Posted May 1, 2003
Is Your Glass Half-Full Or Half-Empty?
I'm sure you've heard of the test to determine if a person is an optimist or a pessimist. Imagine a table with a glass with water in fifty percent of it. A person is asked "Is the glass half-full or half-empty?" Disregarding whether the glass has just had water poured into it, or half of the water poured out, the optimist will say "Half-full," and the pessimist will say "Half-empty." Both are right, and both are looking at the glass from their own perspective, through their own mental filters. Those filters also affect the way they look at the rest of their lives.
The pessimist will expect the worst to happen. They don't want to get their hopes up so they'll never be disappointed. And they rarely are. Since they're looking for the worst, they'll generally find it. If a negative thinker receives a compliment at work, he'll brush it off, figuring it was a fluke and will never happen again. Since they expect the worst, they don't use their resources to discover a solution. Their life becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, they give up and become stuck where they are.
Conversely, the optimist will look on the bright side, and find it. They're the ones that "make lemons into lemonade." Since they look for a way to turn a disaster into an opportunity, they'll generally create a way to do so. If a person with a positive attitude is praised for a project well done, he'll accept the congratulations and appreciate it. Optimists expect life to improve, so they look for solutions and take action.
There is a difference between pessimism and realism. Suppose you have just enough in your bank account to pay all of your bills. A pessimist may get depressed over this state of affairs, and decide that "I don't have any extra money for fun, and the situation will never get any better," which simply tells the subconscious not to find a way to improve the situation. Someone who is too optimistic may choose to spend some of their income on a good dinner, believing that something will turn up to recoup the money before the bills are due. That's when a realistic attitude is helpful. A realistic optimist will think "Wow, there's enough money to pay the bills this month. And since there's nothing constant in the Universe but change, my financial situation will get better," instructing their creative mind to keep working on a solution.
Pessimism is actually stressful and hard on the body. Studies have shown that pessimists have more physical illnesses and die at a younger age than optimists. Many people think that if they're an optimist or pessimist, it's a permanent condition. Not so. Optimists are not born, they're trained that way. (The same is true of pessimists.) As children, we might pattern ourselves after the way a parent, friend, or teacher acted towards life; or we might choose the opposite approach. Either way, we learn to either look at the shadow or at the sunny side of life.
Being optimistic doesn't mean that a person is a Pollyanna, wears rose-colored glasses and never recognizes that something is difficult, hurtful, or sad. It just means that they don't dwell on it. They choose to focus on the good in life, and look for a way for things to improve. In doing so, they're instructing their creative mind to find a way to turn the obstacles into a benefit. The Chinese character for "challenge" is the same as the character for "opportunity."
Becoming an optimist means changing the way you focus on the events in your life. Listen to what you tell yourself about things. Are they negative? Are they actually accurate? For instance, if a friend betrays you, do you think, "I can't trust any of my friends, and I'll never find a friend I can trust?" Simply because one friend betrayed you doesn't mean that all of them are disloyal. Challenge your own negative beliefs and attitudes. They are not facts. They are simply how you have been trained to think about a situation. If you have been trained one way, you can train yourself to think about it differently.
Give yourself a pep talk, such as "Lois betrayed me. She pretended to be my friend for her own agenda. That's not my issue, it's hers. Looking back, I realized that something was amiss in the relationship. I have other friends who have been trustworthy. I'm learning more and more to pay attention to my feelings about who can be trusted. There are lots of nice people with integrity in the world, and I can meet them." This changes the focus of your attention from "no solution" to "solutions are available."
Just as when a person sees the glass half-empty or half-full, altering the focus can change your filters. When you change your filters, this transforms the way you perceive life. So, instead of seeing the glass as half-empty, you can begin to see the opportunities of the glass being half-full.
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Copyright Ó 2003 Linda Ann Stewart