Optimism is a self-amplifying feedback loop

Filmmaker and futurist Jason Silva talks about the self-reinforcing power of optimism in this three-minute video. The first time I watched it I felt it was a bit over-the-top because of Silva’s enthusiastic, almost manic presentation.

OK, I still think Silva is over-the-top, especially after watching a few more of his videos. But if you need what he calls “shots of philosophical espresso” or a dose of techno-optimism (and who doesn’t now and then?), he’s your guy.

And I think he makes a valid point here. He begins by talking about feedback loops and “…the extraordinary power we have to sculpt and mold our lives.”

You can decide, for example, to be optimistic and “to look for the beautiful in every possible experience,” and in so doing you’ll create experiences for yourself that further amplifies your optimism and sense of the beautiful, which encourages you to keep cultivating your sense of it, which leads to more awareness, and so forth.

This isn’t a new idea. Cognitive psychotherapists have long spoken of the power to create your own joy or misery by how you talk to yourself and what you choose to think about. In other words, our mental environments don’t just happen to us. Going further back, even Shakespeare has Hamlet say, “There’s nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.” (Alas, poor Hamlet chose the dark side!)

I don’t interpret Silva to mean that we should shut out all negative information (which would be to live in a fantasy world), but since negativity seems to come so naturally to most of us, it’s important to recognize your power to exercise a measure of what he calls “editorial control” over what goes into your mind.

For example, I would feel like an irresponsible citizen if I didn’t keep up on current events and issues, but I’ve found that if I go past a certain point it keeps me in a negative and argumentative frame of mind, which is not only unpleasant, but which also makes it difficult to do anything creative. This blog, in fact, is partly a result of my efforts to seek out more wonder and to enjoy more simple curiosity.

In that spirit, Silva’s final lines are memorable:

The dizzying freedom we have to compose our lives… can be paralyzing, but I think if we are able to courageously embrace the uncertainty of that freedom… we do have the capacity to turn our lives into a work of art. Why shouldn’t we?

Life itself as a work of art. Now there’s an idea.


3 thoughts on “Optimism is a self-amplifying feedback loop

  1. danielleortiz90

    I loved this video!! It’s great! I used it in a presentation for one of my classes tonight and everyone loved it. I’m getting my teaching credential for high school English, and I am totally going to use this in my classroom at the beginning of the school year!! Thank you for your thoughts!!


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