In a recent New York Times article, Blair Braverman, a driver of a sled dog team, writes about the way her sled dogs have reminded her to stay resilient during the pandemic, as the dogs never know how far they’re going to run.
“That’s how I feel now… that we humans are falling into uncertainty… and we have no idea how far it is to the finish line,” Blair explains that running with her dogs has given her the gift of sitting with uncertainty, and to accept that we can’t always plan for the future.
Optimism isn’t about ignoring negative feelings. It’s about being hopeful about the future, even when the present seems wholly negative.
If you’re anything like me, and you’ve been doom-scrolling into the endless stream of current news that pushes the boundaries of our mental health, it seems laughable to suggest optimism right now.
Maybe you’re worried about losing your job, losing your home or losing a loved one. Maybe you already have. Maybe you’re worried about your own health, and maybe you feel helpless or doomed. Whatever it is, optimism feels like a luxury that few of us can afford.
But at its core, optimism doesn’t require you to sweep those anxious, negative feelings under the rug. It’s not about smiling when you don’t feel like it. Optimism is simply being hopeful about the future, even when the present feels wholly negative.
For us all, this is a challenge, because it requires us to acknowledge our positive and negative emotions at once and to allow them to exist simultaneously. As hard as it may be to make the case for optimism during a time of crisis, that’s when it happens to be the most useful.
Here’s what I do to stay resilient and optimistic.
One of the things I have been using in becoming more resilient is to practice compassion both toward myself as well as toward others. The reason behind this is to interrupt recurring cycles of negative inner dialogue caused by too much intake of bad news.
At the times when I find myself cycling through negative thoughts that don’t go anywhere, I take a step back to disrupt the cycle. This can include stopping and creating awareness of these negative thoughts and reminding myself these are only thoughts and I can choose to think them or not.
Then I disrupt my attention from it by doing something like going for a walk, cooking, writing, chatting to an uplifting friend or changing my physical environment. This works every time because it’s impossible for the brain to give attention to more than one thing at a time and doing these things help to create distance from the initial mental space.
I do this every time pessimistic thoughts creep up on me and I’ve found that my own personal optimism and resilience has improved by leaps and bounds.
The thing that inspires me for the future is looking back at history and all the adversity and challenges humans have already prevailed through. Yes things are uncertain but we will also prevail, because that is what we do, it’s in our nature to do so.