Are you Open to Optimism?
“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty”. -Winston Churchill
Think of a movie you’ve seen with the following scene. An angel sits on one shoulder and a devil on the other. They are arguing with the character, both trying to persuade their point of view. (Garfield comes to mind haha) While it looks completely nonsensical on television, it’s so accurate of what many of us have put ourselves through so often.
One voice says, “What if I fail? What if people laugh at my ideas? What if I can’t afford it…what if I make a fool of myself…what if he doesn’t like me…what if I can’t..what if..what if..what if ?”. This is the voice of sheer undeniable self-sabotage that has so sadly set up camp like and unwelcome in-law that refuses to leave.
Regrettably, this is an area where we are not very good friends to ourselves. When this voice creeps up, we allow it to say things to us that we would never say to our friends.
Be a Good Friend…To You
Your best friend comes to you with an idea. She wants to run a 5k. She is not in great shape and has never run one before. Would you ask her any of the “what if” questions above? Uh, no. Not a chance are you going to tell her she will fail and make a fool of herself.
In fact, if you are a good friend, you probably throw your full support her direction. You offer to help her train a few evenings and find her a sponsor. You help her pick out some new jogging shoes and pour a full cup of moral support.
So why is it we can’t be as encouraging to ourselves? For some, it is years of putting others first. Or maybe a few failures that still sting so we give up trying our new ideas or reaching out to others. Smothering our optimism and potential with “what ifs” makes an awfully long list of regrets while keeping us from growing and living life fully.
Change the Channel
How do we reverse this optimism crushing mentality? I call it a challenge of “Why nots?”.
Dust off one of your old dreams or ideas. Pitch it to yourself as if it were your best friend saying it to you instead of yourself. Perhaps your idea or dream has far more potential than you realize? Did you know that the slinky, post it notes, and penicillin were all discovered by sheer accident? As a result, we have a great toy, office product, and life-saving medication. You could obtain financial independence or find a new niche that suits your happiness. You could meet the man of your dreams or achieve more than you’ve ever imagined possible. Just maybe light your marriage on fire like newlyweds again!
Some people ask, “Can I just say what if and replace the end of the sentence with positive words?”. Well, you could but my research and experience reveal is it usually doesn’t last. What If almost always draws us back to doubt and failure. “Why not” is more of a carefree and subtle, “Yes, I’m going for it”. Pitch any idea and answer with why not.
I’d like to ask my boss for a raise. This isn’t followed by, “What if he gets mad, demotes me, or fires me?” This is replaced by, “Why not? He might say no but he might say yes and at least he’ll know I think I deserve more”.
I’m going to tell my husband I’d like more date nights. Why not? He will know I love spending time with him and value our time together.
Perhaps I should go to that Wednesday study group and see if I can meet some new friends? Why not?
See, if this were your best friend coming to you with these ideas, you would answer with why not, not what if’s? You wouldn’t say to your friend, “Grace, you really shouldn’t ask for a raise. What if they just laugh at you and say no. Oh, and if you tell David you want more date nights he might yell at you and say you can’t afford it. By the way, what if none of the girls at that Wednesday study group click with you, so maybe you shouldn’t waste your time”.
Do you hear how ridiculous this sounds? Yet many people do it to themselves all the time! I know that I have completely psyched myself out and talked myself out of many things I should have gone for with full gusto.
Frozen in Fear
Why the struggle? Well many of us find it easy to believe in our friends, but ourselves, that’s another story. We are more familiar with our own shortcomings. Optimism has been replaced by fear. Fear leads to a lack of action. I believe a woman named Jen Groover has written an entire book on this very theory of what if’s and why not’s geared toward starting a business.
Everything from failed relationships to missed goals chips away at our confidence. Without some conscious effort to remain positive and optimistic, things can get bleak and stagnant. Lowering standards or letting go of dreams and goals completely are fearful side effects of perceived failure.
A New Goal
What are we hoping to accomplish by asking Why Not instead of What if? Well, how about more optimism? An increased sense of self-worth and accomplishment. Maybe more ease in social situations. Probably a few new friends or hobbies. More likely, you’ll completely crush some goals that have been sitting on a back burner!
You see, Jim Carey’s Yes Man, was an extreme example and I would never recommend his tactic, however, the theory holds. He said yes to so many opportunities and as a result, he really began to live outside of his comfort zone. And because he had already committed to saying yes, he was forced through some awkward moments. Once he was through the other side, he realized his “what ifs” were silly. He had been holding himself back for so long because of fear.
I certainly would not recommend saying yes or why not to everything. That’s absurd and would go against our own protective mechanisms. Just because your speedometer in your new Lexus says 160 doesn’t mean you should give it gas. However, I am guessing there are a few things you have been reluctant to try or do, out of fear.
Start Somewhere, Anywhere
Try that new yoga class or personal trainer.
Pitch your business idea to that sponsor.
Go back to church after that long absence.
Buy the side slit little black dress and wear it! Own It!
Enroll in that cooking class you’ve wanted to try for years.
Ask for help with something that has been weighing you down.
Enter the contest.
Belt that beautiful voice at karaoke.
Cut ties with the not so good friend.
Say no to an obligation you don’t care for to make time for something you love.
Ask him out for coffee.
Quit the job you can’t stand.
Book the vacation and just go.
I have thrown myself a lifeline of a new kind this year. After years of raising kids and working, I noticed my social life was really starting to suffer. I didn’t belong to any mom groups, I didn’t arrange play dates, in fact, I had basically isolated myself for the better part of eight years.
My friend invited me to a girls night. I didn’t know anyone who was going to be there. Normally I would have made an excuse not to go. Instead, I thought, Why Not? and graciously accepted. I had fun. Another pal asked what I wanted for my birthday. I asked her for a group pass to a new personal trainer in town, although I did ask her to join me. We both enjoyed the experience.
A few months ago I stopped asking the What If’s about this blog and trust me, I had a laundry list of them. I let the Why Not take over. So far, so good.
Out of a Rut
Even the scary can lead to somewhere better. Just a few years out of high school I had a long term relationship that was not ideal. I had the lingering feeling he was being unfaithful. I am slightly confrontational by nature because I do not like unresolved conflict but this situation had me saying, What If, almost daily. Hence, driving myself crazy. Finally, I took the chance and said, “Why not confront him?”. I had already played out every horrible, ugly what if scenario in my head. Living it out, in reality, could not be as bad as hitting replay every day.
I was right. He was being unfaithful. I was going to be searching for a new place to live and financially hurt for a while. But the what if’s were finally trumped and opened up some doors that should have been walked through long before. My what if’s had me frozen like Elsa on a north Canada winter day. Did it hurt, yep. But you know what hurts more? Freezing up and living in misery for maybe a year or so. And lowering my standards and self-esteem enough to put myself in that situation for so long.
I look back now and realize how much time I wasted on the what if’s. I
should could have confronted him and handled it nearly a year sooner than I did. That entire year was misery and I can’t recall a single good memory while enduring the what if’s. I robbed myself of peace, happiness, and growth. I damaged my self-worth because of fear. Lesson painfully and partially learned. I have still allowed what if’s to creep in from time to time but not on that scale.
Do It For You
Meanwhile, back to the self-sabotaging in-law who refuses to leave on their own. Pack the bags and toss them off the front steps. Tell What If to get lost and invite Why Not to stay a while. Cheer for yourself, encourage yourself and be a good friend not just to your friends, but you as well.
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