I took some cello in collage, the instruments were stored in the cellar. They weren’t really stored there, I just like how ‘C’ can be used in so many ways.

My cello instructor was one of those subtle wise-cowboy intellectual types from Texas. He once told me this:

Be careful not to practice your mistakes.
You will become very good at them.

I have since tried to follow that advice.

My wife is an optimist. I am a practicalist. She will plan a picnic first and I will look at the weather report first. I have grown to understand a few things about optimism.

The first thing is pretty straight forward. Being an optimist has many rewards, altering reality is not one of them. The second thing I’ve learned took a bit more to get to.

When my wife decides we’re going to have a picnic I will mention to her it might rain. She replies that “It’ll be fine”. At first glance it might seem that learning rain is in the forecast would allow one to better plan for the day however, I have learned something from my wife, if it starts to rain during our picnic then, “We’ll deal with it”.

And I have to admit, it is kind of fun to run around in the rain, quickly gathering blankets and food while the kids scream and head for the car. That’s a good memory to have.

The question returns to, what kind of mistakes do I want to practice making? Should I plan inside activities for a rain storm that might never materialize? Or should I live an optimistic life and have fun when, no, because things don’t go as planned?

I have come to accept that my experience with optimistic people (who are usually women btw) is this: overall they have much more fun than me. My first inclinations to be suspicious about things and to take care planning might have served my hunter-gatherer forefathers, who needed to watch out for wolves and ill weather, but it doesn’t serve me well in my modern life.

It is unfortunate that practical worries can’t be turned on and off like a switch. But I can practice how I want to respond to the world of today. I can try to be more positive about everything. When I’m successful people say I’m in a good mood. And, in truth I end up having more fun, too.

There are demons that still hold me prisoner sometimes. At those times I try to tell myself, this is a prison of the mind, and I can choose to change the way I think about things, I can choose a different life. It doesn’t always work, but practice helps make me better at it, and overtime I get better at being optimistic, and overtime my demons have less power as they get out of practice. I think what matters is what actions I choose to take in response.

I go out of my way to make myself do things (like write or make music) even when I feel that everything I create is worth fish guts. I try to take care not to eat too much ice cream when all I feel like doing it watching TV. And I try to find interesting things to talk about with my wife (even when I feel she isn’t interested in the same things as me).

Often it’s not quite the optimism of planning a picnic on a rainy day. But for me these things are optimism, I am optimistic that tomorrow will be better than it seems like it is going to be today, and if I’m wrong then at least I tried, and I’ll make the most of whatever comes, better prepared with an idea of the way I want things to be.

4 thoughts on “Optimism v Practicalism

  1. Being rained on during a picnic and experiencing something truly bad are not equivalent. I agree no one should abstain from a picnic because of ominous clouds, but some of the things we’re negative about do not have the silver lining you describe regarding the rainy picnic. I happen to be negative about romantic relationships due to the life-shattering betrayal of my ex wife. A woman might be negative about relationships because of past abusive boyfriends. A fat kid may be negative about physical education class because of daily bullying and humiliation. A soldier who’s seen his comrades’ lives snuffed out over the course of a campaign might be negative about his mission to take one more hill. Do you think that these examples would have a silver lining if the subject just hoped for the best, took the plunge, and got the feared result?
    If anything, I think your cello instructor’s advice would back up my pessimism more than an optimistic approach to these examples. I thought marriage would work if I did my part, never stopped trying, and expected the best. It was the gravest mistake I’ve ever made. I would be a fool to practice that mistake again. Should we aim for optimism in the small stuff and practicality in the high-stakes situations?

    1. Hi Carson
      This post clearly failed to express something I was aiming for. You are correct that a rained out picnic is nowhere near as bad as real trauma. And, I was very saddened earlier when I read about your wife’s betrayal of you. It truly is a shitty thing to have happen. With a kid in the picture, too. Just shit. I’ve had similar things happen to me in other relationships. For me, those developed into trust issues, anger, self-imposed seclusion, and moments of self doubt.

      I’m no therapist. I don’t have answers for anyone else. I only have what’s happened to me, and how I’ve dealt with some of the bad situations I’ve experienced.

      I try to get in touch with my feelings, and more importantly I try to look at how I respond to my feelings. When I try to understand why I respond to things, then I can try to change the way I respond, and this can change me, overtime.

      The point I was hoping to make with this post is this: At times my mind might tell me to stay home, that everyone is dumb and not trust worthy. If I respond to those feelings by staying home and being hurt, or angry, or when I feel I have no value, I get very good at staying home and feeling bad things, I get very good at responding to my emotions in that way.

      However, in the moments when I am able to make myself go out, to make myself try talking with people, I get practice at responding differently to my emotions. The point isn’t to become good at trusting people. The point isn’t to be good at talking to people, either. The point for me is that I take an active role in how I respond, how I want to live. I want to decide what kind of person I want to be, and not be subjected to my emotions.

      I have the occasional feeling that I want to avoid interacting with others. At times, I also feel that all my ideas are crap. Even here you have challenges me on the writing of this post, and that’s fine, really, because interacting with others is part of life, getting differing views is part of life. I know and understand that this is a good thing, even if my emotions want me to respond differently.

      Part of me wants to turn off the lights and go back to bed, to just stop writing and stop creating. But, I don’t want to be a person who responds to things that way. Instead, I want to be a person who overcomes my first inclinations. I want to be a person who is not confined by my anger, or by my fears. So I practice pushing forward. I get better at it.

      I have learned that when someone disagrees with me that it’s Okay. I have learned that having a trusted partner cheat on me doesn’t mean all women are shit. I learned that even though all the guys in the class bullied me, hit me, spit on me and acted out scenes from Lord of the Flies, that there are other people who will still find value in me. So, yeah. I know getting kicked around is not the same as a picnic.

      I refuse to give in to my emotional reactions to experiences, to allow them to dictate what kind of person I’m going to be. I refuse to let shitty people decide how I will react for the rest of my life. I will make those choices. I will decide what kind of person I want to be. I will act with hope, even though I’ve been shit on in the past and I may get shit on in the future. This is the positive thinking I was hinting at. What kind of person do I want to be?

      I try to stop taking the actions that continue bad feelings to have power over me. I start taking actions that counter those feelings. I take back my power. For me, it’s not about finding a new partner, or about having people like me, or whether my creations are good or bad. It’s about me refusing to allow bad feelings to decide who I will be for the rest of my life.

      What skills do I think are important? Those are the skills I need to practice.

      I hope that better explains what I was getting at. But that’s me. That’s where I am. We each need to find our own way.

      I do wish you the best on your journey.

      1. Thanks Ian, I think your response does a better job expressing your idea than the initial post did. Upon re-reading my own response, it came off as very curt and confrontational. This was not my intent, but I think it was the result of me writing and deleting my thoughts several times. I wasn’t trying to attack your position, but rather expose my own line of thought for outside observation and critique. As you can probably attest, it is often difficult to express our vulnerabilities, and my effort to do so resulted in a comment that seems a bit irritable. Again, not my intent.
        I can relate to the feelings you have regarding self-doubt and seclusion, etc. Please don’t misinterpret my comment as a challenge to your writing- I obviously enjoy your ideas and look forward to more. I’ve just had a number of unlucky breaks over the past decade or so, so I am a little bit exasperated when people imply that my coping mechanism (insulating myself from risk of additional suffering) is somehow an additional flaw rather than a carefully selected, intentional protective measure. In fact, one could make an apt analogy to a condom, I think. If a man has a lot of carefree, unprotected sex and never gets a disease or unwanted pregnancy, then he is like an optimist. If a man has a close call, or gets an infection (for the sake of the analogy we’ll say it’s curable, and he’s clean before he resumes sexual activity) and then decides to always use a condom from then on, he’s like a pessimist.
        Do you think that most people who tend toward negativity do so because of past trauma, or is there an equal distribution of optimists with ugly pasts and pessimists with nothing to complain about?
        Keep writing, it’s good stuff.

        1. Thanks, Carson.
          It’s a fair criticism that I write with too little explanation of what I mean. That certainly can create confusion as people can read into the posts what they will. And I understand about writing on the fly, especially in this little reply box with no preview. Part of me wishes I could do better job of laying out everything that I mean, and part of me is Okay with allowing room for interpretation.

          I feel bad that I came across as judging how you cope. This would never be a conscious desire of mine. I’m going to have to dwell on that for a bit. This post was sparked as response to your blog post, which I took as a possible question for advice. That was probably my biggest mistake. I had intended this to be more of an offering of an alternative approach to difficult times, as I have had my share and found different ways to make it.

          We each make our own way, and we each can get attached to what works for us. It is interesting to note, that as we each have to make our own way in life, it reminds me of your last post in how everyone has different experiences, different perspectives, and we can try to understand them. Seems a little circular at this point.
          Thanks for sharing your thoughts, as always.

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