Each morning when I creep into my children’s rooms to wake them from their sweet slumber, I crawl into their beds and whisper into their waking ears to ease them into the new day. Some days they are quick to rise, and other days it takes some coaxing, but in that moment, I always try to make sure that they hear two phrases clearly: 1) “I love you” and 2) “It’s going to be a great day!”
I sincerely believe both of those statements every morning. The first one probably seems obvious—everyone loves their kids—but perhaps not the second. But it’s true for me. I really do expect my days to be great ones. I am an optimist. I expect the best possible outcomes—both in specific situations and in Life in general—and focus on the most hopeful aspects of a given circumstance. Oh sure, I have my moments of doubt and uncertainty, but for the most part, I am probably that annoying guy who tries to make you look on the bright side when you are in your moment of doom and gloom. Sunshine Willy!
I sometimes consciously try to temper my optimism with a little dose of the practical reality that most people live with. I have to remind myself of the odds against me. For example, I am applying for a very competitive fellowship to help pay for some educational expenses. The part of my mind that speaks up first is so sure that I am going to win the fellowship and that my life will change dramatically for the better. Then that extreme confidence creates a little tension inside me. Not wanting to go overboard, I try to temper that wild optimism by reminding myself how few winners there are and thus how unlikely it is that I will be one of them.
But then an even greater tension arises, because I really don’t want that negativity—disguised as a “reality check”—to be part of my mindset. I want to set my intentions and announce them to the Universe, then not put out any energy that conflicts with my true intentions. I want that fellowship, and I must think and act accordingly. I suppose that in the long course of it, the key for me is to be aware of all the possible outcomes and not in denial of the odds, but still to choose the positive one and act as though I am expecting the best. I simply don’t have the time and energy available to dwell on the rest.
Speaking of dwelling on the negative possibilities, it will probably come as no surprise to you to learn that one of the few habits of other people that tends to drive me batty is worrying. I have a few people close to me who are in the Worry Hall of Fame. I find myself often shaking my head as I listen to them carry on. What makes me crazy is how much of a waste of energy it seems to be, always imagining and fretting about the worst possible outcomes, outcomes that they don’t want and aren’t even likely to come true. It reminds me of this great Winston Churchill quote: “When I look back on all these worries, I remember the story of the old man who said on his deathbed that he had had a lot of trouble in his life, most of which had never happened.” What a waste! It just seems like there are better uses for our energy.
I am a fan of The Law of Attraction—“like attracts like,” or, more practically speaking, “what you focus on, you create more of”—and I just don’t see the logic in obsessing about outcomes that are the complete opposite of what you really want. In the end, maybe that is why I am an optimist: it makes sense to me. It seems logical to focus on what I want to happen and how I hope the world will show up for me today. I believe that we see in the world what we expect to see, that your world is just a reflection of your mind. If I expect events to fall my way, they tend to.
I think that life is much less about your circumstances than it is about the meaning you apply to them. There are a million different possible translations of the events of my day. If I am expecting the world to help me out, I am highly likely to translate my experiences—my circumstances—in a positive, helpful way. Let’s use an example to illustrate the range of possible translations of an event and how our attitudes dictate our reactions.
An optimist and a pessimist are in separate parking lots. In turn, each puts her car in Reverse and begins to back up, nearly hitting a pedestrian pushing his shopping cart. The man gets angry and flips the middle finger. The pessimist, having already been expecting the day to go badly and the people she meets to be rude, gets upset at the gesture and stews about it, confirming to herself that this just isn’t going to be her day. When the man flips the bird to the optimist, however, she feels grateful that she did not hit him and decides that it must be her lucky day to avoid such a calamity. She wishes the man well and is also thankful that she must have a happier life than someone who would flip her off in a parking lot. One circumstance, two totally different realities.
Life just shows up. You get to spin it any way you want to. I think I will keep looking on the sunny side. I feel better there.
How about you? Are you an optimist or a pessimist? Open up your journal and write honestly. On a scale of 0 to 10—with 0 being a complete Negative Nancy pessimist and 10 being a Zippity-Doo-Da optimist–where would you rank yourself? Does that rating change widely for different areas of your life (e.g. very negative regarding your career outlook but positive about your family’s prospects), or are you pretty consistent across the board? How do you think tomorrow will go? When you imagine your long-term future, do you like what you see? Do you think you are fun to spend time with? Would you go on a roadtrip with you? What type of people do you seem to attract the most in your life: optimists or pessimists? How tolerant are you of negative people? There are some people that, whenever they are around, I find myself doing much more complaining and fault-finding than usual in our general conversations. Whenever I recognize it, I know I am keeping the wrong company. Are there some people in your life so negative that you would be better served by cutting ties with them? If so, are you ready to do that today? How much do you worry? Do you recognize it as a waste of energy, or do you find it productive? Do you think you can worry less? If you were the driver in the example, and someone flipped you the middle finger, how do you think you would react? Be honest! Leave me a reply and let me know: Are you ready to look on the sunny side of Life?
Embrace the gift of choice,