|Posted on 15 February, 2022 at 13:10|
“I am an optimist, unrepentant and militant. After all, in order not to be a fool an optimist must know how sad a place the world can be. It is only the pessimist who finds this out anew every day.”
This may seem a strange quote to start a blog on optimism. After all, as a coach, shouldn't I be telling you that the world is a wonderful place, everyone is lovely, nothing will ever go wrong and thinking happy thoughts will make happy things happen? But look at where we are at the moment. For many, finding the positives in lockdown seemed nigh on impossible; now we are moving in a strange hybrid world. I know for myself, even as someone with a generally positive outlook, that there were moments when it felt like we were trying to navigate the world in a leaking boat with no maps.
I remember reading Ustinov's quote in his autobiography ('Dear Me' 1978 Penguin Books) when I was a teenager. It was one of those light bulb moments, the effects of which have stayed with me ever since. Up until then, my picture of an optimist was someone who was always sunny, to whom nothing bad ever happened and who sailed through life with a smile and a song. But surely that is unrealistic at the best of times, let alone in a time still being impacted by the effects of COIVD-19?
But Ustinov's quote put things in perspective for me. It made me see that optimism is an attitude of mind, of seeing the world for what it is, warts and all, embracing it and finding the best way through. It is, I believe, a much more powerful way to approach life than waking up every morning thinking and hoping the world is a great place and being kicked in the head and heart at every turn.
Optimism is about determining to make the best of the circumstances at that moment. I repeat, "make the best of the circumstances at that moment”. This is not trying to pretend that everything is glorious and lovely. I think it is important to cultivate a positive mindset as a ‘default’ as much as you can. I believe it is also important to be able to identify what your emotions are at any given point so that you can, if you need to, change them or, crucially, be with them and / or use them.
For me, the key is to realise that your emotions are things which you can use for your own benefit, even (and perhaps even especially), the negative ones: anger, fear, sadness, disappointment. Sometimes you need to be with the emotion and work through it in order to get to the next thing. As author and coach Gretchen Rubin says, “Negative emotions like loneliness, envy, and guilt have an important role to play in a happy life; they're big, flashing signs that something needs to change."
The point is we will all have things which happen in our lives which cause us grief, fear, sadness, confusion ... Don’t let the negative emotion take over and leave you powerless. Always remember, you have the emotion - the emotion doesn’t have you.
Giving yourself choices of how you react to whatever life throws up is a way of taking control, especially important at a time when it feels control is the last thing we have over our lives. At any moment, you can stop and decide how to feel. You can take a breath and look at how to make this moment work for you or for someone else.
What can you learn to use at another time?
Can you change your mood from anger to conciliation?
Can you change the situation from a difficulty to an opportunity?
It is also a valid choice to decide to be with your grief, sadness, confusion, anxiety, to let it play out as a true expression of how you are feeling at the moment. (In the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, the definition of optimism is “an inclination to put the most favorable construction upon actions and events or to anticipate the best possible outcome”. In my own experience of lockdown, I did indeed find that the “most favorable construction upon actions and events” sometimes was to let myself be with my confusion and sadness, knowing that if I fought it, it would add to my upset and last longer.
(In psychological terms, “Optimists are likely to see the causes of failure or negative experiences as temporary rather than permanent, specific rather than global, and external rather than internal. Such a perspective enables optimists to more easily see the possibility of change.” Psychology Today. Also, we can think that it is our natural disposition which makes us optimistic or pessimistic, but, whilst they appear to have some links to heredity, they are heavily influenced by external factors such as health and environment.)
By adopting an optimistic attitude, you can keep on a more even keel, be less buffeted by the bad things and be more energised. It can also keep those voices of doubt at bay; as Lucille Ball once said, "Keeping busy and making optimism a way of life can restore your faith in yourself.”
If this is something that resonants with you and you want support with, book a Clarity Call and let's start a conversation.