Can You Embrace Optimism After a Lifetime of Sadness? Yes, If You Want to!

I was working with a client
recently on his public speaking. As part of an exercise, I asked him to recount
a sad memory.

He paused. And then he paused
again. And then he paused some more.

“Wow, that’s really
tough,” he said, visibly struggling to call up a sad memory.
“Something sad… hmmm. Give me a sec.”

After a minute or two like this, I
finally interrupted him. “Can I lend you one of mine?”

This guy is lucky. Clearly, he hasn’t experienced as much sadness in his life as I have.

At least, that was my first
thought. But the more I worked with him, the more I realized that it wasn’t
just that he’d somehow managed to escape tragedy, even well into his 60s.

It was that he’d made a conscious
choice to be optimistic.

I’ve noticed a similar quality in
one of my colleagues. We will deliver a workshop together, and afterwards, he
will immediately declare, “Well, that should translate into a business

Regardless of how well the workshop
actually went, I’ll find myself responding, “Yeah, maybe. But what if… the CEO is felled by a tree/I contract
a life-threatening case of meningitis overnight/Brexit wipes out all
communications consultants now and forever more/Fill in the
You get the idea.

We’ve experienced the exact same
workshop. And yet one of us walks out and shouts “Hooray!” while the
other one worries, “What if it all goes to sh#$?”

This same colleague has taught me a
lot about the power of positive thinking.

I had already discovered the power
of affirmations for my writing life – courtesy of Julia Cameron’s The
Artist’s Way
 – long before I met him. But now I’m regularly
applying affirmations to my work life as well

On a daily basis, I’ll find myself
uttering things like: “I’m a great salesperson” or “I enjoy client relationship
management,” and “I’m highly skilled at empowering people to achieve their full
communications potential.”

Even when I only half-heartedly
believe them, I find that these affirmations help.

As does meditation. One of the
great virtues of the mindfulness app I listen to every morning is that
it encourages me to discover the “blue sky” inside
– a happy place where
the clouds part and the birds chirp and the rays of sunshine fill my world.

A lot of the focus in mindfulness
is on accessing that blue sky feeling. Over time, you come to realize that it’s
not something you need to reach for outside yourself; it’s something that’s
already there.

The research bears this out. I was
struck by a couple of recent experimental studies which show that if you induce
people to be optimistic
, they can actually change their behavior.

In one such study, providing simple
assets – such as a cow or other livestock – to poor people in developing
countries led to increased labor and other investments on their part.

In another, respondents in
U.S. soup kitchens were asked to recall a time they felt positive about
themselves. This, in turn, resulted in more effort in playing simple games,
compared to those who did not receive the “optimism prompt.”

Hope, it turns out, is a powerful

Perhaps this message is beginning
to sink in.

As someone who is haunted by
recurring dreams about test anxiety and getting lost, I recently had one of
those classic dreams where I was in a play and didn’t know the lines.

But in this dream, the ending was
different. Instead of freaking out and succumbing to the performance anxiety, I
chose instead to improvise the scene at hand. And, lo and behold, it worked

Just as with affirmations and blue
sky thinking, maybe my
bad dreams are trying to tell me something
: I’m actually OK. All will be

Perish the thought!

What kind of
thoughts fill your mind lately? Do you feel sad or optimistic most of the time?
Have you caught yourself sinking in anxiety and depression? Have you
experimented with positive affirmations? Do you think they work? In what ways?
Please share in the comments below.


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