Life & FamilyAugust 6, 2014

My Better Half On Optimism


So today is my 35th birthday and as I’ve mentioned earlier I’m having a little bit of trouble with it.  A lot of that trouble has to do with my generally pessimistic attitude (what I like to think of as “realistic”.) Andrew, on the other hand, is like a bouncing ball of positivity, and to be honest, has had more tricky, tough stuff happen to him than me. Yet he remains able to never let life get him  while I tend to take on a more “Eeyore” cast. It’s amazing, and one of the things I love (and relay on) most about him. So I asked him to write a little about how he stays so positive about life and here’s what he had to say:

Erin asked me to write a blog on how I maintain my seemingly unending positivity. It’s funny, because even the way she asked me that had the “and by positive I mean naïve” undertone. Ok, I get it. Maybe sometimes. I obviously can’t speak for all us positive people, but I will offer some insight into my mindset.

First off, it really is a mindset. I get in bad moods, feel sad, feel anxious, have the “what if <insert worst case scenario>” thoughts too. But at some point I just decided that I hated feeling that way. And since it doesn’t do me any good, I do whatever it takes to not feel that way. PLEASE NOTE: That does not mean I ignore those feelings. It doesn’t mean, that I don’t understand and contemplate the underlying causes. It means that I don’t let them linger. There are always at least two ways to approach anything…and I just choose to look at the bright side. It is more fun that way. Of course that is easier said than done. But no one ever said being positive was easy. I would argue it is a lot harder than being a pessimist.

Music, TV and movies help me. I know for a fact that when I listen to upbeat music I get happier. When I watch Friends reruns I am in a better mood afterward than if I watch The Following. Your environment matters and you have a certain level of control over that. You have to work on putting yourself in the presence of happiness to be happy. At least I do. That includes the people around you. If you only hang out with angry, cynical or pessimistic people then you cannot help but to begin to feel that way too. That is not to say you need to jettison all those people from your life, you need them to balance, just make sure it there is actually a balance. And while we are on it, make sure you make time for people in general. Both Erin and I would probably sit at home with our dogs watching movies all weekend if we didn’t make effort to be social. IT can be an effort, but we are always glad we did.

Keep it clean. We always laugh at how Erin is the designer but I am the neat freak. When my physical life is cluttered, so is my mind. I have a much harder time relaxing in a mess…whether that is my office, car or home. So I take time to organize. I make to do lists, file papers, vacuum, empty the dishwasher and put my clothes away. I need to place where I can focus and relax at the same time.

More recently, I have been trying to shut down. I mean stop looking at my computer, phone and TV all at once. It is not relaxing. I hate that my instinct is to look through Facebook on my phone while watching TV. We cannot settle our minds like this. I have been trying to meditate recently. And by meditate I mean just get quiet and focus on my breath. I had no idea how hard this would be. Every time I do it I can feel how jittery I am (I think I can feel my brain vibrate). That just trying to get quiet is so hard is reason enough to do it more often. It scares me that my brain is begging for constant stimulation. So I am trying to retrain it to let go.

Another big key for me is learning to be ok with who I am without being complacent. This has been increasingly important as I grow older. There are two tricks I use. First, when I get jealous of someone else for some reason, whether it is career success or whatever, I say to them (or at least out loud to myself) how happy I am for them. If I can be happy for some one else’s success, while still working towards my own goals, then that seems to help me break the jealousy. Second is doing something for others. Whether that is volunteering for a charity or simply holding the door for someone, it makes me feel good.

But the most important thing is how I deal with stress in general. And there are two kinds in my mind. Stress you can deal with and stress that is outside your control. I know that if I have things I have to do that I really don’t want to do and I let them stay on my to do list too long, it builds unnecessary stress. Same as if I put off going to the gym. In fact, anything I put off that ultimately I know I have to do weighs on me. So I force myself to do it. I will myself to put on workout clothes and get in the car knowing that the momentum will carry me to the gym. I will block out a couple hours in the morning to power through all the “crap” I don’t want to do (I do that in the morning because that is when I am my best…if that is a different time of day for you then do it then). I always feel better afterwards. And without fail, it is never as bad as it was in my mind. Never.

And for the stress I have no control over, I have been able to recognize it and just move on. This has been a life long practice and didn’t come easy. I try and think about the amazing people who have real problems, like cancer, and yet go on with their lives because cancer is going to happen whether they like it or not. They can go through all the treatments, lose their hair, and a whole host of other issues, but they don’t have a choice and therefore accept it and move forward. It is what it is. You can choose to wallow in self-pity or go out and enjoy what you can of life. That is a choice. Much easier said than done, but possible.

Being a positive person isn’t living in la-la land and it isn’t easy. I have the same fears, stress and worries as everyone else. It is just how I choose to approach them that is different. Or maybe that it is that I believe there is a choice in how to approach them in the first place. I don’t mean to sound flip and I certainly realize that some people have a much harder time doing this than I do…I am wired to be more positive than some I believe. But Erin wanted to know (and thought others might too) and so there it is. Hope this helps someone and if you are a positive person and have some other helpful hints, please share.




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