I’ve always been a full-fledged pessimist. Completely developed and continually active, nearly one hundred percent of the time. I wish it weren’t so, but it’s a genetic and environmental legacy. I come from negative, critical stock who always saw the worst in everything.
Naturally, I fight my nature. I work hard to be a good person, a positive spirit, and a giving and kind friend, mother, and partner. Most of the time, I succeed in overcoming my basic instincts, even if I’m faking it. But Covid has provided a test for all of us, and I am no exception.
When the pandemic began, we all went through stages of adjustment. Denial, grief, hope, more denial, and more grief. I followed the standard trajectory but added my own flair. I now had permission to be more negative, pessimistic, and dark! This was my territory, and I reveled in the gruesomeness of it all.
Like Eeyore in quicksand, saying, “I told you so,” I blamed, pointed fingers, and criticized anyone who didn’t agree with my view of how we got here. I stayed mired in that murky swamp. That worked for a while, but even Eeyore has to realize that quicksand will eventually go over his head.
It was then I decided that my natural inclinations needed to be adjusted. “What a perfect opportunity to change my personality!” I crowed.
“I’ve been waiting 60 years to become my best self but could never devote the time and energy required. Now I have time. I will create the energy.” I decided to turn into an optimist. Or at least curb and adjust my natural pessimism.
A major personality shift isn’t easy at any age. I decided to be as realistic as possible and break things down into baby steps. Less than baby steps – ant steps.
But first, I looked to friends and acquaintances who seemed to be handling our new way of being in the world with positivity. Some actually appeared to be flourishing. All shared the capacity to adjust philosophically and practically. I vowed to follow their examples and to mimic their positive choices.
A few friends are pursuing hobbies or interests they didn’t have time, or take time, to explore before Covid. A couple are taking intensive painting classes online.
Another pal, who spent most of her life pre-pandemic checking off spots around the world she wanted to explore, has rechanneled her love of travel by writing articles about her experiences and sending them off for publication.
My friend Liz, whenever she’s feeling low, repeats her new mantra, “Where’s the joy?” Then she finds it. Several couples are taking road trips – often closer to home, but an adventure none the less.
Two other friends have had big upticks in their careers and are enjoying the personal growth as well as the chance to put their focus on something besides the daily news.
It’s easy to stay a pessimist if you don’t have success, so I chose things that would require minimum effort. MINIMUM!
I decided to return to the ukulele via YouTube lessons. Anyone can learn the ukulele, I promise. I also started a new exercise routine. I ordered an inexpensive rowing machine and fold up treadmill. Even if I only do a few minutes at a time, I give myself credit.
I also practice French for five minutes a day. After exploring several study options, I chose the method that was easiest. I knew I would likely quit something too challenging right now. I also promised myself a return trip to Paris when this is behind us.
Ant steps in every single choice. So far, I’ve had success. Who wouldn’t – the bar was so low, but these practices make me feel better. Even, might I say, more optimistic.
The trajectory from Eeyore to Pollyanna is very long and steep. Still, it’s possible. Even if I don’t completely change my personality, I hope to reflect back and be proud that I used this time for the good of my character.
Another change I made was toward acceleration, rather than a completely new behavior. I have always contributed to community through volunteering or gifting. But these days, my husband and I sit down once a week and decide where we can make a difference, either in time devoted or monetarily.
It’s not a once or twice a year thing anymore. And maybe, in our post-pandemic rear-view mirror, we’ll decide to keep up the pace of that habit.
And, I adopted Liz’s mantra. There is my joy all around if you just look for it.
If a pessimist like myself can begin subtle shifts in attitude and behavior, perhaps positive change is in your future. Is there something you’ve always thought of doing but didn’t have time for?
Winter is coming, and many of us will have less opportunity for outdoor social distancing. Seize the day, fellow Eeyores, and report back on your ant steps.
Are you a natural pessimist? How do you handle your pessimistic inclinations? What helps you to find positivity in our world? Please share with our sisters!