How Can I Be Less Cynical?

Hello, this is Steve Shallenberger, your host today with the Becoming Your Best Global Leadership podcast. This is an ongoing podcast on leadership principles that contribute to highly successful results.

Today, what has inspired this particular podcast is a question by one of our listeners. It is, “How can I be less cynical?”. I love this question!
On the surface, you might think we can come up with a simple or casual answer but… This is a loaded question. In reality, it affects all our lives in one way or another. I appreciated the authenticity and genuineness to ask this question in the first place.
So let’s look at cynicism from different dimensions. First of all, what’s the definition of cynicism? I saw several. One is, “it’s an inclination to believe that people are motivated purely by self-interest, skepticism, public cynicism about politics”. Some of the synonyms are: skepticism, doubt, distress, mistrust, suspicion, disbelief, and so on. It’s also an inclination to question whether something will happen or whether it is worthwhile. This word “pessimism” keeps coming up, cynicism about the future. This is an interesting one. The holding or expressing of opinions that reveal a disbelief, and sometimes, a disdain for commonly held human values or virtues.
I particularly like the one on Wikipedia. Must be true, right?
In this case, I like the perspective that shared cynicism is an attitude or a state of mind. Characterized by a general distrust of other’s motives. A cynic may have a general lack of faith, or hope in the human species, or people motivated by ambition, desire, greed, gratification, materialism, goals, and opinions. A cynic perceives as vain, unattainable, or ultimately meaningless, and therefore deserving of ridicule or admonishment.
Well, there you go. That’s one way to describe what it may be like. I’m sure that people have different definitions. There actually used to be a school of ancient Greek philosophers that were called the cynics. It was interesting because in this case, they were advocating the doctrines that virtue is the only good. The essence of virtue is self-control, individual freedom, and that surrendered any external influence is beneath the dignity of man. A far different definition than the ones that I’ve described.
Is cynicism different from questioning or analyzing something? Or is it an outlook on life?
These are all great questions. And the other is, how can I take something and make it better? So this friend of mine who asks the question, how can I be less cynical? That was really the question. Excuse me. Well, I think that’s a worthy desire. A worthy goal. So what does it come down to, and what are the different dimensions?
One thing to consider is look at the opposite of cynicism and then we’re just gonna take it to another place. Words that convey the opposite meaning of cynical could be hopeful, trusting, optimistic. Cynical has so many nuances that it is tough finding a word that is the opposite. We can’t label somebody as a cynic because there’s different grades of that. A better way to consider the opposite of cynical, is to describe the characteristics of someone who is the opposite of a cynic.
For me, the best example of the opposite of a cynic might be, ”Pollyanna.”. That’s a term when I grew up that may have been a little overboard. If you’re not familiar with this character, it’s from a book with the same title. Pollyanna is a young girl who is unfailingly positive, optimistic, cheerful, trusting. Who always looks for, and sees, the best in people and her circumstances. Well, so there you go. Those are two different sides of this coin.
Is there a better way than cynicism? Can it really produce greater happiness and results? Well, what would the alternative be? It is having a becoming-your-best mindset. As you really think about it, being a cynic very much could be a mindset, an outlook for whatever reason of how we have started looking at life. Having a becoming-your-best mindset could very well be at a much whole different outlook. Away to look at life that produces a whole different set of outcomes.
So trust, and hope, and belief, having a place to go to act that gets us to a better, happier, more satisfying result. I met three years ago and had lunch with the person by the name of Dr. Tali Sharot. She lived in England. That’s where I had the chance to meet her. She wrote a book called “The Optimism Bias.” She is a Ph.D., and this has been her whole field of study. She’s a neuroscientist.
She’s taken this to a whole another level. Actually measuring the impact having the optimist biased would have. In short, the inclination to overestimate the likelihood of encountering positive events in the future. To underestimate the likelihood of experiencing negative events.
The book is a neuroscientist’s exploration of this biased in our brains. An exploration that contributes to an increased understanding of the biological basis of optimism. Essentially, what we discover is that there is much research in this area of life. The impacts of say optimistic versus pessimistic. Our thoughts and attitudes clearly have an impact on every phase of our life including health, longevity, achievement, relationships, and happiness.
However, we have to be a little careful because the pendulum seems to swing back and forth on the fact that there are healthy parts of pessimism, right? Being pessimistic or thinking in this lane such as this is a simple example. After having taken an exam and you don’t have the results back, thinking to yourself, “Well, I’m not sure I did as good as I hope. I may be getting a C.” So that you will be surprised to learn that when you receive an A and B, that you have this happy surprise. So that was the dimension.
So we find that a lot of contemporary research looks at this both ways, but certainly trends towards this idea that certain mindsets produce a better outcome in life. And so, this gets us down to this very question that my friend and this wonderful listener asked. And so, what’s the answer? So how can I be less cynical? Well, the answer may actually be in the question itself. Maybe the question should not be, how can I be less cynical? Maybe the question should be, how can I become my best? And this is a thoughtful practical mindset. And it does have an optimistic or positive bias, but it can also be highly analytical, doubtful, and questioning, and curious. But it is this mindset of becoming our best that, as it becomes the focus, puts us in an entirely different playing field.
So let’s just talk about this mindset and skillset. I love this great concept that we have discussed before, but certainly is worth revisiting. And it’s an age-old question, will I be acted or will I act or be acted upon? And in life, this is an option, a choice that each one of us has. We’re not a rock or a plant. They are acted upon by forces that they can’t control. However, you are free to act or take deliberate action with the ability to predict a result even though you can’t control, sometimes and many times, the outside influences. And when those actions are aligned with correct principles, you get predictable results time and time and time again.
So in order to be cynical, is a deliberate choice to act in a way that may not get the best results. On the other hand, when you deliberately choose to think about those things that bring the best results, that then, in turn, brings greater happiness and more productive achievements. So this totally requires you and I to think in terms of becoming your best. And to get out of old unproductive habits, and move into liberating actions that change our lives and everything and everyone that we touch for good. See, this becomes the focus.
So I just remember a story. I played a lot of baseball when I was growing up. I had the opportunity… I started as a young boy at eight, played in Little League, and had the opportunity to play in high school, in college. This was great. I loved it. I was a catcher. I also played in the outfield, but primarily I was a catcher. And every once in a while, we knew that we had a really good hitter coming up, had a high batting average. And sometimes the stakes were high, we had a great team. So from time to time, we’d call a timeout. And whatever we did, we knew not to tell the pitcher, “Whatever you do, don’t throw it high and outside.” Because that is his fat spot.
So inevitably, if that ever came up or we did that, guess what happened? Exactly. Pitcher, throw it high and outside and the battered cream it. Well, so what we did is we learned to put our focus on the things that we wanted the results for. So be sure to keep this one tight and inside. That became our focus. Well, this is the same way as we seek to create behaviors in our life. It’s not so much focusing on the high and outside. In other words, I’m gonna work on not being a cynic. What it is, is I’m gonna focus tight and inside. I will focus on behaviors and actions that allows me to become my best. That becomes the focus.
And so, this is the ”yes” that sets a whole set of behaviors and actions that achieves a greater good. And it’s focusing on the ”yes” and not on the ”no”. So letting go of an attachment to cynicism won’t cost you the ability to question or doubt. As a matter of fact, finding new ways aligned with timeless and correct principles will help you to be free to question, to trust and provide you with a more effective pathway to consistently getting greater results. I will focus on those actions and behaviors based on correct principles that produce the greatest happiness, success, and prosperity in my life, in my relationships and teams, and within the organizations that I work. This is my choice. This is my choice of how I act.
So what is the most healthy and productive way to be less cynical? It’s to focus on becoming your best. It is the belief that the best is yet to come, and that you can grow and contribute and make a difference. It is a hope and a trust that these things will work out and that you can make a difference. And that you can hope and trust other people. Are we still…do we still do our due diligence? Absolutely. Do we still work to use good judgment? Absolutely. But we trust people and we hope and we speak positively. This would be our focus.
So practice these one day at a time, one week at a time and you’ll be on that pathway, that roadway to becoming your best. So what things does it come down to? Is that you can bank on making your actions and behaviors in harmony with timeless principles that will give that kind of result. Let me just review a few of those to illustrate this. Character and honesty. Vision, it’s an upbeat vision. It’s the focus on the good, right? That’s where we put our trust and other people. We actually describe this and we think about what we can accomplish. Our goals are all about action and what can be of realizing our best, our yearly goals.
We share them with others because we trust and invite them into our lives. And this creates an enriched part of life. We also prioritize our time with free week planning and now we become very focused on the type of actions we are going to do that bring about the right results. And in our relationships with others as we think about some of these 12 principles of highly successful leaders, is how do we treat others? Well, we treat others by living the golden rule and realize that this creates a ripple that’ll never stop its selfless service.
We specifically, build and maintain trust. We’re always saying, “What does the trust meter look like?” Is it on full or halfway or almost empty and what can I do unilaterally, what actions to build the trust up to full? And then it has, so often, we see this as a reciprocal result. Well, these are creating then an environment relationships with others. It is amazing. Be an effective communicator. This is another one of those great principles that you can be a game-changer. Innovating, once we have this type of higher level of trust, then we can create an innovation by using our imagination to solve difficult problems. And then our own personal living of these principles to be accountable and be responsible, to apply knowledge and continue to read and gain new ideas, to live our own life and peace and balance, so that we can find a happiness as we’re moving through life.
And of course, last of all is we don’t give up trying. We don’t get discouraged about it. We might. We’re certainly going to have setbacks. Well, that’s a quick little review, but we keep going forward, we keep making changes, adapting, and pivoting until we get those great results. So I’ve just given a very quick review of these twelve principles. So what can we do it again better? Well, back to this idea I just shared. Practice these one day, one week at a time, and we’re on the pathway the roadway to becoming our best, which affects every level of happiness, success, health, and prosperity in life. And this focus produces a huge light that lifts and inspires your own life, your teams and relationships, and your organizations.
The examples of those doing this in life that we can look at, are endless as are those that have violated aligning with these universal behavioral laws. It’s not a one-time flashy performance, it is a day in and day out doing the right things that accumulate to produce majesty and splendor. This is the becoming-your-best movement that’s spreading throughout the world. It is a way of thinking and doing, a becoming-your-best leader is different than just being a leader. A becoming-your-best leader is that we can do the seemingly impossible.
And so, our brains, we look and spirits look for those outcomes. A BYB leader sustains and maintains real growth year in and year out, and is positive and unbeaten, not negative or pessimistic or complaining. And when setbacks and reversals come, a BYB leader understands that this is an opportunity to learn from mistakes and do better on the next try. And this type of a leader is determined to leave things better than when we found them. A BYB leader takes the high road and not the low road. And you can trust and believe. That’s not being cynical. You can trust and believe that these types of actions which become habits produce a character, and create a destiny that is among the best that life can provide.
This has been a delight to be able to talk about this subject. I wanna thank my friend for asking the question, how can I be less cynical? Because the answer is by working on becoming my best. It’s been a great help to me, and I thank that person. We wish each one of you a great day. And remember, you too are making a difference every single day as you work on these things. You are the one that’s creating the ripple, you are the one that is creating a better world. This is Steve Shallenberger with, Becoming Your Best Global Leadership. Have a nice day.



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