By Paul Dalton
“I can’t change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination.” – Jimmy Dean
When I was a kid I would imagine that I could make things happen just by thinking about them. For example, if my best friend was coming over to play I’d look out for him from my bedroom window and try to control the exact moment he would come cycling around the corner into my road (I was an odd child!). I would close my eyes, count to ten and then open them again, expecting to see him arriving right on cue. I was never very good at it though!
What interests me about that childhood memory is that it follows a very similar pattern to how many of us still operate as adults. Not that that we consciously go around believing that we are controlling the external world with our thoughts, but that we place firm expectations on how things are supposed to turn out and by when. When we are clear about what we want to have happen in the future we often rely on optimism as a way of assuring ourselves that everything will turn out just right.
I believe optimism is a vital quality to have, but there are different ways of doing it. Generally speaking there are two strategies for being optimistic, each of which leads to a very different kind of experience:
1 – HOPEFUL PREDICTIONS
This is the strategy that most people learn to adopt early on. It is partly based on the belief that Positive Thinking is the key factor that influences the outcome of a desire. It is also based on the belief that what seems reasonable to one person must also seem reasonable to another and therefore the intended result should be pretty much guaranteed. E.g. “It seems reasonable to me that I have worked in this company long enough to be included in the next round of promotions, so I don’t see that my boss will overlook me this time.”
‘Hopeful predictions’ involve us imagining desirable future scenarios and then placing our demands on how and when we expect them to manifest. This is all well and good if our predictions are based on sound probabilities, but when it is more of a finger in the air job we are often just setting ourselves up for a fall.
• I’m optimistic I’ll have been promoted within 6 months
• I’m optimistic I will win The X Factor
• The sun will come out tomorrow
• This time next year I’ll be a millionaire
• I’ll be well again by Summer
Of course, when our ‘hopeful predictions’ actually do come true (by luck or otherwise) we naturally congratulate ourselves for staying positive and not letting obstacles get in the way. However, when they don’t, we get frustrated and feel hard done by. That is why it is common to hear people say things like “I’ve tried to be optimistic, but it doesn’t work!”
The problem isn’t that Positive Thinking as a way of being optimistic isn’t effective. The problem is in thinking that the Universe should be working to our schedule! The law of cause and effect is the most reliable enabler of results, but when it comes to making optimism work for us rather than against us we must lose our obsession with timeframes!
2 – FAITH BASED OPTIMISM
Using faith as a basis for optimism is really about trusting the natural law of cause and effect. We all know that given the right conditions a flower will grow and bloom in its own good time. We don’t need to give it a deadline.
If the ‘effect’ is a beautiful flower opening up, the ’cause’ must have been someone planting a seed in fertile soil and making sure it had the right amount of sunlight and water to encourage growth. We can always be optimistic that a flower will result because it is the nature of flowers to flourish under such conditions. What we can’t always guarantee is the precise moment the petals will burst open from the bud, but that’s ok – we can be patient ;o)
This is how faith based optimism works best for us. Rather than making hopeful predictions that circumstance will just swing in our favor, we need to understand the conditions that are most likely to cause the effect we want. As we go about providing those conditions we can have genuine faith that we doing exactly what is needed for our seed to flourish. We cannot guarantee the exact moment it will bloom, but we can have faith that it will.
Faith based optimism can also mean not insisting on a specific goal having to be met, in order to free up some space and creativity to satisfy the fundamental desires that were driving that goal in the first place. For example, rather than pinning all her hopes on being promoted within 6 months, Sally may need to recognize that what is really important to her (besides money!) is simply being recognized and rewarded for adding real value to her employer by doing work that is challenging and meaningful. The key is then for her to ask “What kind of conditions do I need to create for myself in order to make that kind of outcome inevitable?” If she is then willing to drop the deadline, her optimism will continue to let them know she is following the right path.
Here is another example of how to turn a ‘hopeful prediction’ into ‘faith based optimism’:
“I am optimistic I’ll meet the girl / boy of my dreams and be married within 3 years. I’ll then have someone to give me the life I want.”
What is the REAL underlying importance of that?
“To have companionship with someone who compliments my personality and who is open to giving and receiving affection within a loving relationship. I am quite an adventurous person and it would be great to share my life with someone who also sees life as a bit of an adventure… oh, and kids would be nice too!!”
Conditions for Faith Based Optimism:
“I know that when I take responsibility for nurturing my own wellbeing and happiness I am naturally more attractive to others. When I am happy in myself I tend to do the things that bring fun and adventure to my life, which causes me to express authentic joy in a way that reflects who I really am. If I am expressing my true happy self whilst doing fun and adventurous things, I’m likely to meet lots of other fun and adventurous people, of which one may well turn out to be… THE ONE.”
Pick an area of your life that you would love to be genuinely optimistic about.
Rather than being specific in what exactly needs to happen and when, take a step back and investigate the deeper, more general desire that wants to be satisfied.
Ask yourself, “If the kind of result I am looking for were a seed, what conditions would I need to provide to allow it to flourish?”
Then with patience, faith and love continue to do what you know to do give that seed every chance of life.