optimism is the madness of insisting all is well
when we are miserable.
I wasn’t born an optimist. At least I don’t think so. Not sure what the balance of nature versus nurture is, but until my mid-20s, I was one of those annoying people that had a knack for finding the worst-case scenario in every situation.
There was a tectonic shift in my world-view not long after I made it through the quarter century mark (read this post if you want to know about that episode). And I began what has been another quarter century-plus challenge to retrain my neuropathways to seek out the positive in all situations. Most days, the glass is half full; some days my opinion on the status of the water in the glass is neutral; and occasionally, the glass is just dry (heavy sigh) — the plight of human existence?
I’m not sure I would’ve ever called myself an environmentalist either, but here I am, 11 years into hosting a radio show that some would describe as highlighting environmental issues. And publishing this here blog, which also smacks of tree-hugging tendencies.
So, it was with a tiny bit of shock that I realized I might actually be an environmental optimist or at least an environmental optimist wannabe. This attribute has been seriously challenged in recent months, but whenever I hang around people like Harriet Shugarman (aka Climate Mama), my mood and my thoughts seem to elevate significantly.
Please listen to this episode of 50 Shades of Green Divas featuring Climate Mama, GD Maxine Margo and me chatting about staying positive despite the state of the current administration. Then read on for a few ideas of how to be optimistic or at least not collapse in despair during these very challenging times.
6 ways to be an environmental optimist despite the bad news
1. Be conscious of your associations
Pay attention to who you spend time with and how they make you feel. If you find that there are a lot of Negative Nellies or people that make you feel sad, drained, or despairing; you might want to limit time with these folks (no need for big drama about it). And when you identify those people that are mostly cheerful and seem to find that silver lining in the crappiest of situations, stick by them. No need to make any big announcements about it, just be aware of who you choose to spend your time with, and if you want to be a more optimistic, positive person, probably a good idea to surround yourself with people who are more optimistic and positive, right?
2. Don’t obsess
My brain (fueled by fair-trade, organic coffee or tea) can shift into obsessive overdrive running over the same loop of worry (about anything really). But if I stay on social media too long or listen to the news for more than a few minutes, I can trigger an obsession session… “what if THIS happens? what if THAT happens? Wait, who does he think he is? Oh wow, I’d better write to my congressman, and my senator, and the White House, and that idiot running the EPA, and…” At this point, I have to pick an action, take it, and move on (see next idea).
3. Do what you can do
Nothing can make me feel more doomed than feeling overwhelmed by all that needs to be done in the world today. We can’t do it all. I like to break it down into what I can do TODAY without harming myself, my family or friends or my health. Let the rest go. Tomorrow is another day. If I do just ONE thing that has a positive impact in the world a day, it’s a pretty successful day.
4. Limit exposure to social media & news
Much like the first idea of becoming more aware of who I spend my time with, I have to also pay attention to the news and the social media chatter I’m exposing myself to. If I had it my way, I’d be on a permanent news blackout, but being in my profession and perhaps just being an informed human in general, makes this a relatively bad idea (bummer). But again, I’m careful about how much exposure I have to any of it. I try to stick to real and positive news sources and have cleaned up my social news feeds considerably — while I haven’t unfriended people necessarily, I’ve learned to unfollow (on Facebook anyway) people who consistently share depressing or cranky posts and commentary about the state of everything and anything.
5. Take good care
I think in these uncertain times, it is more important than ever to take good care of ourselves. I feel like we are in for a long haul — a marathon not a sprint — in terms of rising above the massive destructive forces that seem to have emerged from the caves to challenge progress, especially in terms of environmental issues. I personally need to eat well, rest up, take breaks with nature, exercise, and always keep a sense of humor.
6. Be grateful
It’s nearly impossible to be sour and surly when thinking about gratitude. When things start to irritate me or I want to go all Jersey on someone, I’ve got a habit of taking a deep breath and starting to list things I’m grateful for alphabetically (ok, so I’m a tiny bit OCD) in my head. This works for tedious medical tests as well. I start with ‘A’ (obviously) and think of things that start with the letter ‘A’ that I am grateful for and move down the list. Depending on how steamed up I am or how bored or how tired, the list could get to ‘C’ or worst case I’ve gotten as far as ‘M’ before. Some people like to make daily or regularly scheduled gratitude lists. However you do it, focusing attention on gratitude is a sure cure for a negative mindset.