I mean, if something bad happens to you, can you decide to feel happy instead of angry or sad?
What would you think the typical optimist would say? “Yep. Sure thing. Do it all the time.” Even though I’ve heard similar responses, I submit to you that this is a false statement.
You cannot choose to be in any state of emotion let alone happiness.
Now what a minute?! That doesn’t seem right…or does it?
What do we actually choose when we are able to find peace in a difficult situation? Or conversely, if you feel angry about something? Is it the emotion?
Try feeling an emotion right now. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
If you actually succeeded in recalling an emotion, it’s because you thought of a memory (or imagined a memory) and you began to recall the emotion you felt at that moment. It’s what we actors call emotional recall.
So what does this “trick” have to do with being an optimist?
Well for starters, it’s important to know where emotions come from. For the most part, emotions spontaneously happen whether we want them to or not. Emotions aren’t good or bad. They just are.
How we respond to those emotions varies based on our personality, life experience, values, etc. Our thoughts are the main driver that shape how we deal with emotions, how we view them, and what actions we take (or don’t take) because of that emotion.
Here’s a classic example.
Someone critiques your work. It could be a parent, teacher, boss, spouse or whoever. You are very proud of your work and yet this person has found a way to pick it apart finding flaws everywhere.
Most people will feel defensive, hurt, angry or something similar. That’s okay. Recognize that feeling and then choose what to think.
Perhaps you can think of how everyone’s a critique so don’t take it personally. Or as an optimist you could think how much better your work can be with this new feedback. Or how wonderful this person is to think of you highly enough to want you to be better.
After enough repetition of changing your thought pattern (whether in reflection or real life situations), your mind will gravitate towards those thoughts more easily the next time it actually does happen.
And the interesting thing you’ll start to recognize is that as your thought patterns change, so does your emotions.
Now let’s bring this full circle and talk about choice again. We do have some control over what thoughts we think. If we don’t like the thoughts that are in there, there are methods and techniques to replace them with new thoughts.
This is easier said than done. I mean people make a full-time career over helping people change their mindset.
It can be done.
You simply need to choose to do so. I don’t claim to have all the answers, but I do have a lot of experience trying – both as an artist and in my personal life – and maybe I can share something in following posts that you can use.
I’d love to hear from you on how you make choices in your life. I’m not talking about decision-making. I’m talking about that simple act of going from off to on (or vice versa) after a decision is made – choosing to following through with a decision. Thanks.