My initial goal for these monthly themes was to write at least 3 posts on each topic. The problem is, I have a tendency to take extended periods of time to mull over what I’ve written. I took about two weeks to mull over this one, and it’s kind of a miracle that I finished it before March. Quick writing isn’t one of my strengths. I’m working on that.
Anyway, in my last post I talked about how pessimistic thoughts happen to pretty much everybody, and it’s something we each need to overcome. I also discussed the idea of using hope to combat pessimism’s ever-present accompice–fear. However, I really didn’t talk too much about optimism. I knew if I even started into optimism I’d go off on another risk-related tangent, and I wanted to save that for another day. Today happens to be that day.
Because hope and optimism are so intertwined, it really is amazing that I was able to stop myself. Here is how I separate hope from optimism. Hope is something you do–an action–while optimism is more of an attitude–something you become. If we get into the habit of stopping pessimistic thoughts with hope, an attitude of optimism is created, and fewer pessimistic thoughts surface. Our hope strengthens our optimism, and in return optimism increases our hope.
Let’s use a metaphor. If hope is an action, then we can compare it to running. What happens when you run a lot? You get increased strength, and thus more endurance; your body becomes something greater. You’re seeing the parallel between strength and optimism right? Neither are things you really do. They are things you develop. With this increased strength and endurance, you are capable of running farther. And in turn, the farther you run, the stronger you get. It’s a pretty awesome cycle.
Anyway, in the last post I differentiated between realistic pessimism (both hopeful and hopeless) and unrealistic pessimism. I could probably do the same with optimism, but at this point it’s like splitting hairs. Optimism, whether founded or unfounded, is a good thing, so I won’t go there. There is, however, one very strange breed of optimism out there: denial. It’s probably optimism’s third cousin twice removed or something like that, but there are definitely some similarities.
A couple months ago my husband and I were flipping through the channels on TV and happened across an interesting show on Discovery Channel called Curiousity. This show explores a variety of life’s big questions. The topic that night was, “Your Body on Drugs.” They found users of several different drugs and asked them to accomplish some tasks while under the influence to see how the drugs impacted their performance. They also measured the person’s heart rate, body temperature, etc. to see the physiological impact on the drug users as they performed these tasks.
At the end of the show, they showed each drug user the results. One girl was told that the drug she smoked regularly had caused her 20ish-year-old lungs to look like the lungs of an 80-year-old. As they told her of the implications of her drug use on her health she began to cry. She looked terrified. They offered to get her into drug rehab, and she accepted.
For one man who was in his twenties, his drug of choice (I want to say cocaine, but I can’t remember for sure) caused his heart rate and body temperature to go crazy high. They informed him that if he continued to put this stress on his heart, it would almost surely cause cardiac arrest within the next several years (I can’t remember the exact number–probably 10 or 15). They showed him all sorts of graphs and statistics, and strongly encouraged him to enter drug rehab in order to extend his life. He acted as though they’d told him that he had a 0.1% chance of getting cancer from Bubble Yum Bubble Gum. He insisted that those things would never happen to him.
Is this optimism? Kind of. Does he have hope? Yes… although it’s somewhat misguided. He has hope that his harmful behavior won’t have negative consequences. But here’s the kicker–is he fearful? He definitely didn’t show it, but I would imagine that deep down he knows what he’s doing to his body isn’t good. I’m sure he has noticed that he can’t function without this drug, and it probably scares him. But he probably figures that if he ignores it long enough, it will go away. That’s what denial is all about–hope that there will be no consequences. So while denial looks very similar to optimism, it has one very important difference. Denial’s hope stems from the fear of consequences. Optimism’s hope is something that occurs in spite of fear, with definite mindfulness of consequences. It all goes back to how we look at consequences. Do we fear them? Embrace them? Avoid them? Or do we use them to become better?
I have a friend who wrote a fabulous post about jumping–it’s really short, so read it. I love this idea. There are so many great consequences that we miss out on because we’re too afraid to go out on a limb. Be nice to the people around you! Try new things! Celebrate victories! Address your problems! Be awesome! These things can’t happen unless we’re willing to live a life free of fear and denial.