noun op·ti·mism \ ˈäp-tə-ˌmi-zəm \
1: a doctrine that this world is the best possible world
2: an inclination to put the most favorable construction upon actions and events or to anticipate the best possible outcome.
I’ve got nothing against Webster but, like “comfort zone,” I feel the need to redefine this word. To me, optimism is the beginning of it all.
Optimism comes from the Latin word Optimus (like that loveable 18-wheeler-slash-robot Optimus Prime). Optimus means “best.” That pretty much describes optimists: always looking for the best in others, the best in every situation and always expecting good things to happen. If necessity is the mother of invention, optimism is the father.
“The optimist invents the airplane, the pessimist the parachute.”
– George Bernard Shaw
Through my adventures, I’ve come across places, people and have loved hearing the stories of their hows and whys.
I’ve learned about prospectors, miners and settlers; I’ve shared mountains with climbers struggling for that next breath or to take that next step; I’ve walked through miles and miles of hiking trails and caves in state and national parks constructed by the CCC; I’ve cheered people at the ribbon cuttings of their dreams coming to fruition and have congratulated the happiest of couples in weddings; I’ve played with gadgets I can’t even believe exist and have stared at the proof of God in the faces of newborns - my own and countless others; I’ve put together fun activities for children temporarily in emergency foster care who’ve been separated from their parents for any number of reasons, and I’ve coached people who are starting new businesses and transitioning into their best lives on the other end.
The one thing I’ve noticed in all of these experiences is they are all born from optimism. Yes, optimism. No one begins anything without optimism. Optimism is the bright-side rationalization of the actions we’re about to take. Without optimism, we have no hope that it will work.
Without optimism, the prospector expects to find no gold, the married couple doesn’t expect it to work out in the end, the climber figures she will give up before the summit. It is optimism that has created things like smart phones and computers, televisions and automobiles, trains, planes, etc.
It is optimism that encourages people to begin families, to make positive changes that improve their lives, to sign a lease on a new storefront and to send men to the moon. It is optimism that helps those children believe wholeheartedly that their parents will be back for them and even in the difficulty of witnessing that, I’ve felt the power of optimism and its value in helping us through hard times.
Exercising the Optimism Muscle
It takes practice to scope out the silver lining if you’re not used to it – it’s been proven that the human brain loves negativity (it’s what kept us alive in ancient times). But even if you have described yourself as a pessimist in the past, you can learn to look for the positive.
Well for one, stop blaming yourself for everything that you are not responsible for and stop blaming others for those things that are your fault. The blame game helps no one. It misplaces responsibility and makes taking action that much harder. Optimism is being able to see those things that you’re at fault for and seeing positive actions you can take to change them.
It’s also a matter of health. Optimism actually reduces stress and studies have proven that optimism promoted the production of Dopamine. Dr. John Medina, author of Brain Rules, puts it into perspective as he describes that dopamine begins to fade as we age - beginning in our thirties.
Dopamine is actually responsible for our happiness, spikes our motivation and is even responsible for that courage to take risks. Medina says “Insert the key into the lock, and the car springs to life.” To him (as it should be to everyone), “Dopamine is a big deal.”
Dedicate yourself to focusing on the good - in all things and at every moment. Trust me that if you really start to pay attention - there is a great deal of good going on around you but we tend to focus on what’s not good thinking that needs more attention. Giving it that attention will only attract more of it into your life. If you want to start attracting more of the good into your life, start focusing on that more.
Practice gratitude - daily. If you don’t already, now’s a great time to start keeping a gratitude journal. We’re all busy and I understand we don’t always have time to start adding additional tasks to our days however, if you can incorporate just 5 minutes a day in order to write down what you are grateful for, I promise it will change your world.
Start with 3 things - the challenge of having to come up with 3 (I say challenge but trust me - it won’t be a challenge); then add to that number until you work your way up to 10 daily. Believe in the truth that the more you are grateful for the more you will have to be grateful for.
I often hear people way they are cautiously optimistic. STOP THAT! Be blatently optimistic and watch everything start to change.
Optimism is at the heart of every dream, of every first step, of every multi-billion dollar company that started in a garage and even man walking on the moon.