” the safest way for someone to appear intelligent is being sceptical by default. We seem sophisticated when we say “we don’t believe” and disingenuous when we say “we do.” – Guillermo Del Toro
I am proud to be an optimist for I think it is what is desperately needed. Optimism empowers us to try, supports our learning when we fail and gives us the energy to commit ourselves to new thing. In this age of fake news and information cultivated via social media algorithms that reinforce ‘same’ we are still in control of the actions we choose to take.

Dr. David Sherry, a paediatric rheumatologist at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, has grey hair long enough to gather in a ponytail, a massive number of aggressively playful ties, and a very unconventional, somewhat alarming attitude toward pain. Sherry says pain used to be more accepted as a normal and predictable part of life. He thinks the more attention you pay to something, the bigger it becomes — because the very act of paying attention to something reinforces connections in the brain. So, what are you choosing to reinforce?

“Optimism is our instinct to inhale while suffocating. Our need to declare what “needs to be” in the face of what is. Optimism is not uncool; it is rebellious and daring and vital.
The American writer Theodore Sturgeon once said:  ”Ninety percent of everything is crap” and I believe he was right. But surely that also means that “Ten percent of everything is worth the damn effort.”
And so, it goes time after time, choice after choice, that we decide to leave behind a biography or an epitaph. Look around you now and decide between the two.
Inhale or die.”

Steven Covey’s Circle of Influence and control has three layers. That which we can control, that which we can influence and that which we should be concerned about. What if because of the negative, scary images we are bombarded with our brains are stuck on the wrong setting. They can’t stop paying attention to the circle of concern. And if all our attention is stuck here then it is little wonder, we forget we have control and influence.

So yes, I’m asking you to rewire your brain. Choose to build new connections. First for the things you can control. Then for those you can influence. Then control where you seek the information that informs what issues and to what extent you should be concerned. Here’s five things we forget we are in control of:

  • Who we spend our time with
  • What we read
  • What we watch and listen too
  • What we pass onto others
  • How we share what we have
Optimism is both a choice and a way of life. Without cultivation, through my actions, I know I risk succumbing to the negativity on which marketing and news cultures feed. My choice to be radically optimistic focuses my brain on what I can control and influence, empowers me to choose how I inform myself about my concerns and biases me to action.

There are three types of people I choose to spend time with:

People who build my sense of community

These people make me feel part of something bigger than myself. These people are my neighbours, the parents of my kid’s friends, a regular exercise class, the committee at the toy library. The normalise and challenge the boundaries of my influence and control.

My inner circle.

The less than half dozen people I call when I’m feeling overwhelmed. I know these people have my back with no explanations, expectations or exceptions. But like any relationship they need maintenance so that when I need them, I can draw deeply without risking the foundation. So, call an existing friend to bank a conversation for when you need it, or actively seek a new one by engaging in activities where your intentions (large or small) are shared.

People I work with

I choose to work with people, in environments and on projects who inspire me to be the best version of me and therefore make the greatest contribution I can. I am guided by my commitment to do work (paid and voluntary) that leaves our planet and communities more sustainable for my children than when I encountered them.

I am a copious reader of books both fiction & non-fiction, blogs and media. I choose to read for relaxation (I am a junky of good murder mystery) to educate myself and to inspire me. But perhaps the most valuable thing you can do is educate yourself on the reasons we have to hope and the progress that is being taken toward that future. Remember what you consume informs what you pay attention too, reinforcing those networks in your brain.

Some of the sources I regularly enjoy are:

  • Positive news UK
  • The Guardian
  • Vox
  • Planthunter
  • The profile
  • Brain pickings
  • Weekend briefing
We recently spent time with family at a beach house. Some of the family choose to have commercial television as a sound track to their lives, particularly the new channels. This year’s bushfire crisis is one of the reasons I was prompted to write this article, for watching the coverage I was reminded why optimism is so critical and how it is alive and well, just not widespread (yet). I choose not to watch commercial news or regularly read the paper. I do not need to, to be informed of things I should be concerned about. The things I need to be concerned about permeate my social media, my friends, my conversations. Aside from pure entertainment like Game of Thrones, renovation shows on 9life and the NCIS and related franchises. When I choose to watch and listen to things that educate and challenge me. Pushing my opinions to their extremes or in some cases their opposites, Sam Harris, is particularly good at this. Where I feel a spark of interest or a crack in an opinion, I thought I held staunchly I pick at it, seeking out information and perspectives until more often than not I reach a new opinion. The most recent example of this was the use of nuclear power and its role in de-carbonising our economy; after watching, listening and reading I am now pro nuclear (with caveats).

Here are some of the things I have regularly and recently watched and listened too:

  • Triple J Hack
  • Invisibilia
  • Tiddas for Tiddas
  • Making sense
  • Science Vs
  • Stuff you should know
  • Inside Bills Brain (netflix)
There are ways we can all contribute; time, money, goods or services.

Discretionary

Give experiences which build relationships not stuff, volunteer your time, volunteer your expertise.

Essential

Register your home as a refuge for those in crisis, switch your essential services like energy, internet and transport to more ethical choices, buy more local food, buy more seasonal food.

What we pass on to others is tightly connected to the influence we have. It is affected by the content of what we pass on and how we choose to do so. Here are three examples of what that has looked like in my life in the last week:

  • Pick up rubbish on the beach while walking the dog. I make a point of making eye contact with people when I do this. Most people will at minimum acknowledge you and at most join in! Either way I am physically showing them something they could do too and socially challenging them to join me. Remember its the fast followers that create a movement.
  • Send articles / insights to people with a summary of why you think it might interest them and what you gained from it. Be selective, don’t overthink it but make sure what you send is meaningful to that individual. They’re more likely to read the next one if they gained from it!
  • Put a bowl on the bench of the beach house to collect food waste. This has many effects. Firstly it is a visual demonstration of the waste, it reduces the volume going to landfill (which in this case costs cash for every bag), it provides a reason to engage in a conversation about what actions we can take and it demonstrates that same accessible positive action.
References:
From <https://time.com/5520554/guillermo-del-toro-radical-optimism/>
From <https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2019/03/09/700823481/invisibilia-for-some-teens-with-debilitating-pain-the-treatment-is-more-pain>

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