Optimism & Pessimism - their places in your world.
When life is difficult, it is often challenging to be optimistic. However, I believe optimism is the key to escaping most hardships. Often, people turn to pessimism as a form of protection and it becomes an engrained habit. It is far easier to believe a narrative that is negative than one in which you can picture yourself or the world around you with boundless positivity. I’m starting this book here, because I feel that if you read nothing else, this is the most important takeaway and gift I hope to give you.
One reason people are afraid of being optimistic, is they are afraid of being wrong. If they allow themselves to feel the joy of looking ahead, finding the good in something or believing in what seems impossible they are seen as dreamers, “do nothings”, idle, or a myriad of other phrases that you’ve no doubt heard. We all know the person that tells you that something isn’t possible. The problem isn’t what they are saying, it is that we believe them. People say these things because they either doubt themselves or they are in a fortunate position where they are able to have that opinion.
You see, pessimism is a luxury. It isn’t really for those down on their luck. It is for those who’ve had luck already and are in a comfortable spot or those who’ve stopped trying to be lucky and have given up. So, I would argue that it is ok to be a victor and pessimistic. If you are an optimist, you develop muscles that help you navigate and recover from failure. Both pessimism and optimism have their utility.
We are all wrong, however it is statistically unlikely that you will be wrong all of the time. I’m sure you’ve heard “we create our own luck” and to a large extent that’s absolutely true. Luck in this instance isn’t just a time and place, but a simple bit that’s in our mind that needs to be flipped to “yes” from “no”. Yes you can. Yes you will. Yes, it will happen. Yes, it will happen to me. When you start filling your internal narrative with positive thoughts and an optimistic outlook, then you open up portals to luck. You also open up portals to potential failure and being wrong, however the sure way to be wrong all of the time is to tell yourself that something was never possible from the start.
Optimism has to come from within you. You can’t seek it from the outside world as a form of validation. It has to be core to who you are. You have to constantly re-write your narrative until you firmly believe it.
When I was in my early teens, I definitely wasn’t optimistic. I was your typical hormonal cloud of despair. I didn’t think I’d live to see the age of 30 and if I had kept that outlook much longer, I certainly wouldn’t have. It didn’t help that my family also didn’t think I’d make it. If you asked those around me who was least likely to succeed at anything in life, it would have been me they would have nominated.
Circumstances in my life were not good and a lot of it was indeed outside of my control. I didn’t get to choose the parents to which I was born, the shelter in which I lived under or the eating conditions I had. However, I did get to choose how I felt about all of it. The path I started down early in life was one filled with anger. Anger is a useful emotion until it isn’t. It is useful in that it can give you energy or a force that can make massive amounts of change for you towards a powerfully positive outcome. However, being consumed by anger will not. The first step towards optimism is to figure out how to transition from negative emotions to positive thoughts and outcomes.
Optimism comes from a well of strength within us. I’m often told that I’m brave or an unstoppable force. I don’t know if this is true, but I do know that I feel like I can do anything. In reality, I obviously can’t do anything. I know my limitations, however the belief in myself that I can do anything has opened up so many possibilities for me and made my life richer.
Anything you want to do in the world requires a little bit of force. The force I’m talking about is in your mind. For example, I didn’t want to write this book. I did everything I could to avoid it. Every excuse imaginable, but in the end it was force that got me here. I turned every negative thought into “I can, I will and I must”. I told myself that I’m not a writer, that I’m not good at writing. I told myself nobody would want to actually read this. I told myself that my life really isn’t that interesting. I told myself that this was futile. Had I believed those things in the end, this book wouldn’t exist. All of those things would be true and that would be easy. However, turning those thoughts around isn’t easy. It is a lot like working out physical muscles. When you get into the habit of it, you reach our stride and you find motivation to continue. However, let us say you go on vacation and stop doing it. You maybe fall out of the habit and start getting out of shape. You then find reasons not to go to the gym or reasons you can eat whatever you want whenever you want. You tell yourself you can’t do it, but you did once before. Positive thinking is like that as well. I’ve worked a lifetime on this, so it is easier for me now, but trust me, I can quickly get out of shape. It is something you have to keep on top of every single day. Every statement you make to yourself about yourself, you must examine it.