Optimism and pessimism are both infinite. They can expand outwardly or zoom inwardly forever. There is a limitless amount of information about what is wrong in this world. You could dedicate your life to it without completion or closure. The weight of this, however, would crush Atlas himself.
I remember the high tide of pessimism in my life. I was struggling with anxiety in a major way. Here’s something that helped: I acknowledged that there absolutely was something wrong with everything. Pessimism confirmed! But with that idea cleared, I was able to acknowledge that there’s something right about everything too. It’s both. The question is where you point your attention.
I recently spoke with Dr. Greg Lehman, who will be teaching a course at Bang later this year (heads up: this is probably going to mess with our sessions on Dec 10 and 11). Lehman is, in his words, “treats musculoskeletal disorders within a biopsychosocial model.” He also calls himself a “movement optimist.” That last one is pithier and more helpful.
Pain is curious and complex. It can relate to clear and obvious injury. But it can also exist when things don’t turn up in a scan or diagnostic procedure. In fact, it’s possible to have pain when there is no findable mechanism. That doesn’t make pain less real. Most of the time, a lack of clarity just makes things more frustrating. So, we need a better framework for dealing with uncertainty.
I’m going to use my description of movement optimism here—which got the thumbs-up from Lehman:
When we are experiencing pain, the question isn’t what isn’t working. We respect that and clear the obvious stuff. However, from there, things become more exploratory than that. It’s even broader than asking what actions diminish pain. It’s about asking what options are at least neutral—and how you can expand your awareness of what’s right. This includes building your capacity for more—while still managing fear and taking care of yourself. And then stacking nuance on top of that. Slight changes in orientation, tension, sequence, and intention all inform this process. Progress here becomes complex and consuming—in a good way. You hunt for tiny wins as you build a far more robust picture of what’s right. What’s right about you is infinite. The question is really just where you point your attention.