Choosing Optimism


All content under the headings “Article” and “Questions” was written by Mark Sanborn who is a Certified Speaking Professional (CSP), recipient of the Council of Peers Award for Excellence (CPAE), past president of the National Speakers Association (NSA), international bestselling author, and noted authority on leadership, team building, customer service and change. Mark Sanborn wrote this post specifically for Beyond Injury.


2014-0206 Book CoverScott asked me to share some ideas about maintaining a positive attitude and perspective. As a cancer survivor, I am very familiar with this topic. In my book, “Up, Down or Sideways: How to Succeed When Times are Good, Bad or In Between,” I share many true stories about maintaining a positive attitude and perspective. What follows are some excerpts from the book I just mentioned. I hope you find these ideas encouraging.

Some years ago a friend took her cancer to Mexico in search of a cure. The experimental treatment was costly and unproven, and several well-meaning friends questioned the value of spending so much money when the odds were so long. “What if you go and it doesn’t work?” they asked. “What if I don’t go and it would have worked?” she replied.

My friend understood something about economics: The greatest bankruptcy we can face isn’t financial, it’s a loss of hope. As long as we don’t lose hope, we’re still in the game. Hope is having something new to try and a willingness to try it. People who are hopeless have either run out of things to try or given up on trying them.

My friend’s wife chose to focus on the chance of success rather than the odds against it. She learned of something else to try and she was willing to give it a shot. The treatment didn’t cure her cancer, but who’s to say she made the wrong choice? She made an informed decision that didn’t work out for her.

Deciding how to treat a serious illness like cancer isn’t easy; no formula works for everyone. But anyone can face the challenges of living with cancer better if they employ optimism.  Here are some things I’ve learned to help you become more optimistic:

1. See differently. Scientific American Mind once ran an article titled “Mind over Magic?” that explored how our habits of perceptions and brain functions are key to successful magic acts. A few months later, the magazine ran a letter from a reader who attested to that truth. It seems he was tired, so he lay on his side to watch a television special by a magician. His head was horizontal rather than vertical, and that little shift allowed him to see beyond the illusions.

“Somehow lying down did not provide the implicit body cues associated with all those learned expectations,” he wrote, “so my attention was not led in the normal way. “

I’ve never laid down to watch a magic show, but if the letter writer was right—successful magic is all about your perspective. So is your attitude and optimism.

Perception isn’t reality, but it shapes your reality. Changing your perspective doesn’t change what is; but it does change how you see what is. Reality doesn’t change but your perspective affects what you see in that big picture.

2. See the humor. Humility and humor come from the same root word. We’re humbled because we know how funny life can be. We’re able to laugh at life because in our humility we realize we don’t control everything. Humor isn’t always apparent, especially in difficult situations. The optimist searches it out.

We didn’t “choose” cancer, but we choose how we respond to it. I believe God gave us a sense of humor because he knew there would be things we couldn’t control and he wanted us to make the best of the situation.

3. See the victory; not the loss. In my work with corporate America, especially during the down economy, the most common problem I see among managers is that they stop playing to win and play not to lose.  A diagnosis of cancer can create the same dynamic.

In difficult times, we all know what we’re afraid of and what we don’t want to happen, but we often lose sight of what we are trying to make happen. But people don’t gravitate toward negative goals.

You might be a cautious and conservative person, and I’m not saying that’s bad. You can (and should) be prudent when playing to win. Playing not to lose isn’t being prudent; it’s focusing on the wrong things. Playing to win means understanding potential problems and obstacles, avoiding unnecessary risks, and, at the same time, pursing opportunities for prosperity.

Playing to win requires both a good offense and a good defense. We all know the best athletic teams have both a good offense and a good defense (and don’t forget those special teams). It’s not an either/or.

4. See beyond setbacks; FIDO as soon as you can. My buddy Cleve McClary lost an arm and an eye serving America in Vietnam, and his sacrifices earned him the Medal of Valor. Like many soldiers of that time, however, Cleve didn’t always receive a warm reception when he came home. But his Optimist’s Orientation helped him deal with adversity and setbacks by living out a Marine principle known as FIDO: Forget It; Drive On.

Cleve understands that life isn’t perfect. There are setbacks, even for an optimist. So you control what you can, acknowledge what you can’t, learn from mistakes and defeats, and keep moving forward. Don’t live in denial—just don’t let cancer or any other difficulty slow you down unnecessarily. Extract the lesson and move on.

There are no easy answers or magic potions. There are, however, many things you can do to be a victor rather than a victim of cancer. Make sure rational optimism is in your arsenal.


Try looking at your situation with the perspectives of:

  • What can I learn?
  • How might this positively affect my life? My relationships?
  • How might I use my experience to help and encourage others?
  • What will I do differently and better as a result of this challenge?

Call to Action

If you have a tip for anyone who is facing adversity, please leave your comment in the comment filed below this post. Thank you.


This post was excerpted and modified from “Up, Down or Sideways” by the author, Mark Sanborn. To order the book referenced in this post, click here.


    1. Nancy, I enjoy writing posts, but I also enjoy reading and responding to comments. I especially like receiving positive feedback such as your comment. Thank you. ~ Scott

    1. Nancy, I very much appreciate you comment. I am happy you chose to share some time reading and commenting on my post. Thank you.

    1. Trina, I’m glad to know you found something interesting in the post. I like the FIDO acronym as well. Thank you for sharing your comment.

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