Six Steps to Optimism: Day 2

“Pessimism leads to weakness, optimism to power.”—William James

It might seem like there is a big divide between pessimism and optimism. Often, they’re polar opposites. We’ve all heard the “glass half-empty, glass half-full” analogy before, or “seeing things in black and white,” or any number of other metaphors for the two viewpoints.

But as far apart as they seem, shifting one’s perspective from one to the other begins with a seemingly incremental shift. We have to change our thinking so that, instead of perceiving life as something that happens “to” us, we understand it as something that is “in” us.

Instead of thinking, “I have to work hard to get over this challenge,” we have the attitude that “I’m going to learn something by going through this”.

Pessimists see themselves as victims of circumstance. All is beyond their control. They are acted upon by outside forces. They are always reacting.

Optimists, by turn, see themselves as creative forces in their own existence. They take responsibility for their decisions and own them, and they live by action and interaction, but never confuse interacting with other people with mindlessly reacting to them.

Pessimism is a way of thought that so conditions the individual to feel powerless in the face of his or her own life that he or she gradually loses any ambition to change.

By putting the power to choose in the hands and heart of the individual, optimism fosters strength, encourages the cultivation of personal power and resolve, and propels us on an upward path.

If you think this is just idle talk, start talking to people. If you ask them about their lives and dreams and really listen to their responses, you’ll be able to sort out the optimists from the pessimists, of course, but you’ll also be able to tell who has the capacity to change from the latter group to the former.

Anyone who sees their current situation, no matter how dire, as a stepping stone and a necessary component on their path to realizing their personal dream is an optimist. This knowledge isn’t always immediate. The death of a loved one, the loss of a home, the disintegration of health are all painful and difficult. We all have emotional, psychological, spiritual and physical responses to these events—that’s part of being human.

An epiphany may be a single moment long, but enlightenment is gained over a lifetime. You don’t just wave a magic wand or flip a switch and say, “See, I’m not a pessimist anymore!”

You have to make that small shift and consciously choose to keep making it in every situation. At first, to do it one time in a thousand is enough. Then, your goal must be once every five hundred tries, then once every hundred, over and over until you are choosing to respond optimistically a majority of the time.

Notice I didn’t say “all of the time”. We all have the capacity for both pessimism and optimism within us, and no matter what, we will never always respond to things exactly the same way all of the time. This is also part of being human.

So what can we expect once we begin to consciously choose to respond in the powerful way of the optimist? I’ll discuss that tomorrow. In the mean time, think about this:

If, after you finished reading this, you were suddenly confronted with a life-altering experience that would completely upend all your assumptions about everything and its place in your world, how would you respond? More importantly, would your perception of your relationship to that event change over time?

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