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5 Ways to Stop Being Cynical (and Why It's so Important!)


In my younger years, I believed people were inherently good. Perhaps I was more gullible than most, but this soon changed. Working as a Detective in a busy city, cynicism crept in. I saw lies and manipulation that didn't exist.  Had my pendulum swung too far? 

What happens when we believe people around us are only acting in their own self-interest? And how do we distinguish between those who are acting in their own self-interest and those who aren’t? A healthy level of cynicism allows for self-preservation.  But chronic cynicism is isolating and bad for both our physical and mental health. 

Are you cynical? Maybe you don't realize it, but you are about to find out. It's time to address cynicism and discuss how being cynical is holding you back in life. We will also review a process to help you stop being cynical.

What exactly is cynicism? 

Let’s be clear, we don’t associate cynicism as a positive trait. Have you ever heard of anyone seeking it out as a desired quality in a partner?  We don't aspire to spend time with those who are cynical. Why? Because it is draining!

If you are cynical, you have a deep suspicion of others. You believe the motivations behind people's words and actions pivot around their own self-interest. Cynics don’t see the world in black and white.  They see it as black. There are no silver linings.

Needless to say, being cynical does not lend itself to a rich and fulfilling life. When my cynicism was engulfing my thoughts, the world was a dark and closed place.

Do we know what causes cynicism? 

Well, it’s not contagious if that’s what you are thinking. Or is it? If we spend time with cynical people do we become more cynical ourselves? Be aware of the energy you surround yourself with. 

Jim Rolan, a motivational speaker famously said:

We are the average of the five people we spend the most time with.

Jim Rolan

Choose your company wisely, you don’t want to catch cynicism!

This study shows cynicism has been found in young children. Even young children believe others can act in their own self-interest.

Life experiences hardened me. Working in a job with more shadow than light taught me to expect shadows. I struggled to take anyone at face value. Cynicism was a learned behavior.

How does cynicism affect our mental health? 

Cynicism itself is not categorized as a mental health disorder. However, this longitudinal study found links between cynicism and depression. The personality traits of a cynic are associated with interpersonal conflict, lower social support, and experience of more stressful life events. All these factors contribute to a greater likelihood of depression.

Being cynical is a closed trait. Meaning it is unlikely that cynics seek answers or improvement. This explains the cynics' lack of engagement with any treatment for associated disorders. 

How does cynicism affect our physical health? 

In his book “When the Body Says No” Dr. Gabor Mate captivates us with his associations between specific personality traits and various diseases.

A cynic would refute these findings and suggest he is just trying to sell books. But the deeper we dive, the more fascinating the associated links are. This study found women who score higher on cynicism are at greater risk of coronary heart disease and have a higher mortality rate.

Do we have an influence whether we are cynical?  

It’s hard to believe we choose to be cynical, given all the associated negatives. But that’s just it, it’s not a conscious choice. I didn’t choose to be cynical. Perhaps I thought I was being wise. By using my past experiences to shape how I interact with people in my present. Aren’t we all guided by past experience to some extent? But if we don’t intervene, our past holds the power to destroy our future.

Scientists have discovered a vicious cycle associated with cynicism. If we perceive our treatment from someone as disrespectful, it can lead us to cast a generalized and negative view out into the world. We may harbor an attitude that all people are immoral and self-serving. This in turn can affect how we interact with others. When we put poor behavior and a bad attitude into the world, guess what we get back? 

And so, the self-fulfilling prophecy is complete. All people are bad.

Does cynicism affect our working life? 

Get this, our cynical mindset actually impacts our earnings. Research has found a link between cynicism and earnings. Those scoring higher on a cynicism questionnaire earn an average of $300 a month less than those scoring lower on cynicism. One suggestion for this disparity is the reluctance to engage with collaborative work and therefore forgo any positive opportunities. 

How do we stop being cynical? 

There is a belief that we associate cynicism with intelligence, high-level wit, and wisdom. You know, the “wise, old cynic”. Thinking about it, I associated my cynicism with being “long in the tooth” in my job and not suffering fools. I acted as if everyone was a fool. When in actual fact, I was the fool. 

This study set out to establish if there is a significant link between cynicism and competence. It concludes there is no such link. The study confines this notion to the lives of some of our favorite fictional characters in books and films. 

If we want to improve our physical and mental well-being. If we want to increase our social connections and deepen our relationships, now is the time to stop being cynical.

It is a tall order to eradicate a trait that is interwoven in our personality. But when we say no to being cynical, we say yes to a better life.

Follow these 5 steps to stop being cynical 

Where is the line between being gullible and susceptible to exploitation and mistrusting people’s motives? Yes, consider the intentions of those around you, but don’t automatically jump to the negative.

But if it is an automatic response, how do we stop it?

Change is a process. How many times have you tried to change a habit and failed? Change and growth are most successful when we follow a tried and tested process.

Studies have found successful change involves a 5 step process. We can apply this process to help us stop being cynical.

1. Precontemplation

This is the “blissfully unaware” stage. We don’t even realize we have a problem. So whilst we are being cynical, we either don’t recognize it or we don’t see the wider implications it has on our life.

I spent many years in this stage. When it seems like everyone is out for themselves, we start to lose faith in humanity. 

2. Contemplation

Consider this stage as the “light bulb moment”. The awakening of our awareness that we actually have a problem. This often goes hand in hand with an insight into the impact this problem is having on our life. You may be entering your contemplation stage right now. During this stage, we reflect on the problem and what it looks like in our life. 

We may recount many situations where our cynicism has held us back or stopped us from living a compassionate and complete life.

The more we pull at the thread, the more we unveil.

It may be helpful to reflect on past experiences. Use a journal to describe some past events. Include how you responded, why you responded like this, your feelings at the time, and then consider other ways you could have responded.  

I was out running in the hills when my contemplation phase started. Ruminating on my life, it struck me life wasn’t happening to me. I was not a victim. Rather life was responding to the energy I was putting out. If I wanted more kindness in my world, I needed to see others in a more compassionate light. 

3. Preparation

This is the “planning” phase. During this stage, we identify what we can do to bring about change. We may also want to give ourselves a time scale to implement said change.

This is the stage where we build a plan. Take the time to consider your upcoming week. Visualize responding with compassion and kindness in situations you would normally be cynical in. Test yourself, each time you have an interaction with another person, listen to your thought patterns.

You may find it helpful to seek out podcasts and books on how to change your thought process.

Identify other actions you can take to help reduce your cynicism. This may be avoiding excessive consumption of news. Or, having a clear-out of detrimental influences on your social media accounts.

4. Action

This is the “doing” phase. It is easy to talk about change, it is easy to visualize change, but changing is difficult. During this stage, we are actively taking small steps to move away from being cynical. 

It’s now time to put your plan into place. Avoid the news if it raises your cynicism. There is a fine line between keeping up with current affairs and feeling constantly triggered by politics.

Reframing our cynical thoughts into more optimistic thoughts is a useful technique. We can use this as part of our visualization for future events or as a reflection process for how we interpret past events.

It is also beneficial to examine the evidence. This means reviewing and assessing our assumptions about other people. We can then consider the likelihood of different outcomes based on the behavior of others. This allows us to remain present with our thoughts and prevents our minds from carrying us off into our cynical pattern.

Deep breathing can help calm you in this phase. If you feel yourself being triggered by someone or find your thoughts spiraling into cynicism, take a moment, wherever you are, to take in some deep breaths. Ground yourself in the moment and clear your mind of clutter. A clean mind will be easier to control. 

If mantras are your thing, you may find it helpful to introduce a morning mantra. This will serve as a reminder of the good in humanity.

When I feel my cynicism bubbling below the surface, threatening to break free. I remind myself repeatedly that  “people are innately good and have my best interests at heart

5. Maintenance

Think of this as the “servicing” phase. All systems need regular servicing to work optimally, this includes the human psyche. So you have the tools. You recognize the problematic ways of your cynicism and you have committed to change. You are following a plan and are adhering to change. Keep it up. Reflect upon your progress and recognize the difference these changes are making in your life.

Be careful not to slip into old habits. You are particularly susceptible to this when under stress or the influence of drugs or alcohol.

The truth is, you will always encounter some people who try to deceive you for their own self-interest. But these people are the exception, do not allow them to taint your view of the world. 

Continue your own education. Read books, listen to educational podcasts. Immerse yourself in education and enlightenment and say no to negativity. Expand your mind and knowledge. We don’t know what we don’t know.

Be ready to catch yourself from spiraling into the “everyone is out to deceive me” mindset. Keep looking for the good in people. Don’t give your thoughts to those who wrong you.

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Wrapping up 

We may all be cynical from time to time. But don't let cynicism become you. Open your mindset and welcome joy into your life. Focus on your own health and wellbeing. You hold the power to change your view of the world. Remember, cynicism is a vicious cycle. Treat every situation with compassion. Your world will flourish when you abolish that pesky cynicism.

Was there anything you learned in this post? Do you recognize yourself as a cynic? I'd love to hear from you in the comments below!

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Ali Hall

Writer

Kindness is my superpower. Dogs and nature are my oxygen. Psychology with Sports science graduate. Scottish born and bred. I’ve worked and traveled all over the world. Find me running long distances on the hills and trails.

1 thought on “5 Ways to Stop Being Cynical (and Why It's so Important!)”

  1. thanks Ali.
    I had an aha moment in the early hours of today- realizing my cynicism, and resulting self isolation, was a barrier to my aspiration to becoming part of an intentional community. Then I find your write up before my eyes - and IM off down the recovery road: self reflecting and making an action plan!

    in gratitude! 🙏 Kate

    - giving Thanks at Thanksgiving!!

    Reply

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