Given two different people – one a pessimist, the other an optimist – which would you think has a better chance of living a fulfilling life? I’ve been both of these people and, in my experience, it’s the latter. I used to have the frame of mind that things tended to not work out. Finding myself comfortable, it was better to not rock the boat. If I tried to make a change and failed, that was just confirmation that the universe was set against me. I could reel off a litany of things that didn’t succeed as I’d hoped and then use those to support why taking action in a given situation wasn’t necessary. I let things happen to me and then reacted as opposed to trying to make an opportunity because what was the point? Over time I became more frustrated with my job, with my social situation and with myself.
Early in 2018, I decided to confront this negative predisposition. I realized I was making myself miserable and if I continued in that vein, the consequences would be dire. A major catalyst in changing my view came when I went after a job opportunity I very much wanted – and I got hired! I thought to myself that I could use this as momentum for looking at other areas of my life and identifying areas for positive change. Shortly after the elation of landing my new job though, my girlfriend and I broke up. This threatened to de-stabilize things but I thought that instead of allowing the flood of emotions to take me back down a hole, I had to somehow come out of the experience with insights about myself. How did I contribute to the break up? What changes did I need to make to rebuild my self-esteem? How could I make myself better for the next person? How could I allow myself to feel the emotions – a necessary part of healing and moving on – without getting overwhelmed?
There are three things I’ve tried to keep in mind since then in order to stabilize a basic attitude of optimism. First, one must cultivate a mental resiliency in the face of the inevitable set-backs life will hand to us. I go to the gym regularly where I train my body to be stronger through resistance. It’s the same principle with your mind. When you encounter disappointment, acknowledge it and then be curious. How can this situation help you so that you are better prepared when the next opportunity comes? What if the next situation is worse, just like adding weight to the bar at the gym for your next set? You will be pushed. You will be challenged. Bend, but don’t break.
Second, take a mental inventory regularly of what is good in your life. Affirm what you have that supports you and makes you who you are. Each of us is unique. What is it you have to offer? The answer is never “nothing”. You may wish that you had more in certain areas. I know I do. Then the question becomes, how to obtain that? Assuming it’s not a metaphysical limitation, start to set small goals that put you on the path. Think of it as an adventure and you are the hero. Keep a journal or some means of recording your progress. Pretty soon you’ll look back and be amazed at the steps you’ve taken.
Finally, do what you can to cultivate healthy social relationships that encourage positivity and growth. Connect with others who are also working on goals to better themselves. This is one of my reasons for joining Toastmasters. It can be extremely difficult to reach out to a group of strangers and introduce yourself. Believe me, this is the hardest thing of all for me. But I have learned, both professionally and socially, that other people can be a source of support as well as insight. In the process of making connections, you may find that you start to change in ways you hadn’t expected. Allow yourself that freedom.
Acting from a pessimistic view limits engagement with the world and with life. Opportunities will present themselves in the environment, but they’ll be invisible to the pessimist who isn’t even looking for them. To take advantage of opportunities, one must act. Optimism provides the fuel for action. Failure provides opportunities to learn. Success builds self-esteem, which leads to happiness.
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