Having been an incurable optimist pretty much from birth, I’ve often wondered why some people are naturally more optimistic while others are pessimistic, cynical, or find a problem for every solution. I’m absolutely certain that this is not a thought or question that is unique to me, so I want to explore some of the facets of optimism, the benefits of looking on the bright side, and how you can begin to create an intentional practice of optimism if you choose to do so. Any time you decide to change your thought patterns through breakthroughs or epiphanies, you create new connections within your brain, neuroplasticity increases, and your external world changes in its physical manifestation; that is to say, when you choose to see the light rather than staying fixed upon the dark, your external world shifts itself to become a better match for your new inner outlook. Choosing a daily inner practice of optimism is like choosing to turn on a light in a darkened room, illuminating everything and allowing you to increase your level of consciousness and understanding in a loving, beautiful, and healthy way.
To begin, I’d like to discuss the differences between optimism, faith, blind faith, and foolishness, as well as how certain forms of pessimism and cynicism can actually be detrimental to your overall health and wellbeing, while other forms can be beneficial. As we explore these topics, the main thing to keep in mind is that all of our systems are connected and interlinked to work together in an optimal way. This includes a number of systems, though, and I won’t claim to know all of them in explicit detail. However, the basic systems that must work together are your physical body, your mind, and your emotional body. These are also the systems that you are able to individually pay close attention to by going within, making them accessible and pliable to your life’s purpose, the belief systems that work for you, and the co-creation you choose to focus on and manifest within your reality. Your soul is supposed to be in charge of and running these systems, and one of the issues many people have is that their ego mind has taken over and is running things from its fear-based perspective, so this inner work is very much meant to put the reins back in the hands of your inner being or spirit so that life can be as amazing as it should be, as is our birthright.
It’s also important to keep in mind that every person’s perception makes up one facet of the whole “truth.” I’m reminded of a saying that goes, “There are always three sides to a story: his, hers, and the truth.” Of course this is an oversimplification of the larger concept, but it opens up to the idea that one person’s truth isn’t the same as another person’s truth, especially when there’s a lack of communication in the relationship in general or in the specific situation. So, while one thing may be true for one person, the opposite may be true for another, and they can each have similar passion for their respective ideals of truth… while vehemently disagreeing.
From my current perspective of understanding, this is very much linked to an intolerance of others and a lack of understanding, at least partially due to the emotional passion involved in some topics. When we feel deeply and passionately that something is either right or wrong, we tend to lead with our emotions and stop being mindful of how the other person might be feeling based on the way in which we express our opinions. Simply being aware of this and the fact that no two people have the exact same perception of reality can help you to be more patient and understanding naturally, which is also one of the things a practice of optimism can help with.
Lastly, it’s also important to remember that everything outside of yourself is a reflection or echo of what’s going on within you energetically. This means that anything in your experience that elicits an emotional response within you is really trying to teach you and help you get to your next level of consciousness. So, for example, if you have a vehement dislike of people controlling you or being hypocritical like I once did, there’s a good chance that some of your own behavior, words, and thoughts are controlling or hypocritical in some way. Don’t shy away from taking responsibility for this; although it can hurt the ego a bit, especially when this is first revealed to you in a way that hits home, it will ultimately hone your discernment and self-awareness so that you can be more conscious, understanding, and loving than you were before.
Some Interesting Nuances in Definitions
Optimism: expecting the best possible outcome from any given situation (Wikipedia).
Faith: confidence or trust in a particular system of religious belief, in which faith may equate to confidence based on some perceived degree of warrant. According to Rudolf Bultmann, faith must be a determined vital act of will, not a culling and extolling of “ancient proofs” (Wikipedia).
Blind Faith: belief without true understanding, perception, or discrimination (Dictionary.com).
Foolishness: the unawareness or lack of social norms which causes offence, annoyance, trouble and/or injury (Wikipedia).
Let’s go a little bit deeper with these definitions for just a moment. Optimism is, from my understanding, more of a mindset, an attitude, a choice about the way that you choose to think of your surroundings, other people, and your circumstances. Optimism is the art of being able to take things at face value, be understanding about them, and maintain inner peace no matter what the outcome is; the ultimate skill of “rolling with the punches” as you journey through life’s ups and downs, which are always inevitable no matter who you are.
Faith, again from my perspective, is more of a feeling, an inner peace or acceptance, and a knowing what you believe in and are capable of without being ignorant about why you believe, as in there is some “evidence” or experience or something that has cemented your faith in whatever it is that you believe in and turned it into knowing. Hear me when I say that it doesn’t matter what labels you put on what you believe, as long as you have faith that there is something to believe in. If you’re not into spirituality or religion, then you may choose to have faith in life itself or, very simply, in your abilities to live it well and figure things out as you go.
Blind faith is what I was expected to follow throughout my childhood, prompted to accept the beliefs I was born and conditioned into without asking questions or exploring lest I be accused of being possessed by a demon for reading books about Wicca or anything other than what I was brought up to accept blindly. I’m sure I’m not the only person who was brought up in a circumstance where beliefs were pushed on us, and while this can create some cognitive and mental health issues that can affect us into adulthood, it’s important to address this type of conditioning from a place of non-judgment. We are dealing, after all, with people who are fearfully attempting to force a belief on their loved ones with the best of intentions according to their perception and belief: that they are protecting or saving our souls. Faith and religion (which are not mutually exclusive or the same thing) isn’t meant to be a cause for conflict or forceful and violent attempts at converting others. LOVE is the solution, and love and fear cannot exist within the same being at the same time. Any acts of force or attempts to control those outside of yourself illustrate a misguided and misunderstood interpretation of what God or Source is all about, which is love. Unconditional, non-judgmental, accepting of flaws and all, love.
Last but not least, foolishness is essentially an unawakened state; ignorance is bliss to some, but a lack of self-awareness and mindfulness is actually very disempowering, so while some people will be convinced that nothing is within their control and life is just random, others will choose to break through their own limits of consciousness to get to the next level and better understand the idea of co-creation of reality. This is not to say that there is anything “wrong” with those who choose to remain in this state of understanding, but rather that this is a different level of consciousness and living, and if it works for someone, who are we to try to change that? Attempting to do that would make us no better than those who force their beliefs on others, so it’s better to let people be who they are and have open discussions if it’s that type of relationship and can be constructive. If it isn’t constructive but ends up causing arguments and drama, then it might be better to keep your conversations with this individual in the shallow end, so to speak. While some will learn to swim quickly, others may never be able to leave the shallow end within this lifetime, but that doesn’t matter because everything is divinely planned and timed.
How Your Outlook May Be Harming You
First, when you choose to be pessimistic and cynical, you are choosing a pattern of thought that aligns with these attitudes and everything that goes with them. Whether you believe in it or not, this energetic vibration is one that typically creates self-fulfilling negative prophecies within your life, so what you believe, you will eventually create within your physical existence. If you wake up every morning thinking that everyone is out to abuse or mistreat you, then chances are you will be abused and mistreated, especially if you’ve held this belief within yourself for a while. It’s as simple and as complex as realizing that you have the power to redirect your thoughts to something better, which will in turn affect your emotional state and begin attracting things more aligned with your newly reprogrammed beliefs.
One of the most damaging thought loops or emotions that might repeat is the idea that everyone is out to get you, take your money, or otherwise do something to hurt you. While this may be true in some circumstances, the majority of the time it’s not. As a matter of fact, most people aren’t out to get you because they probably don’t even know you, who you are, or what’s going on. This type of attitude or habit of perception is very common among people who have been in relationships with people who are toxic or emotionally abusive, exploitative, and manipulative, which can leave a deep scar not only in the psyche but in the soul of a human being. While this type of environment warrants reading into things and being paranoid, it isn’t good to carry that attitude out into the rest of the world because it isn’t true for most people. Most people are too busy trying to do their own thing, raise families, advance their careers… emotionally healthy people don’t have time or energy to go around screwing other people over on purpose, nor do they typically have any interest. While mistakes and misunderstandings happen no matter what, it’s important to be discerning between misunderstandings and people being toxic or abusive.
Now, what about the health implications of optimism versus pessimism? Also, is optimism the same thing as idealism? These are all subtle and important points, so I want to take my time discussing them, and the nuanced differences that create a healthier mindset versus creating an unhealthy mindset. Like blind faith, blind optimism can be just as detrimental as depression, stress, and anxiety can be on the human body, so again we see a need to fine-tune your mindset and beliefs to where they work best to serve you rather than hinder you, which optimism can also do if you aren’t aware of the subtle nuances.
Idealism is definitely not the same as optimism, although it’s easy to understand how someone might put the two ideas in the same category. Idealism, from my point of understanding, is like optimism without consideration for the physical reality of things or what one might need to do in order to accomplish this ideal outcome. So, an idealist might choose to blindly believe that everything will turn out fantastically for them, typically without much action or work on their part, and this is where the trouble comes in. While an optimist acknowledges that, yes, things can go wrong, but chooses to see the benefit or lesson in all circumstances and situations, either in the moment or after some consideration, an idealist will be disappointed when things don’t work out in the specific way that they may have envisioned, and this disappointment can be crippling. As a child, I was blindly optimistic and idealistic, and I remember feeling bitter disappointment anytime I chose to get my hopes up for something specific, which resulted in a lot of angry and tearfully composed poetry about how hope likes to beat me down. What I had yet to learn was how to discern the subtleties of manifestation and directing my thoughts, which I hope to help you do as well.
Another important distinction to make is that pessimism in general and running scenarios to prepare for the worst (labeled “defensive pessimism” by Dr. Julie Norem in her book, The Positive Power of Negative Thinking) aren’t exactly the same, either. So, while a generally pessimistic outlook can be detrimental to your life, health, and wellbeing, running scenarios in your mind to prepare for the worst realistic and specific situations can actually help you to prepare and make the best decisions with whatever you’re presented with. While general pessimism can be crippling, defensive pessimism can help you to plan for the worst case scenario while still understanding that this isn’t necessarily going to be the outcome. So, healthy pessimism is more like pulling on the reins of blind optimism to snap it back to reality, while unhealthy and general pessimism will leave you feeling hopeless without knowing what to do next to help yourself through whatever circumstance you may find yourself in. A healthy dose of pessimism via running likely scenarios increases your confidence in your ability to figure things out as they come because you have a contingency plan and are as prepared for the worst as you can be without focusing on it as a “sure” outcome.
These points all serve to help you develop your own discernment, which can point you in the direction of balance that works best for you, optimizing your ability to deal with whatever may come and prepare along the way. That old adage about, “Expect the worst and hope for the best,” isn’t nearly as extreme as it sounds when considered in this light, although the expectation of terrible things happening will all too often create a self-fulfilling prophecy based on the law of attraction and the frequency or resonance you choose to “feed” and maintain. Preparation is one thing; expectation is another entirely, so be discerning—not alarmist or catastrophizing—about what could realistically happen in whatever situation you find yourself. There’s nothing wrong with being prepared, but allowing yourself to adopt the belief (because thoughts we think repeatedly turn into beliefs within our subconscious mind) that things will go wrong will attract those very things to you.
So, with all of this being said, how do you begin to intentionally practice mindful optimism in your daily life, and how can this positively influence your physical existence in this timespace reality?
Empower Yourself by Redirecting Your Thoughts
It always begins from within, so you’re the only person who has the power to do this for yourself. And yes, with this power comes responsibility, namely over yourself and everything you do, say, think, and feel, which is where mindfulness can also help you with discernment because you will know when to respond and when to leave it alone.
If you’re stuck in a place of constantly expecting the worst and this has become a thought habit for you, then you will need that much more patience and perseverance to change your thinking and reprogram your beliefs to work for your benefit rather than working against you. You may need to get through a good week or two (or more) of practicing to make it stick, so to speak, so don’t be discouraged; this is simply a matter of building good inner work habits so that this process becomes effortless for you. So, if you are open to doing the inner work to help yourself grow into an even more amazing version of yourself (and you have to do this for you, not for any other reason), here are a few ideas that I hope will help you on your journey as they have helped me on mine.
1. Be aware of how you feel, because this will be a good indicator for what kinds of thoughts you’re thinking. Obviously, policing every single one of the 60,000 thoughts we have on a daily basis is impossible, but that’s why we were given a guidance system: our emotions. You can think of your emotions as the GPS for your thoughts and decisions, so it’s important to pay attention to how you’re feeling about things, especially if you find yourself depressed, anxious, or worse on a regular basis. There is a very good chance that your thoughts—many of which come from the mind or ego self and are based on unconsciously conditioned beliefs—are actually harming your wellbeing, and most of us cannot truly understand this until we begin being mindful or paying attention to the thoughts we think when we feel badly. Once you begin catching yourself, becoming aware, then it gets a little harder to un-know how you’re beating yourself up on such a regular basis. Just because this is how so many human beings live life doesn’t mean that you have to continue living this way if it doesn’t serve you.
2. Be discerningly open to everything. What this means is that you take things as they come without necessarily judging them right away or assigning a story to them. We create these stories within our minds that only reveal one possible outcome when there are infinite possibilities, so why limit your life based on a fear-based projection of what you think might happen? By simply paying attention and observing your thoughts, which are a form of energy, you can begin to have a profound effect on how your life plays out before you. This will also organically lead you to begin recognizing some of your thought patterns and beliefs that don’t serve you, so why not give it a try?
3. Yes, plan for the worst, but be specific and realistic. If you’re thinking in general catastrophic terms, planning will be impossible and this thinking will likely have you spiraling downward into anxiety and depression, which in turn will likely cripple your progress because you won’t have the energy to focus on anything productive after that. However, when you realistically consider things that might actually happen and get prepared for them, this can reduce your levels of anxiety and help you better handle anything while continuing to focus on more positive outcomes to work toward. This is what I call running scenarios in your mind, which is essentially like imagining the worst realistic outcome and coming up with a plan, temporary at least, for that possibility. With this in mind, it’s also important to spend a little time visualizing your ideal outcome and making the plans and preparations for that as well. You may also choose to visualize the work you might have to do in order to reach your ideal outcome, the actions you may need to take, and this will help you to get there within your imagination so that you may more easily get there in reality. When Olympic athletes practice their events in their minds before actually participating, they are much more likely to be successful in their endeavors, so take that concept and apply it to your daily life.
4. Don’t get emotionally attached to any specific outcome or how you might get there. While it’s good to have a plan, things often don’t go as planned, so it’s a good idea to stay open to things going differently than what you may have expected. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t have a direction or goal in mind, but rather that you shouldn’t get emotionally attached or set on one specific way or one specific outcome. This is a form of resistance and can actually push away some of the opportunities you were waiting for; or, to be more accurate, knock you out of alignment with your inner guidance. This won’t necessarily deter you from your ultimate journey, but it might create a new “squiggle” on your journey, a detour, so to speak. Remaining passionate about your journey itself while detaching from a specific outcome or idea on an emotional level is a bit of a balancing act, especially at first, but it will allow you to experience more magic and unexpected opportunities within your life.
5. Realize that positive thinking and affirmations are not the same as an optimistic mindset, and while they can help you to maintain a more positive outlook, this will only work if you are open-minded to allowing the affirmations to begin reprogramming your unconscious thought patterns. Cultivating optimism is much like other inner work in that what is actually successful will vary from one person to the next, so don’t limit yourself only to listening to positive affirmations. Rather, be discerning about what beliefs you’ve taken on simply because people outside of you have taught you that this is the “truth.” It may be their truth, but it’s up to you to find yours and what works for you. While one person may be too afraid to break free from their fear-based conditioning, another person may be redefining what they believe life should be like. No matter which perception you choose to cultivate, you will undoubtedly find like-minded people to surround yourself with and either commiserate or grow together.
While I’m definitely biased toward an optimistic outlook, it wasn’t until I started researching for this article that it came to my attention that there are so many subtle nuances within this topic. This made me become aware that I have always “practiced” the best and worst scenarios in my imagination ahead of time, allowing me to naturally develop healthy habits without even knowing it. On that note, being able to fully define things for yourself may also open up realizations of past successes for you that you may not have acknowledged before because you didn’t realize you were already doing this inner work naturally. The more we can develop our understanding of how we operate within ourselves, the more emotionally healthy we can become, so I certainly hope that my work helps you to do this on your own journey.
Are there any inner work practices that you’ve been doing naturally and are happy to have learned about after the fact? If so, I’d love to hear about your revelations! You can reach out to me in the comments, on YouTube, or via email or contact form.
When you begin to create a more positive vibration within yourself by practicing mindfulness and inner work, you may find your life improving a great deal on a moment to moment basis especially. You will naturally become more patient, understanding, and non-judgmental as you practice these things, not to mention that your mind will stop running on autopilot and creating stress for you deep beneath the surface of your awareness. Becoming aware is only the first step, and I’ll discuss some of the less appealing aspects of mindfulness practice and what may happen after you do it for a little while in an upcoming short article/eBook similar to this one. For now, I hope that you choose to empower yourself regardless of the conditioning and trapped emotional energy you may find yourself working through in the process so that you can hone your skills and reach your next level of consciousness… and living.
Spiritual insights learned through experience, emotional alchemy, and the path to freedom on all levels through practical application of inner work.