Tuesday, July 29, 2014

What Positive Thinking Is (and is not!)

It may be true, perhaps, that Pollyanna ruined optimism for all of us. Frolicking adjacent to reality, Pollyanna gave us an archetype for how to drive our neighbors (and ourselves!) into comfortable, cynical pessimism. Let's not leave all of the blame on poor Pollyanna, though! Self help gurus, religious leaders and some law of attraction gurus can also be found promoting delusional thinking. (the "airy-fairy," as some call it!)

There are a lot of things that positive thinking can do for us. Most of us realize that staying on the negative side can damage our chances of making constructive decisions for the future. However, there is a lot of confusion over what positive thinking is and is not.

Positive thinking is personal

Have you ever been to a new age gathering where someone completely corners you and critiques all of the inner work they think you need to do? Just me? Okay, well, it truly does not make anyone feel empowered to change their lives.

Telling others to think positively will only backfire. We alone our responsible for our thoughts, telling others how to think will only make them feel bad about themselves. After all, this is positive thinking- not positive talking! Focus those positive thoughts toward encouraging others.

Positive thinking is not always happy

Sometimes we are heartbroken face overwhelming suffering. Failure to acknowledge pain can result in bad coping mechanisms and often causes us to behave in ways that are hurtful to ourselves later. When we think positively, it is important to maintain the integrity of reality without spiraling into bad thoughts that are untrue. Facing bad times with the attitude of, "I am going to seek the help that I need" or "I am really sad, but I know that my life is still important" will be much more helpful than being delusional about the heartbreak or spiraling into dark thoughts.

Positive thinking is not delusional

There is a difference between framing things in a positive light and making sh!t up and hoping it comes true. For centuries, humans believed that the earth was flat. In spite of all of that belief, the earth didn't change its shape for all of those people; and it won't change its shape for you, either. Thinking positively can help us gain a lot in life; better relationships, better interpersonal skills, better decision making and can even open up opportunities. However, positive thinking does not make all of our wishes come true or substitute for hard work.

What IS positive thinking? Gratitude!

Maybe Pollyanna had it half-right. When we lose our entitlements and are thankful for what is given to us in this life, it makes positive thinking quite a bit easier.

But why can it be so difficult?

Thinking in a way that is positive and healthy is a deceptively simple concept. Although there are ways one could make their thoughts more constructive overnight, there are often old habits that are tough to break. Seeking counsel is a good idea if one is having a tough time. For those of us who have destructive behaviors to break out of in order to think more positively, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (facilitated by a licensed counselor) is a great option to consider.

Mt. Mitchell, NC