Learned Optimism

Although I’ve come a long way in the just over ten years when I pulled Matthew from the bottom of […]
Wendy Jones
January 12, 2020

Although I’ve come a long way in the just over ten years when I pulled Matthew from the bottom of our backyard swimming pool, it will forever be the day that my perspective on this journey began to change. Because we were afforded the miracle of his survival, I haven’t experienced the bottomless heartbreak of someone who has lost a child, but I have been to the very edge and can still feel the sense of dread that was there as I contemplated that kind of loss. I don’t go there too often anymore, because the anxiety it creates clouds my decisions and my ability to live in the present.  It took me years of faith, therapy, and him getting older and wiser to let go of the frantic feeling I would have when he wasn’t in my sight. But in a ironic way, that was the day that I began to get it:

slow down and appreciate what I had been given.

It shouldn’t take a near death experience to appreciate the simple joy we can find in the mundane, but it was after Matthew’s accident that I found myself grateful that I had his laundry to fold or that the dinner bill is more expensive because he eats so much meat.  It taught me to slow down and appreciate the moments I have with each one of them because you never know when life is going to change with one misstep or conversation…I’ve learned that one many times over by this point.

The thing about parenting is that it is a live experiment.  We don’t get to study every move and take our time to make each decision.  Things come flying at us and we have to learn to trust our guts and respond instead of react.  Matthew’s near drowning left a mark on all of us.  I know I babied him, his siblings did too.  It was as if in some way we saw that he needed an extra layer of protection.  On that devastating day in 2009, he did, no question about it.  But since then, some of the protections I leaned on to protect my own heart created some learned helplessness in him that I now have to guide him out of. He is so capable, so emotionally intelligent, and works hard.  But many times in his life he has been given the out instead of being taught to dig a little deeper.  That’s where my gut comes in…knowing just how hard to push, finding that line where the challenge is hard enough, but not above his pay grade. 

This is one of the characteristics of flow…finding the sweet spot between challenge and skill. 

The good news is that the opposite of learned helplessness is learned optimism…something that I feel like I was born to train. In order to be able to really teach something in a way that it sticks, we have to be able to break it down into small pieces so it take take root and grow into a full mindset. 

As an optimist, I teach three P’s: 

  • Permanence: Challenges come in life to teach us, we move through them, they don’t last, but we are stronger and wiser for having had them cross our path. With an optimists point of view and determination, bad events are much more temporary than permanent, it’s all about acquiring the skills to move through them.

  • Pervasiveness: We are not our mistakes. Yes, bad things happen in life, every day will not come up roses.  But how we learn to separate an event in our life from who we are at our core is what sets an optimist apart.

  • Personalization: Optimists believe that we can make good situations great and bad situations better. Optimists love a reason to celebrate the good and know how to apply their grit and wisdom when hard times fall upon us.  Understanding that we have the skills and training and the confidence to use them is what makes us game changers in this life.  Optimists may have temporary set backs but know how to come back stronger because of a life test they were given.

One of my goals of 2020 is to achieve more flow state experiences within my home with my kids.  As I said last week, I’ve felt them, they are right there under the surface waiting for a perfect set of conditions to be realized and, with focus, I understand how to make this goal and reality.

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About the author:
Wendy Jones is a mother of four, lifelong athlete, writer, and optimism & resilience coach and speaker. Through 20 years of parenting and relationship struggles, she believes that vulnerability and our willingness to share our stories is a way to heal ourselves

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