Join me for The Possibility Podcast with Mel Schwartz #112, in which I explore how we can each adopt a worldview of empowering and pragmatic optimism.
Listen to learn how our life experiences guide our perceptions and attitudes… and how we can choose a different, more enriching path.
Let me know what you think! Be sure to leave a comment!
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Transcript of The Possibility Podcast with Mel Schwartz #112
Hello everybody and welcome to The Possibility Podcast. I’m your host, Mel Schwartz. I practice psychotherapy, marriage counseling, and I am the author of the book, The Possibility Principle, the companion to this podcast. I hope to be your thought provocateur and I’ll be introducing you to new ways of thinking and a new game plan for life.
My thoughts for today, our subject for exploration and inquiry, is about looking at the terms optimism and pessimism, optimist or pessimist. Think for a moment, where do you fall in that range? You think of yourself as an optimist, a pessimist, or perhaps somewhere in between. These broad categories are really about the filter through which we experience ourselves and our lives.
I wrote an article some time ago which was called “Why I Can’t or Why Can’t I?” In a way, that really illustrates the difference between optimism and pessimism. The optimist clearly says, why can’t I? They’ll move forward and they’ll try, they’ll venture forth. It doesn’t guarantee success, but it speaks about an engagement in the process, trying. Whereas the pessimist thought will go toward, why I can’t? Why I can’t try that business? Why I can’t ask that personnel on a date? It’s a foreclosing of possibilities. Optimism opens us up to possibilities.
Remember my work and teachings around uncertainty and embracing uncertainty; it’s a range of absolutely extensive, remarkable reality of possibilities. The optimist can try to seize those possibilities. The pessimist doesn’t trust it, or perhaps is afraid of failing and not succeeding, whereas they think other people might. Think of it this way, optimist or pessimist speaks to the filter through which we see and experience our lives and other people. When I say filter, let’s take that literally or metaphorically. If you went through your life wearing a pair of very dark sunglasses, it would look a lot cloudier, a lot darker than if you didn’t have the sunglasses on. Only you’d stop becoming aware that you’re wearing sunglasses and it filters everything you see and experience. Take the sunglasses off, well, you might be looking through rosy colored glasses if you’re the optimist.
So I’m generalizing now and there are always exceptions to every generalization, but pessimists tend to be guarded and self-protective, whereas optimists are comfortable with their vulnerability, taking a chance, going for it, maybe succeeding or not. Now there are terms that we use around optimism. They can be called a naive optimist, which suggests that they’re not doing their homework, they’re not doing their due diligence, they’re just hoping for the best. And certainly that category of person exists.
And then there is the realist. Now you can be a realist and still be an optimist, but there are people who consider themselves pessimists and equate that with realism. Now don’t be a naive optimist, be realistic. Now let me ask you this, when Steve Jobs quit college to start off on his entrepreneurial venture, was Steve Jobs being a realist? Was he simply a blind optimist or something in between? His move toward optimism, toward why can’t I, actually ultimately became his reality.
You see, reality isn’t out there as I’ve always spoken to you about. We participate in creating reality. It is a reality making participatory universe. We construct our realities. So let’s leave aside the outcomes for the moment and look at the process.
If you’re a college student about to take your ACTs or SATs, you don’t want to be naively optimistic and just think I’ll do great without doing your preparation. But optimists have different life experiences internally. Sometimes it’s not about the results. I find that when I go through periods of feeling daunted or confronted with challenges, things that might ordinarily get me down, my thoughts immediately turn to possibilities, solutions. The moment my thoughts head in that direction, I’m creating a new brain chemistry for myself. My actual lived experience internally have nothing to do with the outcomes. My lived experience benefits by being an optimist. Optimism informs your lived experience internally, not just externally. And pessimism puts an absolute clamp down template on your lived experience. You’re viewing everything through fear, limitation, and negativity. So optimistic thoughts alter your brain chemistry. Pessimistic thoughts alter your brain chemistry. Whether you’re an optimist or a pessimist is basically a question about your meta beliefs about yourself and reality.
Whether you’re an optimist or a pessimist, ask yourself, how did I come to this belief, to this outlook? Remember what I have taught you about wave collapses. And for those of you who are listening to this for the first time, let me explain a wave collapse. We learn in quantum physics that reality is in a suspended state waiting to happen. And reality doesn’t actually happen until an observation is made. That observation is called a wave collapse. More specifically, a particle, a light particle can exist as either a wave or a particle. The wave represents pure possibilities like the optimist’s thoughts. The moment the wave is observed, the wave literally collapses and it becomes a particle, a fixed entity. And the same thing happened to us in our lives. We come into life in a state of pure possibility. But based upon life experiences, childhood experiences, acute or chronic messages we got from our parents, we develop these meta beliefs about ourselves, which might be, go for it, go for your possibilities, no risk in trying. Maybe the only risk is in not trying. If those were the wave collapses, the messages you receive from your parents, you’re likely going to be an optimist. As well, if the messages you receive from your parents or other significant influences in your life were to take no risks, be cautious, don’t draw attention to yourself, then that explains why you came to the meta belief of pessimism.
So wherever you categorize yourself, simply ask this, how did I come to be an optimist? How did I come to be a pessimist? Or am I somewhere in between? And if I’m somewhere in between, what new reflections should I be having? What new contemplations might I have to be able to allow me to live my life in harmony with myself in a humanistic way where I can approach and embrace my possibilities without fear, without recrimination to myself, to others. So if you find yourself somewhere in the range of a moderate to a significant optimist, you’re not naive, you’re not going to a casino and losing your net worth so that you can’t pay the rent or feed your family because you had blind optimism that you are going to win that hand to blackjack. That’s not what I’m talking about.
I’m talking about, I can put my best self forward and go for it. Whether it’s friendships, romance, work, any area of relationship, the optimist engages life with an attitude of why can’t I? And with that life philosophy, it allows you to potentially thrive. The pessimist is burying their head in the sand, protecting themselves from further defeat, embarrassment, humiliation, loss, again, probably due to childhood lessons and experiences. You choose. Optimism will allow you a healthy brain chemistry and an engagement with life where you’re hoping for the best and moving toward the best. No guarantee of outcomes. Pessimism is a dog eat dog world. That’s how it is. I’m not getting involved. Well, that closes the script for you. Nowhere to go with that.
So just a few thoughts on optimism and pessimism. And I’d love to hear your comments and thoughts on this. Please challenge me about something I missed or your own experience, which may be very different than what I am describing.
Until next time, wishing you well, wishing you optimistic thoughts and feelings and a full engagement with your life. Bye for now.
I hope you enjoyed this episode of The Possibility Podcast. I welcome your feedback on this and any episode. Please send me an email at email@example.com or leave a comment in the show notes for this episode at melschwartz.com. If you like what you’re hearing, please take a moment to rate and review the show at Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. Your reviews really help boost the visibility for the show, and it’s a great way for you to show your support. Finally, please make sure to subscribe to the Possibility Podcast wherever you listen to podcasts, and that way you’ll never miss an episode. Thanks again, and please remember to always welcome uncertainty into your life and embrace new possibilities.