can disrupt our larger goals and daily schedules. By recognising our tendencies, we can develop strategies to try and navigate them. We don't always succeed, and I am not trying to be a pessimist here. It's life.

The ability to pivot and adapt is an indispensable asset in your personal and professional life. Although we're hard-wired for optimism, we can recalibrate our instincts and approach to ensure our dreams are grounded in reality. Incorporating buffers in our schedules for potential disruptions is smart planning. It's an acknowledgment of the unexpected nature of life and an assertion of our readiness to face it. Blending optimism, realism, and flexibility, we can optimise our ability to achieve our goals and transform obstacles into stepping stones on our path to success.


[1] Rolf Dobelli, The Art of Thinking Clearly, Better Thinking, Better Decisions

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