“To bring about a better world, let us all strive together with vision, with courage, and with optimism.” – Dalai Lama
I will readily admit that I haven’t always been a particularly positive person. I think cynicism is in my genetic code and I used to genuinely believe that it was better to expect the worst in order to be prepared than to allow high hopes be dashed.
I’m also the biggest chicken imaginable. There was a time when I was truly scared of everything and the thought of acting courageously seemed impossible. I still find myself fearful and anxious at times but I’ve come a long way.
To top off the “Negative Nelly” trifecta – as if you weren’t already convinced that my redeeming qualities might be lacking! – I often tend to be driven by logic versus emotion and struggle with compassion at times. It has occurred to me that all of these aspects of my personality are likely interconnected and probably support and feed off of each other.
But, whether cynicism leads to lack of compassion or lack of bravery is irrelevant. The real answer is not in the analysis but in the remedies for negativity, judgment and fear.
I feel that compassion is critical to maintaining a positive attitude. Compassion is about sidestepping your own concerns for a moment. Without it, my ego stays in charge and my glass tends to remain half empty.
Unwavering compassion comes easily for many people, yet can be highly challenging for some of us. And this has been a source of sadness for me.
It’s often simple to be compassionate about the things and people we care about. If a friend, family member or pet is in pain, we easily feel compassion. But what about difficult people? Or unkind people?
After many conversations with myself, I found one helpful analogy in my own life to help me develop feelings of compassion more easily.
While I was in labor with my son, I remember thinking it was the most difficult and painful thing I’d ever faced. But the thing about labor is, you can’t turn back. You push through the pain because it results in something wonderful.
When faced with the choice to be compassionate or judgmental of another person, I remember the day my son was born. When I feel myself judging someone, instead of feeling compassion for them, I remember the joyful reward that followed intense difficulty.
Even if you’ve never given birth, there is surely something in your own life you can draw a parallel to. Some situation that was difficult but which had a light at the end of the tunnel.
For me, that’s how it ultimately feels to let go of judgement and allow myself to feel compassion for someone who seems undeserving. Maybe it’s selfish. But the sense of satisfaction that comes from pushing past a barrier of dislike and finding the warmth of compassion is a wonderful thing.
The interesting part of this practice is that eventually, I don’t need the analogy. I’ve started to develop a muscle memory for feeling compassion under trying circumstances and it comes to me with a little more ease.
Courage is another story. It seems like for each instance of bravery in my life, there are a dozen times when I haven’t had the guts. Times where I’m sad to say I’ve quietly bowed out and there didn’t seem to be a heartwarming analogy for “next time.”
For me, there is no warm feeling at the end of pushing through terror. In fact, even the reward of taking a chance isn’t physiologically comfortable. Exhilaration makes my heart pound, my palms sweat.
However, the curious thing about taking chances is that it’s also possible to develop a habit for it. I may not bask in the glow of heart-pounding dread, but I have found that I can respond to a “just do it” attitude.
I’ve begun to push myself off the cliff, so to speak. Now, I’m not talking about driving race cars or base jumping, here. I’m talking about speaking my mind, standing up for what I believe in, not allowing fear to compromise my convictions.
I think we all have the ability to take a leap and be courageous. Even when our lizard brain tells us a situation is too dangerous. As evolved humans we have the power to decide our fears are preposterous and forge ahead anyway.
Do you know what the best part of all this is? The most incredible side effect of feeling empathy for people I find difficult and pushing past fear over and over, no matter how faint it makes me feel, is that negativity fades.
Cynicism, judgement and cowardice aren’t my go-to responses these days. And I’ve realized that by focusing my efforts on compassion and courage, my glass is not only no longer half empty, it’s looking pretty darn full!
How do you keep your glass half full? What qualities do you cultivate to encourage optimism in your life?
Photo by Bailey Weaver