This is the third installment in a series on optimism. The first article described how optimism is a super power. The second article explored ways to build this super power. This article will explore how to protect optimism from its kryptonite by exploring two habits that diminish our ability to be optimistic thinkers, and what to do about them.
Kryptonite: Foreboding Joy
Foreboding Joy is intentionally or unintentionally not allowing yourself to bask in feelings of joy by imagining or expecting the worst to happen, or finding a reason to be disappointed. Feeling joy is a vulnerable and courageous act, so foreboding joy shields us against feeling vulnerable. It makes sense; if we plan for worst case scenarios, we are ready for whatever happens. But we miss out on the joy in the moment when we do this (Brown, 2015). We aren’t fully present. We also forebode joy because if something bad happens, it’s a longer way down from joy than it is from neutral; like falling off a ladder, if we don’t climb as high, we don’t have as far to fall.
Fight Foreboding Joy with Gratitude
Gratitude helps us lean in to joy. It allows us to savor the joy in the moment. But having a practice of gratitude (as described in the previous post) has a greater impact on foreboding joy than just allowing us to savor joy in the moment. Having a practice of gratitude helps assure us we are worthy of feeling joy, in both ordinary and extraordinary moments. There is an abundance of opportunities to feel joy in our lives; we don’t have to save it for just the big moments. I can take the opportunity to feel gratitude and joy when I rock my son to sleep, when he takes his first steps, and when he wakes up for the fourth time that night. I can be grateful for the life that we have, for the moments we get to share, and for the developmental milestone he is hitting (sleep regressions are real). It’s not always easy to lean into the gratitude and joy (especially in the moments where I’d really be grateful for some more sleep), but it’s there. We can choose to find joy and gratitude to lift us up in those moments. We are worthy of them (Brown, 2015).
Kryptonite: Limiting Beliefs
Limiting Beliefs are potentially one of our greatest forms of self-sabotage. Limiting beliefs take the wind out of our sails and cut our legs out from under us. Limiting beliefs are the “gremlins” in the back of our heads saying we don’t deserve _______, we aren’t worthy of _________, or we will be good enough when ____________. These beliefs can be about anything, including appearance, productivity, love, success, power. There are two common ways these beliefs can be limiting. They can be limiting because they nearly always set unattainable standards (I have to be perfect or above reproach). They can also be limiting if we assume we will be happy when _______, so we put off our happiness, but when we get there, it doesn’t bring us the happiness we expected.
Limiting beliefs kill optimism by limiting our sense of self-worth and ability to change things for the better. Limiting beliefs keep us stuck. They keep the glass at half-full, not letting us see or believe we have the ability to fill the glass.
Fight Limiting Beliefs by Challenging Them
We can challenge our limiting beliefs. By challenging them, we can work to redefine them in ways that are more helpful for us. We can challenge beliefs by using evidence, examining impact or establishing distance (Beck, 2011).
When using evidence to challenge beliefs, we need be neutral detectives (which is harder than it sounds). We need to collect evidence that the belief is true and evidence that the belief is false. Once we collect evidence on both sides, we can evaluate the validity of the beliefs.
For example, let’s take the belief “I’m a bad mom.”
Evidence this beliefs is true: I don’t read many books to my son, I let him cry in his crib during nap time, I get overwhelmed when he is fussy.
Evidence this belief is false: He is curious and playful and thriving, I’m generally able to soothe him, when I get overwhelmed, I put him in his crib and take a few minutes to collect myself so I can be present for his needs.
There is (and often will be) evidence on both sides. But the gremlins only let us hear evidence that supports the belief. Seeing both sides, “I’m a bad mom” isn’t telling the whole story and needs to be redefined.
When examining the impact of our beliefs, we need to look at damage this belief might be causing in our lives. We can also imagine how our lives may be different if we changed that belief.
For example, evaluating the impact of the belief “I’m a bad mom.” This belief may be making me feel guilty, that I’m not worthy of being a parent. It may even spill over into other areas of my life and make me question how good I am in those areas. If I changed this belief, I could break free of negative cycles of emotions, especially during the tougher moments of parenting. I could approach them with gratitude and openness.
Establishing distance the most powerful tool in challenging beliefs for me, personally. We are immeasurably harder on ourselves than we are on others. If a friend told you she was a bad mom, you would almost certainly support her and show her evidence that her belief isn’t accurate. You might hold space for her in her discomfort. You would show compassion and encourage her to have compassion for herself. By establishing distance, we need to ask ourselves what we would tell a close friend or loved one that shared the same belief. Then we need to take our own advice.
Based on evidence, impact and distance of the belief “I’m a bad mom,” I can redefine it into “I have good days and bad days, and both are helping me learn to be the best mom I can be.”
Bonus Tool: Cultivate Compassion
The root of the word compassion means “to suffer with.” To show compassion is to acknowledge our common humanity by saying “that’s really tough, I’ve been there too,” and move forward with kindness. Kindness isn’t about just being nice. Kindness is moving forward with care, understanding and a generous assumption (Neff, 2015).
What if you assumed ________ (loved one) was doing the very best with what he/she had that day? What if you assumed YOU were doing the very best with what YOU had that day?
You doing your best that day may be different than someone else’s best, and different from your best on another day. But it affords you breathing room to not beat yourself up about it and to move forward with what you can control to make life a little better for yourself and others (Brown, 2017).
Beck, J.S. (2011). Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: Basics and Beyond 2nd Ed. New
York: The Guilford Press.
Brown, B. (2012). Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. New York: Penguin Random House.
Brown, B. (2017). Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone. New York: Penguin Random House.
Neff, K. (2015). Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself. New York: William Morrow Paperbacks.