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So, do you consider yourself pessimistic or optimistic?
Do you tend to have the thoughts that all bad and undesirable things are always destined to happen?
Do you tend to see bad events as permanent and good events as temporary?
Those are pessimistic thoughts.
Pessimistic thinkers always find the bad in any situation. They always think bad events are pervasive and good events are unique.
Optimists tend to see the other way around. They tend to have the thoughts that all good and desirable things are destined to happen. And, they see good events as permanent and bad events as temporary. Optimistic thinkers always find the good in any situation.
So, which are better, pessimistic thoughts or optimistic thoughts?
The answer is NEITHER!
On the other hand, take it to the extreme, optimistic thoughts can make you reckless and careless, and lead you to troubles.
At moderate levels, having both will benefit you the best!
A healthy level of pessimistic thoughts will make you thorough and careful. They can urge you to make the most comprehensive preparation, giving you a better chance of success.
They implement the strategy by setting their expectations low and then they exceed them through careful planning and thorough preparation to anticipate all possible undesirable outcomes that might occur.
A healthy level of optimistic thoughts will give you the courage and drive to take action, to achieve your goals.
So, please, don’t hate your pessimistic thoughts!
Want to get rid of your pessimistic thoughts and replace them with optimistic thoughts? Don’t! Because you need them both.
The question is, how can we tame pessimistic and optimistic thoughts, and bring them both to moderate levels where they can benefit us?
Today, I’m going to show you how to take advantage of your pessimistic thoughts and beware of your optimistic thoughts so that they work hand-in-hand in your favor to give you realistic thoughts.
How to take advantage of your pessimistic thoughts and beware of your optimistic thoughts
When I was working as a sales executive in the automotive industry, we were always taught to be optimistic all the way.
“Sell, sell, sell!” And then, “deliver, deliver, deliver!” were the words the manager shouted all the time.
We were always told and “indoctrinated” to increase the targets. That was the only game: targets, sales volume, achievement, market share, etc.
I remember at one time we had a batch of products with factory defects. Because of the game called “target and achievement,” we had to deliver the cars and deal with customer complaints later. We were told and convinced that everything would be all right.
Can you imagine the situation? We had to endure and manage very unpleasant pressures from both sides: the manager and the customers.
At the end of the episode, we did manage to fix the problems and recover the service level but only after customer complaints had escalated to a region-wide level.
That was a good lesson from personal experience that overly optimistic thoughts can lead you to troubles.
Had we considered a small dose of pessimistic thoughts that customer complaints could get out of hand, our brand reputation could be hurt, the sales volume and market share could take a hit, etc., we could have managed the situation differently.
We could have officially informed the customers of the situation, providing them with some compensation package of gifts plus services, delayed the delivery, etc. More elegant ways to deal with the situation could have been figured out.
There’s one key ingredient missing from the above example; the one that made us forget to consider some healthy dose of pessimistic thoughts; the one that made us unaware that we were obsessed with and, as a result, dictated by “the game,” causing us to miss the big picture.
That key ingredient is mindfulness.
Mindfulness keeps the mind in check. It enables us to observe our mind with clarity, comprehend it, and act properly.
Be mindful of your pessimistic and optimistic thoughts
Have you ever wanted to get rid of your pessimistic thoughts and replace them with more optimistic thoughts?
In my pursuit to get rid of my pessimistic thoughts and to be more optimistic, I’ve tried many different techniques: positive thinking, pattern-breaking and reframing, journaling, visualization, incantation, self-hypnosis, self-motivation, seminars, you name it.
To add to the list, stop watching the news, stop associating with pessimistic people, and associate more with optimistic people will also do wonders.
They all worked to some point.
But, I came to realize that for all the techniques above to work, you need to consciously, intentionally, put them into practice. For that, you need mindfulness.
Without mindfulness, you’ll forget again and again to execute them.
Unaware, you might drown yourself in excessively pessimistic or optimistic thoughts, sending you down the spiral of negative emotions or unrealistic expectations.
That means, your thoughts will cloud your mind rendering you incapable to comprehend those thoughts, let alone take advantage of them.
Conversely, the consistent practice of mindfulness will lead you to an understanding of the workings of the mind.
That understanding enables the mind to see all thoughts as their nature. It will detach you from your thoughts. You’ll realize that you are not your thoughts.
This realization stops you from identifying yourself with your thoughts.
You will be able to see some distance between you and your thoughts.
At that point, your mind can see thoughts as natural processes. They’re neither pessimistic nor optimistic, neither positive nor negative. They’re just thoughts.
As a result, your mind gains clarity and understanding. You’ll be able to extract meaningful messages from those thoughts and disregard the noise.
Now, how do we practice mindfulness? How can we be mindful of our pessimistic and optimistic thoughts?
The best way to practice mindfulness is through meditation.
Meditation is very effective in building mindfulness in balance with focus.
With strengthened mindfulness, you can observe pessimistic and optimistic thoughts with clarity and take advantage of them.
Mindfulness tames the mind and makes you aware of your thoughts.
As a big bonus, mindfulness meditation will bring you many other real life-transforming benefits that are backed by science.
How to practice mindfulness meditation
First, what is mindfulness meditation?
When talking about meditation, what people often have in mind is sitting still cross-legged on a cushion in that iconic lotus posture.
Not wrong, but that’s only partly true. Sitting is just one of the meditation postures we can practice in. The other postures are walking, standing, lying down, and daily activity. Yes, you can meditate in any postures, even when you’re working or doing other activities.
Meditation is the practice of maintaining awareness in the present, being mindful of our mind and body by paying attention to anything that’s happening and that’s stopped happening in the six sense doors (eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, mind) continuously, from moment to moment, with the right attitude.
Awareness is the essence of meditation.
In meditation, we train our mind to be mindful in any situation continuously.
And, what we train to be mindful of is our mind and body.
Meditation objects are anything to be aware of, what we pay attention to. That means anything that arises in our mind and body through eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, mind. They are the six sense doors.
Thoughts are part of the mind. So, they’re meditation objects.
To mindfulness, thoughts are just thoughts. There are no pessimistic thoughts or optimistic thoughts. There are no negative thoughts or positive thoughts.
Those are just labels we put on them.
We need to be aware that the labeling itself is biased. Anything desirable or pleasant, we label it positive or optimistic. Conversely, anything undesirable or unpleasant, we label it negative or pessimistic.
We often forget that thoughts are not unique to a person. All thoughts, either pessimistic or optimistic, either negative or positive, arise in everybody’s mind.
The intensity and inclination of those thoughts are the results of our past conditioning. That can be our environment, education, culture, association, upbringing, etc.
Thoughts are not permanent. They change from moment to moment. If conditioning variables change, the thoughts will change accordingly.
Then, why do we identify ourselves as pessimists or optimists? Why do we let our thoughts define who we are?
Because we forget; we are not aware; we’re not mindful of our thoughts.
“Nothing can harm you as much as your own thoughts unguarded.”The Buddha
In mindfulness meditation, thoughts are objects to be aware of with the right attitude.
The right attitude means we see objects as nature, as natural processes. We don’t take possession of them.
Because objects are nature, natural processes, we don’t love or hate them. And, the most important thing, we don’t self-identify with them.
So, when a thought arises, we just acknowledge it and let it be. We don’t indulge in it. We don’t hold on to it. Be aware that thinking is happening. See it as a natural process instead of my thought.
Now, this is where it gets challenging.
Many thoughts often arise successively and very rapidly, like a train running at lightning speed. You will feel like thousands of thoughts arising at the same time.
Avoid overthinking or overanalyzing them.
Just acknowledge and let them be.
If you practice regularly and consistently, at some point, you’ll begin to notice when they arise, run their courses, and cease. That’s the nature of all objects.
Or in other words, they come and go.
When they cease, be aware.
When no thoughts arise, be aware.
That’s how you practice.
You’ll also notice that feelings, emotions, and memories often accompany thoughts.
You treat them the same.
Be aware of them mindfully with the right attitude.
Acknowledge and let them be.
Feelings, emotions, memories are also meditation objects. They come and go. They arise, run their courses, and cease. That’s their nature.
Now, the tricky part is that other than thoughts happening very fast, they can also trigger intense feelings and emotions that drown you.
As a result, you get involved in them and lose mindfulness.
That is where many beginning meditators break their continuity of awareness.
That’s what the term “lost in thoughts” means.
If you’re an advanced meditator whose awareness muscle has been developed strong enough, you can practice mindfulness meditation using thoughts as meditation objects right away.
Other than that, you need to take a step back and begin with a neutral meditation object.
What I mean by neutral is an object that doesn’t trigger any intense feelings or emotions. A natural object we neither love nor hate.
Many options are available but, I find the breath to be the best for many reasons.
That’s why I recommend the breath as a meditation object to build our foundation of mindfulness.
Be mindful of your breath to build awareness
There are many good reasons why so many meditation techniques focus on the breath.
As a meditation object, breath has some advantageous qualities.
Breath is readily available. You don’t need to buy it or find it. It’s always with you.
Breath is neutral. Meaning, usually it doesn’t carry any significant emotional weight, making it an ideal object for initial practice.
Breath rarely triggers any intense emotion like love or hate that can potentially cause mood swings or “lost in thoughts” state.
Breath is natural. Meaning, breathing is a natural process. You don’t need to conceptualize or visualize it.
Because it’s a natural process, breath is dynamic, making it suitable not only for developing focus but also for cultivating mindfulness.
Breath also gives us options to where and how we pay our attention.
We can pay attention to the nostrils or upper lip to feel the touching sensation of the air flowing in and out or the rising and falling of the abdomen.
We can also feel the temperature of the air.
If we want to go further, it includes the air entering our lungs, our body absorbing it, the resulting internal energy flow, etc.
As we go deeper into our meditation, our mind and body become calmer, and our breath becomes slower. The sensations will change from obvious to subtle, to barely noticeable.
This dynamic can accommodate practices ranging from beginner to advanced, making breath a very versatile meditation object.
Apart from the reasons above, meditation can also benefit overall health by utilizing certain breathing techniques.
Now, how do we start?
Start by finding a quiet comfortable place with minimum distractions.
Although you can be mindful of your breath in any posture or even while you’re doing any activities, at this early stage, it’s best to start with the sitting posture.
If you’re used to sitting cross-legged in that famous lotus or half-lotus position, great! But, you don’t have to. Just sit comfortably. You can use a chair. But, remember to keep your spine upright in a relaxed and natural way and don’t lean back.
Rest your hands on your thighs, palms facing downward or upward or on top of each other, in front of your abdomen, whichever you feel most comfortable.
With a proper sitting posture, you can practice longer and prevent drowsiness at the same time. That’s why it’s important to keep your back naturally straight.
Eyes? Close or half-closed. At this early stage, it’s important to minimize distractions. At later stages, when mindfulness has grown strong enough, practicing with eyes open won’t be a problem.
Take your time to adjust your posture to find the most relaxed and comfortable position.
Now, breathe normally, no need to control or regulate your breath.
Try to maintain mindfulness of the breathing process. You can direct your attention to the nostrils or upper lip, feeling the touching sensation of the air flowing in and out. Or, as an alternative, you can pay attention to the rising and falling movements of your abdomen.
Do it in a relaxed way. Avoid focusing too hard. You need to conserve your energy.
Duration? Start small and increase it gradually over time. You can start with five minutes and increase it by one minute every two or three days until you reach twenty minutes.
Although you might have heard that many practitioners meditate for thirty minutes, one hour, or even more per sitting, I’d advise to not focus too much on the duration. The regularity of the practice is much more important.
I recommend practice at least twice daily, once in the morning, once in the evening.
Whenever you find yourself wanders away into thoughts, feelings, memories, etc., gently bring your attention back to your breath.
After a few weeks, you will feel that mindfulness is getting stronger.
How do you know?
You know when your mind wanders less. It can stay with the objects longer. And, it’s becoming more stable.
These are some proven and easy hacks to maintain mindfulness, stay focused, and avoid mind-wandering during meditation.
To combat common hindrances, check these most effective meditation hacks for lazy people.
You might find many useful and practical tips in the above posts.
Now that mindfulness is getting stronger, you can use it to observe thoughts.
You’ll be able to observe as they arise, run their courses, and cease.
You’ll remember not to reject them.
You’ll remember not to hold on them.
They can no longer define who you are.
Because you’re being mindful of them, you can see through them, extract the messages, and discard the noise.
As a result, you’ll be able to take the necessary actions in response to those “pessimistic” or “optimistic” thoughts.
You know when you need to exercise restraint, or if you need to plan more carefully and prepare more thoroughly.
Because you’re mindful of your thoughts, you can examine them. You can ignore the noise: thoughts that don’t make sense or that are unreasonable.
Now, you know how to take advantage of your pessimistic thoughts and beware of your optimistic thoughts.
For a more detailed step-by-step on how to do mindfulness meditation, feel free to grab my free guide here.
The key to how to take advantage of your pessimistic thoughts and beware of your negative thoughts is mindfulness.
The consistent practice of mindfulness will lead to an understanding of the workings of the mind.
That understanding will distance you from your thoughts. You’ll understand that you are not your thoughts. Therefore, they can no longer define you.
As a result, your mind will have the clarity to observe and comprehend your thoughts. You’ll be able to separate important points from noise.
To develop mindfulness, you need to maintain its continuity. You cannot develop it by force.
That means mindfulness needs to be exercised in all of your activities continuously, at all times, not only during sitting meditation.
The mindfulness meditation technique is quite simple and straightforward.
Remember to have the right attitude in meditation. See meditation objects as natural processes, remember to not identify yourself with them. Don’t hate or reject objects, but also don’t love or cling to them.
Thoughts are natural processes. As Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, a famous meditation master who has successfully overcome panic attacks has explained, they are neither your boss nor your enemies. So, don’t hate pessimistic thoughts, and beware of optimistic thoughts.
A lot of scientific studies have shown that even a brief properly-done mindfulness meditation session yields measurable positive results.
The key to progress in mindfulness meditation and benefitting from it is consistent and regular practice. Meaning, you need to habituate it, make it part of your lifestyle.
Speaking of meditation styles and techniques, there are tons on offer out there, based on different traditions. Many of them are valid. The differences are for accommodating different needs due to people’s diversity in personalities, characters, cultural backgrounds, upbringing, etc.
You’ll need to experiment a bit to find the right meditation approach that suits you the best.
If there are vipassana retreats conducted in or near your area, I’d advise you to attend one.
They are usually ten days in duration. So, you’ll need to free up your schedule.
If that’s not convenient for you, consider taking a meditation online course. It will certainly help you to have the regularity and consistency needed to build a practicing habit that facilitates transformation.
This is the one I highly recommend.
It includes many styles and techniques based on many different traditions with step-by-step guides. So, you’ll have plenty of rooms to experiment to find the one that works best for you.
And, the teacher is an accomplished meditation master that will guide you through each step and answer your questions.
Using a suitable approach and following a set schedule will help a lot in building consistency and regularity.
Adopting a meditative lifestyle has transformed my life. I’m sure it will transform yours as well.
Being able to be mindful of your thoughts, take advantage of the pessimistic ones, and beware of the optimistic ones is only a small part of the rewards meditation can bring you.
Nowadays, more and more people practice meditation for practical reasons.
Finally, since meditation is a lifetime journey, let’s enjoy every moment of it.
My best wishes.
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Featured Photo designed by yanalya / Freepik
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