NatWest has surveyed nine thousand young people about salary expectations. Because of the recession, expectations have dropped. Instead of expecting to earn £70,000 when they are 35, they now only expect to earn £54,000. How’s that for confidence – when an average salary for a 35-year-old is just under £24,000?

In an international study, American students who ranked last in maths abilities ranked first when they asked how they felt about their maths abilities. Their positive thinking had completely deluded them about their actual abilities.

But we want to be confident, and we want our children to be confident as well. We are told regularly that thinking good thoughts will bring good results. Well, we have thought good thoughts over the last decade and look where we are now. We have assumed that the boom would continue. We have closed our eyes to history. And I don’t mean by that the previous centuries, I mean the previous few decades which we have lived through. Why did we assume that the last recession would never be repeated? History does repeat itself.

Yet confidence, and in particular financial confidence, and more particularly the bankers and financiers who broke the system, has at least in part caused the problem that we are now going to be living with for the next umpteen years.

Just because I’m an accountant does not make me a pessimist! It might, I hope make me a realist. That’s that old definition isn’t it – a pessimist is a realist described by an optimist!

Apart from the financial implications of my clients’ actions, I deal with their personal objectives and to some extent their emotions. They are all interrelated. I’ve even done courses and taken qualifications in an attempt to understand why people act the way they do, and to try and find ways to change that when necessary.

As a country we are determined to fill our lives with self belief and good thoughts as a method of driving ourselves towards good outcomes. I think we have caught this disease from over the water. There is a whole industry which started in the United States and is now throughout the Western world which peddles the mantra that if you think bright positive and optimistic thoughts good things will be drawn to you without any further effort on your behalf. It’s not positive thinking, it’s magical thinking.

I do believe that you can influence the way that you act and hence your outcomes by the way you think. And I help people with this. But I do not inculcate them with a belief that they can overcome any obstacle just by wishing it so. I try and give them a realistic outcomes and realistic plans to achieve them. Plans which can be amended and adapted to fit changing circumstances.

As a society, we have not done this in recent years. We have assumed the best, and even worse, assumed we had to do nothing to achieve it.

Individual self-esteem is a good thing based on realism. Perhaps more of this would lead to a community with more chance of achieving realistic goals and with more sense of purpose and values.

Individually, and in businesses, be realistic (not pessimistic!), set realistic goals with some slack in them, and enjoy what you’ve got.