Change Your Mind, Change Your Life
When I left home for college, I thought that I had been admitted by mistake, and didn’t think I would graduate. I expected failure. I expected to fall in love but would probably be left by my beloved. I had no idea that my general attitude were deeply pessimistic. I just thought my ideas were realistic. By studying psychology and human development, I came to understand that we all form protective beliefs, and that these beliefs can be modified. What a concept! I put the theory to the test and was delighted to discover that it was actually possible for me to change my thinking! With a concerted effort, my rich imagination that had been catastrophizing, started to envision successful outcomes for the scenarios I had been anticipating.
So much of my happiness now is a result of my efforts to put my inner pessimist in his place. When he sneaks onto the scene and starts spinning his fearful scenarios, I know that he is just doing his job to protect me by preparing me for trouble. But these days I talk back. I say things like: “That may or may not happen. Thank you for sharing, but I choose to believe that things will turn out well.” I’ve had losses and tragedy in my life. Every life has to contain its share of joys and sorrows. I have come to trust that it is possible to make a full recovery from some ordeals that we may experience, or at least a partial recovery from the even most devastating blows. To waste precious life energy worrying about what might happen is unproductive and can even be self-fulfilling. I now know that I have choices. I still have to exert effort when pessimistic thoughts arise. But with experience and practice, it has become easier over time, to trust that things generally do work out and not necessarily in the way in which I expect.
Some people see optimists as “Pollyannas,” believing that they are in denial about reality. Of course optimism can be taken too far. But those that criticize optimists are often pessimistic themselves, and believe that they are stuck with their attitudes for life. Optimism as a life view, is a much more harmonious way of living in the world. Despite some negative experiences, I see people as being basically good, the universe as a friendly place, and nature as trustworthy. So much of my energy that used to be used defensively with worry has been freed up for more creative pursuits.
So if you think that your beliefs and attitudes are fixed, I challenge you to reassess and to dare to believe in the possibility of transforming the darkness of pessimism into a more hopeful outlook. Working with our attitudes and beliefs is an essential part of cultivating the art of joyful living. But don’t take my word for it; give it a try, and see for yourself. Who knows? You may be in for a surprise, a good one!
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