This week I happened to catch part of a Biography channel’s special on Howard Schultz, the super-successful entrepreneur behind Starbucks’ becoming a coffee-house sensation. The show detailed how Mr. Schultz had come from extreme poverty to become a multi-millionaire. A key to his rise was the usual story: An optimistic entrepreneur persisting in the face of long odds to obtain extreme success. The message is one we Americans hear over and over about how if we try hard enough, we can reach any goal.
However, Lisa Aspinwall and Linda Richter (1999) discovered an interesting thing about optimists. Optimists, as compared with pessimists, are more likely to quit an unsolvable task if they can switch to a solvable one. Thus, it might not be so much that persistence is key to the success of optimists. Rather, it’s a combination of persistence plus staying only with efforts that are most likely to pay off.
So if you get rejected on some project that means a lot to you, maybe you should persist on it… Or maybe you should consider switching to something else that is more likely to get accepted.
Hi Prof. Kelly–
I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately related to Positive Psychology, including the book Learned Optimism by Martin Seligman. What is the name of the Aspinwall and Richter article that you are referencing? Thanks!
Here is the complete reference (I am going to email the paper to you also): “Optimism and self-mastery predict more rapid disengagement from unsolvable tasks in the presence of alternatives.” Aspinwall, Lisa G.1; Richter, Linda. Motivation and Emotion. Vol 23(3), Sep 1999, pp. 221-245.