Are you a realist or idealist? 9 ways to tell which one you really are

The realist focuses on the facts, figures and objective situation in front of them; the idealist sees the future potential, the best-case outcome. 

Both of these personality types have advantages and disadvantages, depending on the situation.

Let’s take a look at whether you’re more on the idealist or realist side. 

Going through the list below, give yourself one point for either realist or idealist. Your higher score at the end determines whether you are more of an inner idealist or realist. 

1) You care about and follow the rules (realist) vs. you believe in breaking the rules if necessary (idealist) 

The realist tends to be a rule follower. 

If that’s you, then you like to know the rules of the game and follow them to the best of your ability. 

You get annoyed when people try to rebel against “the system” and you find it immature and generally unnecessary to challenge authority. 

Sure, it’s often imperfect, but you’d rather work from within to make improvements than challenge or revolutionize the system as a whole. 

The idealist, by contrast, is somebody who puts their ideals above any existing rules. 

If you feel the whole system needs to come down or that existing laws are unethical you’ll rebel without a second thought. 

2) You focus on facts and figures (realist) vs. you focus on human and emotional impact (idealist) 

If you’re more of a realist then you’re focused on facts and figures above and beyond other more subjective aspects. 

Imagine the following scenario: 

You’re a police officer tasked with investigating a brutal murder in a high rise last week. 

As a realist you begin narrowing down the likely list of subjects and considering the details of the victims and suspects impassively and objectively. 

You start to believe it may be that the woman who was killed was murdered by her own husband and begin cross-referencing whether the evidence supports this. 

The case is upsetting, of course, but your primary goal is to solve it rather than digging deep into the emotions or background of it. 

As an idealist tasked with the same case, you find yourself highly disturbed from the start and begin having disbelief about whether this really could have been a marital murder. 

You approach the case from the emotions of the couple and the text messages and witnesses in the days before the homicide. 

What was going on between them? What did they feel about the marriage? Are there other suspects who may have been jealous, involved somehow in other ways? 

3) You plan ahead and keep a schedule (realist) vs. you tend to go with the flow and be more spontaneous (idealist) 

As a realist, you keep a schedule and try your best to stick to it. 

You have plans for the coming month and year and you pay attention to your budget and financial limits. 

You want to make sure you’re as responsible as possible and achieve your obligations towards others. 

As an idealist, you may or may not have a schedule but it’s far from your priority. 

If something comes up last-minute like an amazing art show or an old friend stopping into town, you’re going to put some other things on hold. 

That’s just how you role, and your deeper personal connections mean more to you than coming through on every outer obligation you have. 

4) You have no issue compromising in an argument if it avoids trouble (realist) vs. you won’t back down on what you believe in (idealist) 

As a realist, being proven right in an argument or sticking to your principles is not your priority. 

You’re OK letting go of a point or a value you have temporarily in order to avoid drama or win over a potential client, mate or friend. 

As an idealist it doesn’t work that way:

You can’t and won’t be silent about your ideals and values even if you know that a discussion or argument is working against your favor. 

You just won’t back down, because your ideals are everything to you. 

5) You care more about market success and functionality in business (realist) vs. you care deeply about your business’ overall stance and mission (idealist) 

Are you a realist or idealist 02 Are you a realist or idealist? 9 ways to tell which one you really are

In the business world, realists and idealists also differ quite a bit. 

The realist tends to be focused on the bottom line, whereas the idealist cares more about what the mission or the moral stance of a product or service is. 

The realist asks what and how can we sell this product or service?

The idealist asks what does this product or service mean in terms of values and society? 

As Naomi Geffen writes

“The idealist wants a deep brand purpose. 

They want shoppers to buy the brand for what it stands for…

The realist knows that a purpose is good. 

But a great product is better.”

6) You believe in an emotion-free analysis of crime and potentially harsher punishments and penal codes (realist) vs. you believe in restorative justice and prison reform (idealist)

The realist sees crime more as facts and figures. 

This group has this crime rate and that group has this crime rate. These rules need to be toughened and those are leading to too much confusion and waste of police resources. 

And so on. 

The idealist tends to believe in restorative justice and hope for a world where there are no prisons. 

If that’s you, then you tend to see people’s humanity first and their crime second. 

7) You see the world as a flawed and ultimately inherently unfair situation (realist) vs. you see world peace and utopia as more or less possible (idealist) 

In terms of politics and the world situation, the realist sees the world as a clash of competing interests. 

There’s only so much to go around and people are corrupt. War is going to happen and inequality is a part of nature and of life. 

The idealist feels the opposite and sees much of suffering as man-made. As such, the idealist believes that we have the possibility to fundamentally change the world and the way we live and relate. 

“Idealists viewed the international system, with its accoutrements of conflict and war, as not only deeply flawed but also capable of melioration, if not total cure,” explains Norman Graebner.

“Whereas realist doctrine focused on national interests and security, idealist concerns looked to individual welfare and the general interests of humanity.” 

8) You believe education is only possible and useful in the material, basic sense (realist) vs. you believe people can be formed and fundamentally changed by education (idealist) 

The realist sees education as more of a material process. 

Education is to prepare the future workforce, educate kids and teens on the basics and establish basic discipline and order. 

They tend to see education as limited in its ability to transform or mold minds and more of a way to teach the basics and test the basic abilities already inside people. 

The idealist, by contrast, sees education as transformational

Education and different systems of education have the ability to shape and change minds. 

Education can create a future generation full of promise or one full of despair and dullardry. 

It all depends on what is taught and how it is taught, in the idealist’s view. 

9) You don’t get overly hyped up about future possibilities (realist) vs. you find yourself get euphoric in daydreams at times (idealist) 

If you’re a realist then you try to keep your excitement and fantasies about the future under wraps. 

You get excited sometimes about possibilities and dreams, but you’re more focused on the here and now:

What can and should be done to hit your daily goals and get where you want to be in life? 

If you’re an idealist then the outlook is a fair bit different:

You sometimes get lost in daydreams and experience strong euphoria. 

You get swept up in enthusiasm and sometimes dashed in depression as you experience the highs and lows of life’s journey. 

Which is better, realism or idealism? 


There are times when realism is called for and times when too much realism can lead to disaster, and vice versa. 

We all have both realism and idealism inside us, of course.

Even the hardest-willed, Spock-like realist has an idealist streak, and even the most high-minded, creative idealist has some undertone of realism at times. 

It all depends on which predominates in you and becoming aware of that, so you can partner up and know better about how you work with others and understand where everyone is coming from.

Picture of Paul Brian

Paul Brian

Paul R. Brian is a freelance journalist and writer who has reported from around the world, focusing on religion, culture and geopolitics. Follow him on and visit his website at

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