500 Words - Day 4: Are you an optimist or a pessimist?
I want to say I'm a positive person, always hoping for the best, expecting the best. Outwardly I believe that's mostly true. I enjoy making people laugh, sharing stories, and helping people move toward positivity in their lives. It's why I write and why I'm a coach. I believe positive outcomes are possible for everyone. Everyone except myself.
We all have default plans, ways we have learned to move through the world. Our default plans are shaped over the course of our lives, often from a very young age. Does the scowl of your partner or the volume of their voice make you cringe because, consciously or not, it reminds you of the way a parent or authority figure treated you when you were younger? When you feel vulnerable, do you seek comfort in avoidance, eating too much or too little, or shopping for a new blender? Are you constantly frustrated that your bedroom floor is dirty but you never do anything about it? These are all examples of default plans. At some point in life they served us well. They helped to protect us, to keep us safe or at least make us feel like we were safe. My primary default plan is what Brene Brown calls foreboding joy.
Foreboding joy is a type of pessimism. It acknowledges that good things happen, that joy is real, but the joy is always tied to the possibility (or more often than not the inevitability) of something bad happening. Brene says you start "dress rehearsing tragedy." It robs the moment of joy, awe, and wonder. It reduces positive and good events to extended moments of anxiety. Last May my family and I visited Yosemite National Park for the first time. The drive in and out of Yosemite is typical mountain driving, with winding roads, blind corners, and cruising along the edge of cliffs with the valley floor looming thousands of feet below. It really is quite beautiful and mesmerizing; that is, unless your mind, like mine, plays out the scenarios of a rock slide crushing our car or the brakes giving out, sending us over the cliffside, tumbling downward in a fiery ball of death while I squeeze out the words "I told you this would happen" between screams. Morbid, I know. But that's foreboding joy. It's constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop any time something positive happens. Making more money? Just more taxes to pay. Put new tires on the car? Radiator is bound to crack soon. Got a new job? The commute is wretched. Foreboding joy is a thief and a lie.
This pessimism is my default plan (one of them). I have worked through it with my coach and my therapist. I talk about it with my wife, and she's able to help me recognize when it's happening. We all have default plans. I'd love to tell you that with enough work they'll go away. But the truth is they never go away, but getting rid of them is not the goal. What we do, through a lot of work and vulnerability, is learn to integrate them. We recognize them, thank them for the ways they try to protect us, and allow those cues to point us toward healthier ways of being that bring us more life and more joy. When I'm choosing healthy paths my foreboding joy leads me toward gratitude and presence - gratitude for the gift of what is right in front of me, for the joy that is present in this moment. So I am a recovering pessimist, learning to accept and be grateful the good things that come in life as they are and nothing more.