We all know about paranoia, the unsettling sense that someone, something, or maybe the world, in general, is out to get us. But how often do we consider the opposite, that maybe—just maybe—the world is actually out to help us?
At first blush, this can seem like a toxic-positivity-Pollyanna-delusion. Crappy things happen all the time. How could the universe possibly be conspiring for our good when there’s war, famine, violence, disease, and all kinds of horrible things in the world?
Yes, those things do exist and yes, they are terrible.
But pronoia is considering the possibility that even the hardest things in your life might turn into meaningful experiences that, down the road, you wouldn’t trade for anything.
While this may seem like a pie-in-the-sky mindset, pronoia actually makes a lot of sense when you stop and think about it. Pronoia is actually a far more fulfilling, productive, and even logical way to live.
Why Pronoia Makes Sense
We live in an abundant world
Believing in abundance is crucial to practicing pronoia and improving your overall outlook.
After all, look at how MUCH there is in the universe. The universe is vast, and we live on a planet where nature flourishes and perseveres. Water, our most precious resource, falls from the sky. There are mountains, valleys, oceans, deserts, tons of plants and animal species, sunshine, oxygen, minerals, trillions upon trillions of stars…the list is infinite.
On top of that, the natural order of things is to grow and progress.
Growth naturally comes from challenges. Wildfires stimulate new growth. When plants and animals die, they decompose and nourish the soil, which allows new plants to grow. When oceanic volcanoes erupt, they can create new islands. When we work our muscles to failure, they grow.
Everything is growing and progressing. And while it might not seem like it if you spend any time watching the news, the world is actually getting better in so many ways.
Poverty is decreasing while literacy is increasing. Life expectancy is going up. More and more people have access to electricity and clean, running water. So many everyday tasks are becoming more and more automated thanks to technology, which frees us up to do more meaningful, fulfilling things.
The world is more connected than ever before. It’s easier than ever for more people to communicate, share ideas, collaborate, have a voice, and participate in global problem-solving.
Yes, there are problems. But those problems provide endless opportunities for creativity, innovation, and collaboration.
How cool is that?
When You Look for the Good…You Find It
You know how some people just seem lucky?
Have you ever wondered whether they actually have some magical lucky ability to just believe they're lucky, and then get lucky as a result?
Kind of a “the chicken or the egg” question, right?
Either way, things tend to work out for people who believe they’re lucky.
Dr. Richard Wiseman from the University of Edinburgh College London, author of The Luck Factor, studies the science of luck. In his research, he’s found that self-proclaimed “lucky” people share four things in common:
1- They maximize their opportunities. This means that they look for, create, and act on opportunities by maintaining a strong social network and staying open to new experiences.
2- They follow their intuition. They also make efforts to develop their intuition so they can actually do this.
3- They expect good things. They try to achieve their goals, even if they have little chance of success.
4- They’re resilient. They acknowledge misfortune, but they also look for the positive things, assume things will work out in the long run, and proactively work to prevent similar setbacks in the future.
You’ll notice…these are all factors well within your control. Some people might be more predisposed to this kind of thinking, but you can definitely practice and improve in these areas.
Lucky people aren’t overly optimistic folks who believe no harm will befall them or that bad things don’t or shouldn’t happen. But people who believe that things tend to work out for the best are better at noticing the good around them, whether those are just small, pleasant things or opportunities they might otherwise miss if their outlook were different.
“Where focus goes, energy flows.” - Tony Robbins
When you’re looking for good things, you find them. If you look for ways and stay open to possibilities, you can actually see those possibilities when they show up.
Hindsight and connecting the dots
How often in your life have you not gotten something you wanted, only to get something better later?
Maybe you didn’t get a job you applied for but later got an even better offer.
Or you experienced a painful breakup, but then found a relationship that was a much better fit.
Or maybe you missed out on an opportunity, but that led to other opportunities.
This happens all the time, but we can only connect the dots looking backward.
Think: If things worked out in the past, it makes sense that they’d continue working out in the future, right?
Sure, there will be challenges. There will be major setbacks, huge obstacles, and yes, tragedies, but things tend to work out.
Even the most harrowing ordeals can yield growth and positive impact…if you know how to allow that growth.
Pronoia in the Face of Challenge
The strongest, most resilient, and wisest people you know probably didn’t get that way because life was easy or because things went their way.
In fact, the most amazing people almost always experience incredible challenges. Challenge doesn’t necessarily create growth all by itself though; it’s all in how you approach and mentally frame those challenges.
Admiral Jim Stockdale is a perfect example of this, so much that his ordeal—and method for overcoming it—gave birth to The Stockdale Paradox, a phrase coined by author Jim Collins.
Stockdale was a naval aviator captured during the Vietnam War. He was held prisoner at the Hỏa Lò Prison for 7 years where he endured unimaginable conditions, was routinely tortured, and kept in solitary confinement. As a prisoner, he did, however, create “a code of conduct for all prisoners which governed torture, secret communications, and behavior” in order to protect military secrets and strengthen his comrades.
Despite his suffering, Stockdale survived prison, and that experience became a defining time in his life that he “wouldn’t trade.”
He went on to receive numerous awards including the Medal of Honor, serve as the president of the Naval War College at Newport, Rhode Island, and chair of the White House Fellows, teach philosophy at Stanford University, serve as a member of the board of directors of the Rockford Institute, and author a book with his wife, Sybil. His experience has also shaped standard naval education.
How did he survive such a horrific ordeal? After all, many didn’t. So what separated Stockdale and the other survivors from those who didn’t make it?
“I never lost faith in the end of the story,” Stockdale told Collins. “I never doubted not only that I would get out, but also that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience into the defining event of my life, which, in retrospect, I would not trade.”
And when Collins asked who didn’t make it out, Stockdale replied “Oh, that's easy, the optimists. Oh, they were the ones who said, 'We're going to be out by Christmas.' And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they'd say, 'We're going to be out by Easter.' And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart.”
He went on to say, “This is a very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”
The Stockdale Paradox is confronting the reality of tough situations while also believing that you’ll ultimately succeed.
It’s safe to say Stockdale probably would never have chosen to be a prisoner of war, but that experience shaped him and influenced his legacy moving forward. It rippled outward and has allowed him to help strengthen so many people.
This doesn’t mean you have to be grateful for challenging experiences or trauma, especially not right away. It doesn’t make horrible things like war and violence any less terrible.
But it’s realizing that despite the horrors and challenges of life, the universe is so tilted toward goodness and growth that good things can still come from devastation.
This isn’t about turning your frown upside down or having blind faith that everything happens for a reason. (Though if these things are part of your belief system, great! But they’re not necessary for pronoia.)
It’s faith that our challenges can become meaningful catalysts in our lives.
Every Little Thing Is Gonna Be Alright
This mindset might feel natural to you, or you might have some trouble thinking this way.
But the more you can adopt the mindset that everything eventually works out, the more you’ll find that things just seem to work themselves out.
If you look for opportunities, you’ll find them. If you pay attention to the good things, you’ll notice more and more of them. If you look behind you and notice how things worked out for your greatest good, the more you’ll believe that things will continue to work for your greatest good.
It takes practice, but adopting pronoia as a mindset is one of the best ways to find fulfillment and opportunities to make a meaningful contribution to the world. Because if you look for the good…you’ll find it!