Saturday, January 05, 2008

Pragmatic Optimism

I’m a pragmatist. My training and degrees are in mathematics. Bottom line for me is: Does this work?

I spent much of my life a pessimist—sure life sucked and always would for me. And it did. I worked on healing and was in intense pain while I did so. Life was scary and I hated myself and my relationships were not healthy.

It’s only in retrospect that I realized there was a whole other—and far easier and better—way to do things. That’s when I deliberately became an optimist. Now the healing that hadn’t been working started to work. Now my life began getting better. Now I found myself—finally!—moving forward. I actually began making real, concrete changes in my life that worked. I actually stopped being afraid. My life actually got good.

So I’m trying to look back and take apart what happened and describe it here.

1) I realized that I couldn’t force myself to do anything. I didn’t work that way. I had to WANT to do it and believe that I could. Which meant I needed to....

2) Work on believing in myself. That’s when I began making lists of successes in my life and what I was good at. Reasons to believe I could and would succeed. Which meant...

3) When there was something I needed to face or a change I needed to make, I looked at possible ways to do it and asked myself: Which step uses my strengths and talents? Which one feels like something I can do? That doesn’t mean the step was easy or fun, it means I chose the one that was EASIEST of possibly a bunch of difficult steps. And to motivate myself...

4) I knew that browbeating myself didn’t work. What would? Creating some kind of reward for myself each time I did something difficult. Example: When I went to see my therapist, on the way home—EVERY TIME—I would do something that made me smile—no matter how crappy I felt. I did that because otherwise I would never have kept going. Therapy was just too damn scary and hard if I didn’t build in some kind of reward. (And oh, yeah, as I’d get to the office, before I walked in, I’d take a deep breath and go over my list of reasons to believe I could succeed.) Even that wouldn’t have been enough if I didn’t.....

5) Visualize. I would imagine succeeding. I would imagine being free of the pain. I would imagine believing in myself. I would imagine standing up to the things that scared me. I would imagine being happy. And that helped give me the courage to go on. The funny thing is....

6) The more I did this—choosing to be an optimist, choosing to believe I could succeed, choosing to build in rewards—the easier things did get and the more progress I made. I actually began to be happy. First in short moments, then in minutes, hours, and finally days. Now, when faced with anything I don’t want to do I....

7) Imagine succeeding. Break it down into steps and ask myself which I can picture myself doing with the least resistance. Figure out how to make it fun OR how to build in some kind of reward. I focus on the good that could come out of the situation—no matter how awful it seems in that moment. And I do that because....

8) I’m a pragmatist. Of all the things I’ve tried, optimism is the only thing that ever worked. And I’ve faced awful things in my life. So terrible that I sometimes feel like: How can I be me when this happened to me? But I am. Because looking back, even in the depths of my pessimism, there was a part of me just too blasted stubborn to give up. There was a part of me determined to find a way to succeed—if only so I could thumb my nose at those who told me I never would.

The process of recovering from abuse will never be easy. I knew that early on. But I decided one day that just because other people had hurt me it didn’t mean I had to keep hurting myself. I decided that I didn’t give a damn what other people thought I should do or changes they thought I should make. I was going to heal MY way—which meant finding the least painful route through the process. I was going to believe I was going to be able to heal—no matter what anyone else believed, therapist or not. I was going to build rewards into every darned painful step of the way—so that I wouldn’t be tempted to stop because THAT would have been easier in the short run. I decided to focus on where I wanted to be with my life so that short term temporary satisfaction wouldn’t tempt me to give up on the steps I needed to take to get to where I wanted to be.

I couldn’t have made it, wouldn’t have made it without cold-bloodedly choosing to be an optimist. I’d have ended up dead—by my own hand. I say that bluntly with absolute certainty. What saved me was each time refusing to think of how and instead making lists of reasons not to. I look back and know how close I came—over and over and over again.

I’d still be stuck in the middle of the nightmare of what was once my life if I hadn’t found a way to build rewards into the process of growing and healing. I wouldn’t be where I am—happy NOW—if I hadn’t made a deliberate decision to find someway, no matter how hard it was, to find a reason to laugh at least 3 times a day, every day, no matter what was happening—and the worse the day, the more important it was to do this.

I hope this clarifies somewhat the things I was trying to say in my last couple of posts.

Sending blessings and safe and gentle (((((((hugs))))))),

April_optimist

13 comments:

Enola said...

I'm all for the reward system. When I finish a T session, I often buy myself a frappucino or coffee. If I'm having trouble going, I'll treat myself to some chocolate before I go. And now I try to not sit in the lobby thinking of how I'm not going to make any progress and planning every minute of conversation. Instead I put my head back, close my eyes, take deep breaths and focus on just 'being' - it's amazing how changing your thoughts can help

http://mycloudsandmystorms.blogspot.com/ has a good post on this today.

April_optimist said...

Good for you, Enola! I'm smiling and nodding my head. Oh, and you're right about that post you gave a link for.

gypsy-heart said...

Excellent post...I found myself saying yes over and over!
I really do think it is about choices and the law of attraction.
Laughter is big on my list too.
I am happy that you linked us because I really love your message. I'm very much looking forward to reading your words.
~g-h
ps "you" are the post I just finished. :)

Rising Rainbow said...

Yes, this is much clearer now. Thanks!

Changing from a pessimist to an optimist is a big part of healing. I think some come to it like the turning on of a switch and others get there gradually, maybe even kicking and screaming along the way. The important part is that they get there.

keepers said...

This is an excellent post in our opinion, that outlook is so important, positive outlook equals positive results, in some ways it really is that simple, once we can get past the old tapes and use the positivity!

peace and blessings

Keepers

Marj aka Thriver said...

April: One of the reasons I admire and respect you so much as an optimist is because you've seen the other side and you chose a better way! Another great post suitable for the BLOG CARNIVAL AGAINST CHILD ABUSE, for sure!

Happy New Year my friend!

April_optimist said...

Gypsy Heart, Welcome again and I'm so glad the post resonated with you.

Rising Rainbow, I agree. And it's not about pretending to be happy, it's about discovering ways to genuinely feel optimistic.

Keepers, Yup. But I know it can be scary--especially if we were told we didn't deserve to be happy or were crazy if we thought we could be...

Marj, Thank you. I hope you know how much respect I have for you, as well.

Patricia Singleton said...

April, thanks for sharing your journey with us.

Marj aka Thriver said...

I'm so glad this made it into the carnival! Great stuff!

April_optimist said...

Patricia and Marj, Thank you for reading and valuing it.

Alex Marlin said...

Very nice post...

If I didn't know you from seeing you, I would have never ever believed you were what you described here.

I have never seen you as a coward, just think of you as a shining star, now I know why I felt that energy...

It is amazing to know how you can know someone and not really know them, and at the same time wonder how people meet, that are striving for the same things in life.

Keep writing, because I will be here reading, honestly love your style of writing.

Tell me a little bit about the writing class you teach?

Can any and everyone participate?

Have a nice one...

April_optimist said...

Alex,

Thanks for the kind words. I give a lot of writing workshops--some of them online--using my published author identity. The current one is on various aspects of writing a book.

April_optimist said...

Alex, I've tagged you for the survivor meme, if you'd like to play.