We all know one of those people. Or maybe you are one of those people.
That person who, no matter how dire and critical the context, sees life through a prism of optimism and possibility. That person who seemed to get an extra blessing at birth from the optimism fairy!
When you know one of those people but don’t feel you are one, or can be that way yourself, you normally have one of two reactions in their presence, and sometimes both because, hey! you’re human and can be a walking paradox yourself.
You believe the ‘optimist’ clearly doesn’t have a grip on reality and just how disturbing and disastrous things are right now. How could anyone be so positive, optimistic or generally happy about anything given the current state of the world? Are they on drugs? Can’t they see? Don’t they keep up with current affairs? Rapidly, you dismiss them as lightweight, scattered, dispersed, ill-equipped to understand and deal with the gritty realities of life and business.
You are magnetized by their energy and gravitate towards them like a moth to the flame. Each time you are with them your own lagging energy levels increase and you reinstate a sense of safety and okayness about life from which you are often disconnected. Having given yourself a juice-up, you get on with business as usual – barely registering that their optimism has indeed rubbed off on you and you are feeling a sense of new possibility again, and generating new thinking.
Both of these attitudes are human and understandable. They are also binary, stereotypical, and lack the fullness of true human complexity.
Having a distinct leaning towards optimism myself (If I had a Euro for every time I’ve heard the word positive, with respect to my character… !!), I’ve often been on the receiving end of both of these two attitudes. Honestly? I’ve also been on the giving end of both as well.
Yes! We all have our own unique gifts, and some of us seem to have more apparent ease at showing up as positive and optimistic even in challenging circumstances. As humans, we are conditioned by our biology to stay safe and alive by focusing our attention what’s wrong. I often chuckle about this. However smart or evolved we think the human species is, and however much we value our intellectual and cognitive capacity, we still all operate in life as little walking Neanderthals, run by our fear instincts. Thankfully, humans generally must be optimists too – or we would have stopped reproducing long ago! Fear and optimism are both alive and well in all of us.
This being said, my take on this is that there’s more to optimism and being an optimist than apparent ‘realists’ or ‘pessimists’ give us credit for. I experience optimism, as a result of constantly refocusing my attention – and not just on what’s right! Optimism is a byproduct of unwavering (mostly), conscious practice of 4 essential criteria:
1) Positioning yourself as creator of your own experience in the moment. This means taking responsibility for how you see the circumstances, doing what is required and creating the best possible outcome, whatever the circumstances and whatever the context. There is no victim in optimist. There is only creator. It’s an orientation – and a choice. An empowering, handy choice in today’s context!
2) Rapidly sorting the facts from interpretation and story that invariably surround events. Recognising what is and what is NOT within your immediate control or influence. This does not mean denying reality. You are clear on the facts of the current reality and you choose to disassociate that from your opinions about it. Far more efficient!
3) Connecting with internal resources and scanning for external resources to address the problem at hand then getting straight to the essence of what is required.
4) Taking action. If indeed an action needs to be taken.
Mastering these four criteria combined creates a capacity for optimism.
Because we are optimistic when we know we have agency and resources. We are optimistic when we are discerning.
Truth is we all have agency and inner resources. Our practice is to remember that and keep orientating ourselves that way.
Optimists are singleminded in their pursuit to create from a place of richness and possibility in life. Life is rich and over flowing with possibility. Whether you are fully aware of this or not does not depend on circumstances, not on ‘reality’ which is coloured with your filters, but on how much you train yourself in the 4 criteria above. Every critical situation can be an adventure in possibility with outcomes that are far more optimal and optimised than the ones you reduce yourself to within a fear-based default reaction.
Not only is it possible to cultivate your optimism, I believe it’s your human destiny and duty to do so.
Irrespective of the context and however you care to define reality, no pessimistic or victim attitude ever changed the world for the better or inspired others to live better lives and create agile, adaptive solutions.
Right now, the world needs more inspired people
It needs more optimistic leaders collaborating to create possibility, together.
So – is that you?