You Can Be Cynical ... OR ... You Can Reach Your Pinnacle

“Chances are he will be unfaithful, and treat you poorly.“

I could not believe those were the words I heard from a friend who is a therapist. I was having lunch with two therapist friends, and one was sharing about her “new love“ with the other two of us. The first therapist’s statement was a blaring alarm: this is not the attitude you want, I said to myself.  Be cautious.  It would be easy to become cynical about men.  And other relationships, for that matter.

Her comment ignited a self-examination for me.  A journey of looking at my cynicism.  I was quite disappointed to see how much there was in me.

I am committed to making sure you know how much there is in you. Because all of us want the Pinnacle of success, but research says you cannot be both cynical and reach your Pinnacle. THE TWO ARE MUTUALLY EXCLUSIVE! You must choose!

What does cynical mean? The dictionary defines it as:

  • Being doubtful as to whether or not something is sincere or genuine
  • Assigning poor motives or outcome to others or situations
  • Doubting the goodness of people or situations
  • Displaying bitterness, or severe disappointment
  • Refusing to accept things at face value
  • Demonstrating a bad attitude
  • Believing in bad outcomes

There are various assessments that can be used to determine levels of cynicism. Most psychologists agree that having three or more from this list of symptoms could indicate ingrained levels of cynicism:

  • Consistent use of sarcasm
  • You deem people and situations as “fake”
  • You are always assessing what people want from you
  • You no longer believe in statements such as “happily ever after”
  • You speak out on political issues in a manner that promotes conflict
  • You consider yourself a realist, and see others who are not as “all fluff“
  • You are always preparing yourself for the worst possible outcome
  • You consider potential negative outcomes or consequences before making decisions
  • Your commitments and compliments have qualifying statements (I really enjoy spending time with you, but no one knows what the future holds.)
  • You likely avoid commitment
  • You have lost your child-like ability to see goodness in many things
  • You may often feel lonely, but also feel like you are better off being alone
  • You speak of leaders who have fallen and use them as examples in conversation
  • You question people’s motives
  • You protect yourself with statements such as, “I will never get married again.” 
  • You make statements projecting that people or organizations will hopefully get exposed by the news or the media

Clinical psychologist Dr. John Weaver says it well, “Cynical responses feel really good at the moment just like greasy fast food. But like junk food, they cause problems for us down the road.“

So what problems does research show that cynicism causes?

  • 19% increase in the likelihood of coronary heart disease
  • 24% increase in coronary heart disease in people who have pre-existing conditions
  • Increased risk of stroke
  • Lowered immune system function
  • Significantly higher rates of depression
  • Significant higher rates of anxiety
  • Increase in risky behavior, such as smoking
  • 30%+ increase in drinking behavior
  • Increased risk of developing dementia 
  • More likely to experience early death
  • Likely to earn significantly less money than others with similar skill sets
  • Less likely to have meaningful, long-term, or intimate relationships
  • Highly likely to influence others towards cynicism

We’ve talked a lot about being cynical.

Now let’s talk about the Pinnacle.  It’s been defined as:

  • The most successful point
  • The peak of life
  • The highest point
  • A lofty peak
  • The greatest success one can achieve

Almost all of us embark upon our lives after high school and or college graduation with some level of hope to reach some Pinnacle.

Yet there are three enemies to reaching your Pinnacle:

1. Being cynical

2. Not being willing to put in dedicated and consistent work

3. Having belief systems, and or values, that prevent your climb

Today we are simply addressing the biggest enemy to your Pinnacle: Being cynical.

Again, you cannot have both. Pinnacle and cynical cannot coexist!

My hope is that you will choose your Pinnacle over being cynical.

Today’s task is to help you overcome being cynical by giving you some steps to follow.

Although it may not be an easy task, it is definitely possible. For many, cynicism becomes a habit.  So much so, that people are unaware that they are cynical. Or sometimes they are quite aware and use it as a badge of honor. They say things like: “After all these years, I’m just cynical.”

Recently, I had dinner with two amazing singer/songwriter‘s. When I heard the word “cynical“ several times, I told them that they might not want to use that word around me because the blog I was working on was all about not being cynical. And they would think I was writing about them. We all laughed!  Sad to say, I hear the word often across a large population.

Here are some steps to begin abolishing being cynical so you can reach your Pinnacle:

1. Practice gratitude. If you follow my blogs, you already know that it would be number one. Gratitude actually releases hormones in our brain that begins to wash away cynicism. The more often you practice it, the greater its impact to wash away cynicism.

2. Embrace and practice enthusiasm. Enthusiasm is to cynicism what a grater is to a block of cheese.  Find things that you can be enthusiastic about.

3. Practice breathing. Research shows that people who are cynical often hold their breath in social settings, particularly when someone says something that activates their cynicism.  This then locks our brain into a cynical mode. When you’re feeling cynical, close your mouth and breathe! Yes, it’s just a more polite way to say “shut up and breathe!“

4. Do something child-like for at least five minutes daily. Play actually causes our brains to reset to childhood mode. I do this daily by swinging. I have three swings in my yard end it is very clear to me that five minutes in the swing brings up the feelings I had as a child. It truly washes away negativity and cynicism

5. Limit news consumption. In many ways, this should be number one:  News is about selling ads, not about communicating truth. None of us would watch boring news, so we prefer those with bright blinking lights, news that shocks us (fear tactics), and sounds that mesmerize us. It’s interesting because I grew up in an era where “hellfire and brimstone“ were often used to bring us to Christ by “scaring the hell out of us.” And yet the very people who complain about hating that technique are the ones who allow news outlets to do the same thing. They hypnotize us with shock about horrible things and the plight of our world. Why on earth would you feed that to yourself? I’m not suggesting that you become unaware of current news and events. However, reading short segments on the Internet has much less of an impact on solidifying your cynicism than watching and or listening to it.

6. Evaluate who you spend time with and around. Long ago, research, popularized by Zig Ziglar revealed to us that we will be most like the five people we spend the most time with. After years in ministry circles, I found myself spending time around people who had been hurt or disappointed in the ministry. We all had our stories. Then I realized that I was becoming cynical.  And that my cynicism was based on the 2% to 5% of people who misused and abused others in ministry.  I first tried to take a positive attitude to those groups. Those who wanted to continue to tell their sagas and relive their stories of use and abuse became people I spent less and less time with and around. They were great people, but they were cynical, and I did not want them to keep me from my Pinnacle. So I decided the top five people that I spent time with could not be toxic with cynicism.

7. Serve others.  Serving others is a great deterrent to cynicism. There are truly people who need help.  One published study reveals that of Christians who reported themselves as being cynical, over 90% of them practiced no serving of others. On the other hand, over 80% of them who denied being cynical practice serving others regularly.

8. Beware of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. People who have had bad experiences with marriage and or divorce, tend to say cynical things such as, “I will never get married again,” as if every partner on the planet would repeat the same behaviors. Or those who have been hurt by a church situation say things such as, “I will never be involved in a church again,” as if every person and every church were evil. Keep things in perspective, and don’t throw everything away because someone or something has flaws. That is ultimate cynicism, and you are better than that. You deserve your Pinnacle!

9. Practice compassion. We have all been hurt. And hurt people hurt people.  When we get hurt, we should turn to a place of compassion.  We should keep in mind that the person, the institution, the situation that hurt us, has likely been hurt themselves.  In this way, we might respond differently. Research in neuropsychology actually reveals that compassion erases the neuro-chemicals that fertilize cynicism. Failing to practice compassion only hurts you, and not the person that might greatly benefit from your moment of compassion with them.

10. Become a part of the solution. You likely can identify right now a group of people that you hang with that have a tendency toward being cynical. Whether it’s the guys/gals you meet after work for a drink, the coworkers you hang out with in the break room, or certain members of your family who congregate to talk about everybody else. Don’t show up and join them. Show up and throw a bomb into the middle of the situation.  Ask, “Hey I’d like to hear about the best moment in everyone’s weekend.“ They may look at you like an alien that just stepped off a spaceship in Roswell, New Mexico, but if you do it consistently, you can change the atmosphere!

After that lunch long ago with two therapist friends, I’ve changed my relationship with cynicism.  I determined to do what it would take to remove everything cynical from my life. I long for Pinnacles, and have had many through the years.

I want the same for you. There’s something great deep within you, and there’s a part of you that is aware of that. You ask yourself often, “Why can’t I seem to get it pulled out from within me to take me to great places?”  My hunch is that it’s because cynicism rules.

There are greater things waiting for you! My hope and prayer is that you will begin to initiate these ten things to remove anything cynical, and launch yourself to your next Pinnacle.