Glass Half Full. Glass Half Empty.
The rise of mindfulness addresses many aspects of our daily thinking practices, including our choice of outlook. Is that glass half-full, Linda, or is it half-empty? Is that a green thought, or a red thought? In our current co-existence with COVID-19 and its looming shadow it is easy to fall into a half-full thinking pattern… aka ‘stinking thinking’. That’s why it is so refreshing to rub shoulders with those half-full thinkers, those who seem to find the good in almost any situation: the eternal optimists of the world.
Conversely, Martin Seligman, author of ‘The Optimistic Child’ talks of the ‘pessimism spiral’ which can weave its insidious way into a pattern of thinking. ‘I’ll never make that team.’ ‘I’ll never be selected for that job.’ ‘I’ll never be friends with them.’ Seligman (in Shain, 2020) writes that we need to learn to argue with ourselves, to challenge those downwardly directed thoughts, and that this type of self-argument can become a habit, with practice, even in a matter of days. He also talks of the importance of perspective and the need to find a sweet spot in our thinking when we find ourselves running hastily to a position of catastrophic interpretation. After an awful argument where the first thought is, ‘She hates me’ we can learn to rephrase. ‘She’s pretty unhappy with me at the moment but I know we can resolve it. It’s going to be awkward to see each other again but it will be OK.’
A wise friend coached me many years ago around the word, ‘should’. He would instruct me to rid myself of the imperative ‘should’ from any sentence or thought that passed through my brain. He encouraged me to rephrase sentences each time I was tempted to insert the word, should. I became expert in shifting ‘I should have’, to ‘It would have been good if I had but, on this occasion, I couldn’t, or I didn’t.’ Secretly, I thought he was crazy. That was, until I started to pay attention to its everyday use, not just from my own thinking but by the words spoken by family and friends. In a piece of totally unsubstantiated qualitative research, I began to notice the strong correlation between the use of the word ‘should’ and feelings of guilt, shame or frustration. I actually noticed the difference it made to me when I rephrased my thoughts. It really was a Martin Seligman moment where the practice of self-argument became useful, or perhaps it was a prelude to cognitive behaviour therapy before I even knew the term existed: change your thought, change your feeling.
I’m inspired by so many people at this time, more than ever before. Perhaps I’m thirsting for a fuller glass, or perhaps I’m just appreciating the metaphoric glasses about me. I’m inspired by students who are getting on with things, even though things are remarkably different. I admit to being inspired by my daughter, locked down and locked in, in Melbourne – her buoyancy despite almost two full terms of teaching from home gives great perspective. I’m inspired by the tenacity of my 88-year-old mother in hospital in Sydney who walked the length of the corridor just over twenty-four hours after a hip replacement. And when I catch myself feeling sorry for what I don’t have or can’t have at the moment… as I sneak into that pessimism spiral, I catch myself quickly, or attempt to – there is a lot to be grateful for.
Last week, both the Junior and Middle School Assemblies were cause for optimism: from the Junior school girls who beat me back to my office with answers to my trivia, to the fabulous Black House Assembly replete with Penne Skene on the bagpipes, Ally Graham on guitar with her photographs as a backdrop and some heart-warming Black House footage. On Saturday, I watched three of our Netball teams in action. Into the future there’s a revamped Curtain Call which gives performance opportunity for our musicians, dancers, dramatists and artists.These are all things to fill my cup – and the cups of others. Here’s to our weeks ahead giving us perspective, gratitude and a glass that is more than full enough.
Dr Linda Evans | Principal
Shain, S. The New York Times, March 23, 2020 How to be More Optimistic: life is better with a half-full glass