Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Posted by Laurel Garver on Wednesday, August 19, 2015 10 comments
You regular blog readers may find this hard to believe, but I am not a naturally optimistic person. My inclination is to always look on the shadow rather than bright side of life. (Listen carefully to the Monty Python song, though, and my inner moroseness seems positively cheerful in comparison.) I could blame my upbringing or my birth order or a host of other things, but what ultimate good would it do? Our culture loves to keep us stuck in these blame games, and has industries dedicated to helping us wallow more.

Photo credit: GaborfromHungary from morguefile.com
But tossing on a clown costume and faking perpetual cheer isn't going to be sustainable either. I believe we have to own our temperaments and figure out how to be functional within them. We need to develop adaptations, like the deaf with sign language, rather than remain cut off in some way.

(BTW, I'm not talking about clinical depression here. That's a bigger, more deeply biological problem than mere pessimism.)

The pessimistic outlook often presents itself as "realism." A hope or dream begins to form, and the pessimistic mind will quickly devise an elaborate deconstruction project, bent on showing you how that hope or dream is unrealistic.

A pessimistic mind has to be combated with affirmations based on tangibles before any truly optimistic thoughts can make headway. It's one of the reasons I love the Psalms so much. The psalmists have their share of Yippee, yay, hallelujah moments, but usually in the midst of reminders of things God's people have endured with God's help. Our memories are short, so actively reminding ourselves of our own histories can be a helpful way of getting a grip on hope.

So when your inner pessimism responds to "Yes, you can!" with "No, I can't!" try mulling these thoughts.

  • I am really struggling with fear of ___. I'm going to journal about that, consider worst-case scenarios, and come up with a plan to take small steps anyway.
  • I don't really know where to start with this, but I remember other times I was a newbie, and eventually I got more competent. Who taught me then? Who in my life could teach me now?
  • I haven't done this exact task before, but I did this other hard task ___. What lessons can I take from that?
  • I don't know if I have the stamina for the hard work. But I know that stamina grows, and that the biggest effort is just starting. I remember another time I had to overcome inertia and what I gained.
  • If this fails, I don't want the effort to go to waste. How have I become stronger, wiser, or more compassionate from setbacks I've suffered before?
  • I struggle to believe in myself, so I am going to ask these people who care about me, [NAMES], to check in on me and affirm me.
  • I am struggling to be patient and wait for results. What other good things in my life came later than I'd hoped, but were perfectly timed just the same?
  • I feel like a failure compared to ___. But everyone struggles with this. Who could I encourage today who is younger, less resourced, less experienced, less skilled, etc., to keep on keeping on and see hopeful signs in the progress they are making?
  • I worry that I am becoming jaded and bored with this, but I might find it more exciting if I helped a newbie gain skills and confidence. What younger or less experienced person in my life would I like to mentor?
  • I feel stuck today. What skills do I have that I didn't a year ago? Five years ago? Ten years ago? What skills do I hope to have in five years? What small steps might help me gain them?
  • I'm scared of doing this alone. What other times have I faced hardship and got unexpected support? How can I better ask for support instead of expecting it to magically appear? 
As you can see, pessimism requires thoughtful answers, not chirpy quips. Pessimism wants to go deep. So maybe we should stop calling it "pessimism" and give it a new name. Any suggestions?

Which of these affirmations speak most to you?

10 comments:

  1. "...we have to own our own temperaments..." Whao... Now that's perfect wisdom right there. I'll be honest. My pessimistic 'temperament' is owning me right now. Subbed once last week. Got a full request that sounded really promising the next day. Now I'm simply in wait-mode, which is making my brain explode with the negative. Augh! I know better. Positive thoughts, positive thoughts.... I am going to ponder your list above. Thanks so much for it!

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    1. The struggling to be patient affirmation might be helpful to you. Also the I feel stuck. These will help you look at your own history for hope, rather than empty cheerleader chants.

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  2. This is an excellent and wise post, Laurel. I think of myself as a realist, too, even though I'm probably an optimist. (I guess we all think we're seeing the "real" story, though, huh? :) Normally it's easy for me to say, "Hey, I just gotta keep working at it!" but on bad days, I need to dose myself with something even realer than my brain's chant of "You're not good enough." When that happens, my answer is, "Nope. I'm not good enough. But I'm not going to get any better by giving in and stopping."

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    1. Funny that you notice how both optimists and pessimists feel they see reality, which is usually neither 100% fabulous or 100% awful, but always a mix. I find looking at my own history helps with these inner struggles--seeing where I have improved from the past, or have been able to accomplish something similarly difficult.

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  3. I've always been a glass have empty kind of person but in a way it's good because it forces me to work harder at being positive.

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    1. Harder but not impossible to be positive. Types like us need more than thin platitudes because we tend to think deeply about things.

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  4. What a great list to look at whenever anyone is feeling pessimistic about things that are happening in their life (especially if someone has a natural tendency to be more pessimistic as his/her personality)!!! Thanks, Laurel. :)

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    1. Pessimists need to wrestle out their determination and hope; it doesn't tend to come naturally. But that's okay, the world needs all kinds of people.

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  5. Maybe we should say "afraid of disappointment" instead of "pessimist"? That often drives my thoughts when I lower the bar or tell myself something I want won't work out. Fortunately, I have an optimist husband who constantly models optimistic thinking for me. He's right more often than I am, with all my gloomy predictions. it helps to have someone call me it on it when I say "always" or "never" as part of a pessimistic statement.

    Great article, and I love your ideas for how to challenge pessimistic thinking so that you can move forward.

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    1. Yeah, I think the key workd there is "afraid." I've heard some call pessimists "hedge your bets" types, who want to emotionally prepare if things don't work out. There's definitely a propensity to fear there that needs to be wrestled out in order to move forward.

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