In Yoga Thoughts

Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.” – Helen Keller

Applying to college.
Deciding to change careers.
Planting a garden.
Getting married.
Retiring.
Climbing a mountain.
Moving forward after a medical diagnosis.
Having a baby.
Playing in a tennis tournament.

These are but a few of the countless “moments” in life where we must rely on hope and optimism. Yet these qualities are often mistaken as fanciful or “soft.” In fact, more than once I’ve been told to stop being a “Pollyanna” as I seek a silver lining or the gift within a challenge.

What these folks weren’t aware of as they teased me is that optimism can take hard work and that hope requires courage. No one I know has blithely made any of the above choices. You simply do not get up a mountain or win a tournament on a wing and a prayer. Each of these “moments” (and a million others like them) involves some research, some planning, some baby steps which may not be super pleasant, some determined training, some investment of time or finances, some logistics and strategizing.

Yet I believe that the likelihood of the success of all of that hard work increases exponentially with the right attitude. Hope and optimism, then (to borrow from Helen Keller), are integral to achievement.

How does this work? The Dalai Lama explains:

“One very important factor for sustaining hope is to have an optimistic attitude. Optimism doesn’t mean that you are blind to the reality of the situation. It means that you remain motivated to seek a solution to whatever problems arise. Optimism involves looking at a situation not only in relation to problems that arise, but also seeking out some benefit – looking at it in terms of its potential positive outcome.”

In other words, no matter what you’re navigating in life – and no matter whether you’re still in the early stages or headed toward the finish line – a little hope and optimism do a great deal to sustain you. The energy yielded by a healthy dose of optimism can make you more keenly observant, more curious, more open to possibilities and more creative as you assess your situation. Hope and optimism can help you stay motivated as you devise and follow your plan. The confidence that you will be able to find a solution can help you stay flexible and willing to shift gears as many times as needed.

Hope and optimism, then, can really be quite practical.

Unrolling a yoga mat each day is a powerful way to practice developing – and trusting – hope and optimism. Each day that you come to your mat you hope to feel good. You are optimistic that your abilities will develop. You are confident in your potential. You must have this hope, optimism and confidence or all of the days that you do not feel good, or that you do not successfully maintain your focus for the whole of your practice or that you watch a challenging posture backslide will feel devastating. The reality is (at least in my experience) that the days where you witness real growth and change are quite few in comparison to the “other” days.

If you have not spent the time and energy not only practicing yoga, but practicing the determined cultivation and maintenance of a positive attitude, you will simply stop practicing. Trust me. It is your optimism that motivates you to show up. It is your hope that can drive you to study and to try new ways (sometimes hundreds of new ways) of doing something. It is your confidence in both your own potential and the power of the practice that gives you a stubborn, courageous stick-to-it-ive-ness that will absolutely (eventually) lead to each of your achievements.

As you and I know, the lessons and skills we learn from our yoga practice rarely stay on the mat. Instead, we carry them with us back out into our lives. So when it’s time for you to decide to go back to school, or to apply for a job, or to start a family, or to transform your backyard into the most perfectly beautiful, symmetrical, lush organic garden that you can imagine, you will find that all of your practice has set you up for success. The addition of hope to the “elbow grease” of planning, studying and problem solving is a shockingly powerful combination.

Even the infinitely practical and well-trained former Secretary of State, Colin Powell, said that “perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.” I believe that you, my friend, can be an optimistic and hopeful force to reckoned with.

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