Pessimism: The Empty Consolation Of Being Right

It’s not what happens TO you … but what happens IN you … that makes the difference.

Little Jason loved his Grandpa Ernie, but he also loved to play tricks on people. So when Grandpa sat down for a nap after lunch, Jason put some stinky Limburger cheese on Grandpa’s large handlebar mustache.

When Grandpa woke up an hour later, he started sniffing in bewilderment. He walked around the bedroom sniffing, and then he said, “This bedroom stinks.”

He went to the kitchen, sat down for a cup of coffee, and started sniffing once again. He said, “This kitchen stinks too!” In fact, it stunk so badly that he went outside to get some fresh air. As he took a deep breath, he hollered, “The whole world stinks.”

Well you and I both know some people who have Limburger cheese spread across their attitudes. It doesn’t matter what they do, who they see, or where they are. Everything smells to them.

And that, my friend, is a lousy way to live. As economist and historian David Landes points out, “Educated, eyes-open optimism pays; pessimism can only offer the empty consolation of being right.” In other words, it’s to your advantage to have an optimistic, positive attitude.

The humorist Sam Levinson used to joke about that. He said, “A pessimist sees only the dark side of the clouds, and mopes; a philosopher sees both sides, and shrugs; an optimist doesn’t see the clouds at all — he’s walking on them.”

The good news is … you can get a positive attitude by following a simple regimen. Lynda Field, author of “Weekend Life Coach,” says it only takes 24 hours to change your mind. Try this regimen.

6:00 a.m. Waking up
Smile and expect the very best from the day ahead.

The best way to start your day is with a smile. As soon as you open your eyes, and before you start to think about all the challenges of the upcoming day, just smile. You’ll immediately feel a bit more refreshed and rejuvenated. You might even hang a sign on your bedroom wall that says “Smile” … so you don’t forget.

And don’t worry about this feeling weird or fake. At this stage of the game, the feelings are irrelevant. It’s the smiling behavior that counts. After you get in the habit of smiling, it will become a natural, authentic part of you.

10:00 a.m. Mid-morning
Check out your thoughts and talk yourself up.

Take a moment to become aware of the thoughts that are going around in your head. Notice how often you’re thinking self-deprecating thoughts about yourself. And when you catch yourself putting yourself down, tell your mind to “Stop it. Now just stop it!”

Then take three minutes to put in some powerful, positive self-talk. If you’re worried about a deadline or sales presentation, a simple “I can do it” can do wonders.

Nancy had to learn to do that. Richard Carlson told her story in “Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff At Work.” In Carlson’s words, as Nancy was leaving the house, she called out to her cousin Carrie, “I HAVE TO GO to work now. See you when I see you.”

Carrie replied, “I thought one of your goals for this year was to purge negativity from your life?”

Nancy stopped, “Yeah. What are you getting at?”

“Well you make work sound like it’s such a chore.”

“I do?”

“Yes, when you HAVE TO DO something, it means you don’t have any other options. And how can you ever enjoy something you have no control over?”

“You can’t,” said Nancy.

“That’s right. So you have to keep in mind that negative thoughts lead to negative words, and negative words lead to negative behaviors, and negative behaviors have negative consequences.”

Carrie continued, “I didn’t realize that until I lost my first job. So I used to say, ‘I wish I didn’t HAVE TO GO to work today’ because I wanted to hang out with my friends. And then one day my boss told me that I didn’t need to come back because I wasn’t ‘cutting it.’ I cried about it when I got home, and my brother asked, ‘What are you so upset about? You never wanted to work there anyway.’ And that was the day I realized I had better be careful about what I say.”

“Well, in that case, I want to start over,” said Nancy as she walked back through the doorway. “Carrie, I’m on my way to the office to do the job I fought to get. I’ll see you tonight.”

So as you do your mid-morning check, which is the second step in this 24-hour attitude makeover, pay particular attention to your thoughts and words. Cut out the negative thoughts. Stop verbalizing the negative. And put in the positive self-talk.

Jeff Reiche did. He wrote to me, saying, “Dr. Zimmerman, your ‘PIVOT’ book is phenomenal!” Now that made my day … because I have great respect for teachers and school administrators, and he’s in that arena.

12:15 p.m. Break time
Get outside.

Get away from your workplace … if possible … for a few minutes. Go outside and find some natural beauty. Even if you work in the middle of a city, find a park, a tree, a garden. Appreciate nature for a few minutes.

If you do this on a regular basis, you’ll find your pace slowing down. You’ll feel a greater sense of peace and calm as you disengage from the maddening routine or the crazy busyness that may be going on in your workplace.

And if possible, walk. It lifts your spirits when you’re exposed to natural light and a bit of exercise … because the two items, done together, trigger the release of a feel-good brain chemical called serotonin.

3:00 p.m. Mid-afternoon
Practice enthusiasm.

In the middle of the afternoon when the pressure is on, it’s not always easy to stay positive. Your energy level might take a dip along with your attitude.

So it’s especially important WHO you hang around at this time of the day. Be careful of spending too much time with grumpy people; and don’t’ let the moaners and groaners drag you into their pit of despair. Instead, seek the company of upbeat, optimistic people. After all, attitudes are contagious; so make sure you’re around people whose attitudes are worth catching.

And ACT enthusiastically, whether or not you feel like it. Remember your morning-smile routine? What you send out usually comes back to you.

5:30 p.m. Commute home
Appreciate the moment.

As you work your way home, try to see this as a positive part of your day. Appreciate the time you have to be alone … to relax and reflect.

Let go of the day’s events, tomorrow’s trials, or even the traffic jam in front of you. Consciously let that go … so you can arrive home energized, refreshed, and in a great frame of mind.

Discard your worries, at least for the moment. Even small worries can amass enormous power to be used against you. As Dr. Edward Kramer observed, “A penny held to the eye blocks the sun.”

Instead, spend a few minutes reflecting on all the things you’re thankful for.

9:00 p.m. Evening
Organize and relax.

Spend five minutes planning your tomorrow. Get out your clothes, stack up the things you’ll need, or make your list … whatever will give you a peace of mind. You won’t have to fret about the possibility of forgetting something, and you’ll be off to a relaxed but running start the next morning.

Action:  Follow this simple, 24-hour regimen for at least a day, and see how you feel. Better yet, follow this regimen every day for 3 weeks and watch some minor miracles take place in your attitude.