Optimism is Forged in Fire

5 Lessons Learned About Positive Thinking

Optimists are made, not born. They are formed with failure and setback, steeled by bad experience, hammered into shape by Choice and Will. Optimism is forged in fire. Mine was…

My birth parents split up when I was six. My mother divorced her second husband when I was nine. By the time I was sixteen, I‘d lived through several divorces and changed schools too many times. None of those decisions were mine; it was long before I started creating my own problems. Faced with loss, disappointment, and discouragement, I fought to understand and deal with those situations. I’m not talking about ‘bad days’; I’m talking about the kind of storms in life that destroy good men and women. And children.

Fortunately, when I was a teenager, my father gave me a book titled “Think and Grow Rich”. He often gave me books that were challenging for me to read. It was written in 1937 and considered the ‘Granddaddy of All Motivational Literature’, but I was too young to be interested in business or success. I was a little disappointed. It was not the kind of gift a boy wanted for his thirteenth birthday. But he said it suited me because I had a great imagination. That summer, I sat in my bedroom and studied the book. It was the greatest gift my father ever gave me.

“What the mind of Man can conceive
and believe, it can achieve”.

I loved the way the statement rhymed and took its simple truth to heart. It gave me hope that I could change my world and make it better.

Mr. Hill reported that success came to people who believed they could and would succeed. Those who expected positive results would consciously and subconsciously seek out possibilities and opportunities, and would notice them when they presented themselves. Conversely, when people expected negative results, they focused on life’s obstacles, risks, and evils, and that’s what they experienced. His twenty-year study provided credible proof: things people think about actually happen in their lives.

According to the book, if I conceived a project, an adventure, a lifestyle change that motivated me and deeply believed in my plan to achieve it, the universe would conspire with me to make it happen. The greater the obsession, the greater and more certain its manifestation. What the mind of Man can conceive and believe, it can achieve… the words remain etched in my brain.

practicing positive thinking on a trek
Looking for Adventure on the Way Down from Mt. Borah, ID

Positive Thinking Takes Practice

I began to imagine better times. I practiced positive thinking. Even when things were out of my control, I worked at shaping the things I could. To build confidence in my abilities, I sought small victories; any little manifestation of joy for which I could take credit strengthened belief in my optimistic self. I didn’t need to know how to being happy the rest of the my life; only how to be happy at the time.

It took more than imagination. I could imagine happy days all I wanted, but life went its own way. The world did not seek my approval to change. All kinds of things happened that were not part of my plan and sometimes those things were bad. I didn’t plan to have a lot of parents. I didn’t plan the business or personal disasters that happened in my life. Some were my fault and some just happened, and they happened more than once. My optimism was tested.

But what else… pessimism?

Pessimists can be chronically unhappy people. It’s normal to have a negative perspective on a situation or set of circumstances (and sometimes we should) but, if practiced regularly, it is destructive. Pessimists expect bad things to happen and they’re usually right. No great relationships are built with it, no obstacles overcome, no progress made with pessimism. It is the language of despair and the cornerstone of defeat. Pessimism can poison the spirit.

hard to be optimistic
Negotiating the Impassable Canyon on the Middle Fork in November

Optimists know doubt and fear, too; especially if they ever acted on their optimism… if they took a risk on an idea that they conceived and believed in, and failed to achieve their goal. Failure and loss are as painful to an optimist as they are for anyone else, maybe more. He has to regroup, recharge, and try again. Being optimistic is tiring; there’s a lot of effort involved and it takes a lot of mental toughness. The struggle is ongoing.

For all the benefits of being optimistic,
it is gritty work.

Most of the time, positive thinking feels good. It’s as simple as “seeing the donut, not the hole”. Just thinking about putting a positive spin on conditions sets a smile on my face. And when it comes to making big plans or organizing big changes in my life, I imagine all the possibilities, anticipate needs and obstacles, adjust the plan accordingly… all through a lens of optimism. It gives me energy. I get excited planning for success and grow stronger every time I solve a problem. I can be optimistic about improving a situation at home, at work, in any aspect of my life. By definition, being optimistic makes me happy.

As a young man, I practiced positive thinking. When good things began to happen, I attributed them in part to principles I learned from Mr. Hill’s book and committed to expanding my knowledge. I wanted to learn more about its application, potential, and side-effects. Some people (like me) seem naturally optimistic. I believe it is a frame of mind that can be learned. Optimism is an empowering outlook on life that can be constructed and tempered.

5 Things I Learned about Being Optimistic:

  1. Fate is when you relinquish choice to circumstance; when you surrender to a situation. Destiny is when you intervene; when you determine to shape the circumstance.
  2. Fate is for lazy pessimists. Optimists shape their futures.
  3. Optimism seems the better option, but it’s hard work and it hurts.
  4. You have to start a better life. Whatever that means to you, whatever adventure you conceive, it is waiting on you to start. The simple act of sitting down and working with enthusiasm on a plan is a step in the right direction. At some metaphysically atomic level, you influence the surrounding energy with your imagination. Put it to work. Live the life you imagine.
  5. Optimism works. It is a source of good energy for me and fortifies my confidence to achieve unlikely goals. I changed my world several times and it was always for the better. Optimism improved the quality of my life when I supplied the necessary willpower and endurance.

Success in this world is not about preparation. It is not about lucky breaks. It’s about staying the course even when you give your best and come up short. When you wake up the next day optimistic and resolved to make it happen… and come up short again. When no one knows or really cares, still you choose to persevere. It’s about being the most stubborn traveler on the trail and – even in the face of another heartbreaking setback – moving forward with your dream. That’s what success in life is all about and, in your darkest moments, I wish you much success.

seeing the bright side
On the Trail to A Better Life in the Frank Church Wilderness

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One comment

  1. This is the power of optimism. Gives hope and at the same time motivates to act,You have a lot of optimism, and that’s optimistic.

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