Sometimes, we writers are our own worst enemy.
We’ll spent countless hours focusing on what needs to be improved in our writing, instead of what’s right about our writing. We’ll spend days on end weighing all the possible negative consequences of our decisions. All this focus on the negative ends up making us very cynical about writing and the world general.
The problem is that when we’re stuck in cynicism there’s no moving forward. There’s no room for looking for real solutions to our problems.
That’s why it’s important for a writer to learn how to turn their unproductive cynicism into productive optimism.
The Difference Between Optimism and Cynicism
Optimism provides us with solutions. When we are optimistic, even if the challenge is daunting, we can still look for a way out of our current rut.
However, cynicism, unlike optimism, only gives us more problems.
Cynicism makes us focus on all the negative consequences of past failures or mistakes. When we are cynical, the challenge we’re facing is even more daunting, because we can only see the potential for even more failures, mistakes, and disappointments.
This cynical process, instead of making you feel better, makes you feel stressed, overwhelmed, and it prevents you from getting any work done.
Now, it’s true that optimism won’t gurantee that you will cross the finish line in the end, but at least it will help you get to the finish line.
Cynicism, on the other hand, will have you giving up the race before it even starts.
6 Exercises To Help You Turn Your Cynicism Into Optimism
Here are just 6 exercises that, in the past, have helped me turn my cynicism into optimism, and I hope they do the same for you:
1. Examine Whether You’re Cynicism is Based On An Inference or A Fact
Let’s say you’re at a party, and you spot your best friend standing in the line at the bathroom. You wave at her, but she doesn’t wave back.
Your friend’s reaction makes you think that she’s mad at you, so you avoid your friend all night. Angry that your friend is giving you the cold shoulder, you start to think about how your friend is so rude to have ignored you like that. You start to view the situation as undeniable proof that friends only betray you in the end and so you decide to never trust a friend ever again.
As your cynicism grows, your friend suddenly comes up to you and apologizes for not waving back at you earlier that night. She explains that she had lost one of her contacts and this was making it hard for her to see through the dimly lit hallways–so she didn’t recognize you at first.
You accept your friend’s apology and you and your friend end up having a blast the rest of the night.
As you can see, in this example, your cynicism was based on an “inference.”
An inference means that you took the facts (your friend not waving back at you) and you arrived at an “educated guess” as to the reason behind it.
But the truth is there was no way of knowing the real reason your friend didn’t wave at you unless you had gone up to her and asked her yourself whether she was mad at you.
So whenever you think you’ve found something to be cynical about, ask yourself if it is based on a known fact or if it’s based on an educated guess that you have made.
If your cynicism is based on an educated guess, then try looking for cold, hard facts to back up your point of view. If you can’t find any proof to back up your inference, then you may be cynical for no reason.
2. Engage In “Positive Seed” Meditation
Thich Nhat Hanh says that we all have positive and negative thought “seeds” in our mind. These thought “seeds” will grow into thought “plants” if we water them.
So when we water the negative thought “seeds” of anger, jealousy, mistrust, and cynicism then the negative thought “plants” of anger, jealousy, mistrust, and cynicism will grow. But, if we water the positive “seeds” of love, compassion, understanding and faith, for instance, positive “plants” will grow as a result.
If we are angry, Hanh says, then it is almost certain that we have watered the seed of our anger.
You water the “seed” of your anger, for example, by replaying a fight with a loved one over and over again in your head. When you replay this negative situation in your head, you are watering the seed of anger in you and therefore your cynicism will grow.
However, instead of replaying this fight in your head, what if you watered the seeds of love for your partner? What if you thought of all the good things this loved one has done for you? What if you think of the moments when they held you, when you were sad, or the moments when they extended to you another gesture of their love and compassion without asking for anything in return?
When you “water” these positive thoughts of your partner, I have no doubt that your love and compassion will grow and your anger will diminish.
Relentlessly watering the “positive seeds” in your mind on a daily basis will make you a more optimistic person.
3. Focus On What You Can Control
When cynicism is overwhelming you, please focus on what you can control:
What you think, what you say, and what you do.
Ask yourself: what thoughts can I think to help me change this bad situation for the better? What words can I say that can change this bad situation for the better? And finally: What actions can I take that will change this bad situation for the better?
When you do this exercise, you will find yourself going from the realm of inactive cynicism, to actively becoming a part of the solution to the problem.
This instills confidence in you and reminds you that you are a very important and active participant in this world—and that is great cause for optimism.
4. Stop Being Optimistic
In many ways, every cynic was once an optimist. Because, in order to be cynical about the present, you really have had to expected something “better” in the past.
Sometimes we must let go of what we hope would happen for us in order to accept what good is actually coming our way. The good that comes our way may not be in the shape we imagined it would be, but that’s okay. We must accept it as it comes.
Because if we refuse to accept our own good just because it’s not packaged in the way we had first imagined it, we are cutting ourselves off from something that could potentially be of great benefit to us.
It is better to go out in this world expecting nothing but willing to work with everything that comes your way.
When you accept what comes to you, you are free to become creative with life, instead of blocked by your inability to force life to bend to your will.
This approach is better than always expecting a perfect outcome. Because when that specific, perfect result does not come, we are often paralyzed with cynicism and we spend such a long time feeling sad and bitter about the results.
What a waste of time!
How much more productive and happy we would be if we stopped expecting perfect results and just worked with what was given us?
How much more optimistic would we be if we weren’t so optimistic!
5. Let Yourself Be Cynical
When none of the above exercises work, then just let your cynicism run its course.
Letting yourself be cynical releases some of the pressure to be “perfect” and happy all the time. The truth is, not one of us can manage a state of constant happiness 24/7. That state would be so exhausting and stressful for us to maintain.
However, the converse is also true: we cannot continually be unhappy. That state of mind, too, is exhausting and stressful for us.
Humans are meant to have their ups and downs. It’s perfectly natural.
If we put so much pressure on our need to be optimistic all the time, this actually might make us even more depressed because we’ll believe we have failed as a human being because we cannot maintain the fantasy state of “perfect,” consistent optimism.
6. Ask Yourself: Which One Would I Rather Be? A Cynic? Or An Optimist?
Any time I find myself caught up in a wave of cynicism, I always ask myself which one would I rather be? A cynic or an optimist?
I examine what it’s like to be each one:
A cynic choses to be unproductive and uncreative. A cynic exacerbates the problem by focusing on the negative. A cynic ignores what is right and hampers any ability to provide a solution to what is wrong. A cynic brings others down and chooses to be unhappy and miserable.
An optimist, on the other hand, chooses to be productive and creative, chooses to be part of the solution, chooses to always point out what is right about the world, chooses to lift others up, and chooses to be happy and joyful.
I don’t know about you, but when I’m given a choice between the former and the latter, I always end up choosing the latter.
Because, in the end, I realize that what affects my life more is not when others have chosen to be cynical, it’s when I’ve allowed myself to become the cynic.
How do you turn your cynicism into optimism? Please share your thoughts in the comments below?
To follow the Courage 2 Create and find out what happens to Ollin and his novel, you can subscribe by inserting your e-mail into the subscription box in the top right corner of the sidebar! Subscription is completely free! Thank you for subscribing!