I am a pessimist at heart. Or at least that’s what I’ve always believed.  Like blood type or eye color, it was unchangeable and part of my permanent record, probably taped to the inside cover of my file, written in red magic marker, “this guy’s a real downer.”

Step 4: made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

Understand, I thought I saw things as they really were: harsh, petty, and territorial. I wasn’t about to paint a smile on things I didn’t believe in; to go through a day happy meant you were oblivious and delusional.  I saw myself as the last bastion of common sense and morality, vigilantly keeping the flame of the social contract we’d all agreed to, and was constantly amazed at how often everyone ignored it.  These daily random inventories I took of total strangers became the grit in my cement of negativism… and upon this rock I shall build my church.  Not that I had any followers. No one is interested in following an ethos that states, “People are shit. Nobody cares. Leave me alone.”

What this program has taught me, something I’ve never learned anywhere else, is this: I have a severely over-active defense mechanism, one that preemptively strikes down anything new or different, scary or weird. In short, anything that leaves me exposed and ripe for embarrassment, because laughing at me today can still sometimes feels like the laughter that I’ve been trying to avoid since I first put up my shields years and years ago.  Even though the people, places, and things are all different, I’m still trigger-happy with my resistance.

I’ve learned that my thought patterns can be untaught, stripped away, unschooled, segmented and rearranged into proper thinking order.  See, I’ve always put my reactions in front of everything else. They’re loaded and all lined up, waiting to be called on, situation-dependent.  Conversational shut-down monologues prepped and ready for almost any occasion. And even if the interaction went well, and even if it was a positive experience, I still made sure that some emotional distance was established. Things might have went well this time, but let’s not make a habit of it, shall we?

How I know the program is working today: I try to start by smiling. Even though I want to roll my eyes and exhale pure frustration, I’m learning that assuming the worst almost always assures it.  Nobody wants to be greeted with a “this is going to suck” vibe.

Next, I let go of assumptions. Mainly because my assumptions have been marinating in stinking thinking for over two decades.

And finally, I pay attention to what’s directly in front of me.  No preconceived notions.  No agenda.  I’m not dwelling on the past nor worrying about the future.  When I leave all that baggage behind, I’m almost always surprised at how well things turn out.

And finally, finally: if positivity needs to be broken down into paint-by-numbers, if that’s what it’s going to take to start a new habit, so be it. One of the greatest gifts this program has given me is the ability to recognize and reinforce new behaviors. It’s these tools that have allowed me to start looking for the upside in all things. And for that, I’m grateful.

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