How to Keep Your Glass Half Full Through Courage & Compassion

compassion

“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

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29 thoughts on “How to Keep Your Glass Half Full Through Courage & Compassion”

  1. Hi Stephanie,

    Congratulations on your success in raising compassion in your life. It sounds like you’ve come very far in your journey.

    I find using mindfulness is very powerful (over time) in changing patterns of behaviour. I have a long way to go but I do think I’m a lot more compassionate these days after having practised it for over a year.

    You’d be interested to know that Djokovic practices mindfulness when playing tennis to keep his mind focused and to achieve better results. You can read more about that here : http://bit.ly/11pv4gj

    Mindfulness creates a certain spaciousness in my mind which helps me to have a broader perspective. That contracted narrow and scrooge like mindset seems to walk out the door if I practise mindfulness consistently over time.

    1. Thanks, Ash! You are absolutely right – mindfulness, and the space it provides, opens us up to better far experiences. It’s definitely a practice I work on cultivating!

  2. P.S. Have you read “The Prophet” by Khalil Ghibran? It’s got several amazing insights one of which I remembered when I read your post.

    The quote is : “Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding” So true in my experience. In my life extreme emotional pain somehow carved a depth into me that created a capacity for greater compassion and joy. Wasn’t pleasant at the time but certainly worth it in the long term.

    Thanks for sharing your post.

    1. The Prophet is one of my go-to favorites. I love the quote you’ve referenced. The shattering of our understanding can be quite painful at first but as we heal or grow, the resulting expansion in our lives becomes so liberating.

  3. Thank you so much for sharing. I try to push myself as well. Sometimes I get scared, retreat and hide in my cave. But, other times I power through the pain to defeat and I must say, it really is golden on the other side. Thanks for your transparency. :)

    1. I couldn’t agree more, Tiff. It’s often in our nature to retreat but pushing through, even when we are scared or resistant, builds a habit. The habit may only be a habit at first but eventually we meet it with joy.

  4. What an insightful post. I think that idea of ‘muscle memory’ for emotional and mental actions we choose to take is really valuable. It can work both for and against us of course, and if we’re not consciously choosing which muscles to build, can go quite badly. But by making those choices we can gradually make it much easier to really embody our theoretical values.

    I too am not a risk taker, and – to some degree at least – its something I would like to work on, so thanks for giving me something to think about!

    1. Thanks for making that point, Kirsten – muscle memory with emotional responses definitely goes both ways. But it’s so wonderful that we have the choice to build the habit of positive responses, and even erase the ingrained negative ones over time!

  5. At some point it would be interesting if you expanded on your struggle to be more compassionate. I have never understood how people can see another human being and NOT feel compassion. But I feel like compassion and empathy have been turned into dirty words. So your ability to expand your muscle memory and become more compassionate is intriguing. I’d like to hear more about that so that (hopefully) it can be used to help others expand that muscle. The world would be a much better place if people stopped thinking of their fellow human beings as somehow “undeserving” and simply see the humanness in all of us.

    1. I agree 100% – if we were all dedicated to understanding that each on of us is merely a wavelet in the same ocean of humanity, there would be a lot less ugliness in the world. I admittedly fall back into negative thinking at times but my journey has also helped me understand that “baby steps,” on person at a time, also makes a difference. I’m still a work in progress! I feel like I still have a lot to learn about compassion and bravery!

  6. I find your passage most insightful and I hope your walk of compassion and courage continues with much success and growth. It is wonderful to hear of such persistence. I myself have been battling with becoming more courageous. Believe it or not I’ve actually serve during the Afghanistan war and my weakest asset is in the “courageous” department. I have no idea how I managed to make it through 2 tours out there to begin with being that I seem to be afraid to “jump the gun”, so to speak. My biggest fear back then was having to take another’s life cause well my strongest asset is compassion so in my case I found myself stuck in that department of being half full as you spoke of by fear. I’m trying to progress in this department though. I really do understand where you are coming from when you speak of fearing to speak your mind. Often my good heart gets in the way of things for me though. I never seem to have the courage to say something for myself. I could easily speak up for another but when it comes to myself I find it difficult out of fear of insulting another. I do, now, have an appreciation for what compassion I have though seeing how one such as yourself can value it much. I guess, maybe the fear is the only thing to be of concerned with for me and my kindness is not my weakness at all. Anyways, I appreciate you sharing your experience. We often find ourselves trying to identify many variables that many others have already come across. I guess you can say, you are never alone in your situation no matter what it may be.

    1. Vernon, thank you for sharing your own experiences – and thank you for your service. I think 2 tours is very courageous. Isn’t it interesting how our fear emotions work? We can easily defend another person but worry about speaking up for ourselves. The courage to love myself is another practice I am working on constantly. Compassion and kindness under difficult circumstances are sometimes the bravest actions we can take so never feel that is a weakness!

  7. Stephanie,

    First of all, technically the glass is ALWAYS full. Half Water, Half Air. LOL

    All kidding aside, with the half-empty analogy we really can insert whatever we want there. Fear, self-doubt worry and pessimism or courage, compassion and optimism, as you pointed out.

    Using mindful techniques, like you describe is just taking control of your own power and future. Bravo for your changes, and a great lesson for anyone else struggling to make the most of their lives.

    -Steve

    1. Haha, thanks Steve – humor always appreciated! I think you are right, there are so many opportunities for improvement that can be inserted into the analogy. I always feel hopeful knowing that persistence pays off when working with these challenges in our lives. :-)

  8. I stay optimistic by always trying to remember things could go either way. One bad outcome doesn’t mean that will always be the result.

    Sometimes there’s a speed bump right before the incline.

    ~Lea

    1. You are so right, Lea. We definitely have to remember that things don’t always work out as expected. You can’t beat yourself up for falling back on negative habits, you just have to keep moving forward with the positive expectations in mind!

    1. Absolutely, Dan. Creativity is another incredible way of approaching positive practices. I like the idea that the glass is always full of something! It’s our choice what we put in there.

  9. Very honest post. One can improve only if one know one’s weakness. It requires guts to confront one’s weakness in measuring up to one’s expectations and courage to get over them in course of time. Compassion is to be empathetic to others’ less placed than me and to go beyond ego. Stephanie is on right track. All the power of God to her.

    1. Thanks for your comment Mahavir. My friend & I had a conversation after she read the post and we discussed that practicing compassion extends to many areas of our life. For instance, no one’s struggle should be considered more or less valid than any one else’s – to say my challenges are difficult than yours, for instance, is just the ego talking. More opportunities to examine & work on in my personal journey!

  10. Wow, Stephanie! The part that most resonated with me was the “muscle memory” for compassion. I transferred this a bit to muscle memory for bravery.

    At a much earlier stage of my life I acted with a lot less bravery than I’d like to think I have now. Turns out it was all about self image and NARRATIVE…the story we tell ourselves, to ourselves, about ourselves. Over time, experience and a disciplined study of self improvement, I changed my narrative.

    And in the process of doing so, I came across situations that in the past would have elicited a reaction of, if not cowardice, certainly not bravery. My self image just doesn’t allow that anymore. Bravery was the default position. Not because of what I chose to do…but because of who I became.

    You’ve written something thought provoking and important. Thank you.

    1. Thanks so much for your comment, Larry! Our internal narrative or self stories definitely have a lot to do with how we react to the world. Throughout my personal journey I’ve always thought of self-improvement as being a lot like undertaking a fitness regimen. At first you’re not very good at it, and it’s painful. But eventually it does become your default and falling back on old habits feels more uncomfortable than taking positive steps.

  11. Keeping my tin of doing brave things topped up; every day I write something brave I need to do like check out the rates for car insurance and the result once I’ve done….at the end of the month I transfer my list of brave things on the pc and burn the little slips of paper.. now the result of an action prempt the brave thing. In other words…my insurance could be cheaper if I find out the rates…also keeping a happy tin…reflecting back that every day I experience a happy event..Keep at it…thanks for the article Stephanie

  12. “Compassion is about sidestepping your own concerns for a moment.” That got to me Stephanie!

    To be honest, if you look for the worst in everything people throw your way, you will find yourself at the end of your compassion.

    But if you take a second look at the why of it all, you will be surprised. Most of the ugly things people do are not because they are bad people but rather it’s due to ignore or they are overwhelmed by circumstances or even a mix of both.

    When you remember that, you will quickly realize that they need your compassion even more than ever. The trick though is to keep this timely reminder at hand. Practice!

    Personally my half full issue is with the ability to give everything especially relationships their due time and attention. Need to build some muscle memory for that.

    Thank you for sharing, Stephanie.

    – Jazilah

    1. Thanks so much for your comment, Jazilah! I’ve heard a saying that goes something like “If you look for the negative in everything, you will find it.” In the process of being human we have lots of tendencies that could be improved. Consciously practicing is the best way I have found to overcome or redirect those. I often remind myself that everyone is struggling with SOMETHING. It’s another way to help me keep a positive attitude when dealing with unfriendly people.

  13. Some great insights Stephanie, thank you. I like to keep my glass to filled to the brim and overflowing with gratitude… each night I journal 3 new things that happened during the day that I’m grateful for and 3 reasons why I’m grateful. So each entry actually has 4 gratitude points – this makes it hard to focus on what’s “missing” with so much to be grateful for staring me in the face.

    1. I love it, Lorna! I started a gratitude journal about a month or so ago and it has made a huge difference in how I approach the day. Gratitude is such an excellent way to replace our feelings of lack and negativity. Thanks so much for sharing your experience!

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