Why thinking positive can make things worse

That’s right, I said that positive thinking can, and often does, make things worse. Why? Because when you “try” to think positively it doesn’t work.

As Master Yoda said, “Do or do not.  There is no try”

When your attempt doesn’t work you will feel ashamed and insecure about the fact that you are doing the positive thinking thing wrong.

So, if thinking positive doesn’t work why are people telling you to do it and what exactly do people mean by it?

Make ME more comfortable
Some people don’t know what they mean. They just want the uncomfortable emotions that you have to go away because your emotions are, well, uncomfortable. However, pretending that you are happy will only make you numb to your emotions. That’s not healthy, that’s called apathy and depression. People have emotions; the fun ones and the not so fun ones. Learning to sit with, and allow, ALL of your emotions and excavating lessons from them is a skill.

But that’s a blog post of it’s own.

It’s really not that bad
Some people want you to take your circumstances, imagine how they could be worse and then be grateful for the circumstances you have.  This can be helpful sometimes, as it can kick you into a more objective frame of mind and can allow you to turn the circumstance into something manageable.  If done well it can make you more grateful for what you do have.  That said, more often than not, it only brings shame to your struggling.  Now you feel like you shouldn’t feel the way you do because others actually have real problems and you don’t.

Not helpful.

Master of the Universe
And still others want you to use language that reflects a positive outlook on life;

  • Look in the mirror and love yourself,
  • Use your thoughts to create the things you want.
  • Imagine that you are in control.
  • What do you want?  (Future creation)
  • If you think positively it will come.

I’m not saying this is necessarily wrong. It’s the whole point of perspective change. That said, it’s not the first step. If you merely change the language in your head or the words you speak, more often than not, your mind will counter the conscious purposeful thoughts.

You might practice saying, “I love myself!” in the mirror every morning. While you are making the effort of change, in the back of your mind you hear, “I hate my fat belly. If I’m so great, why am I poor? Why can’t I do anything right? I’m lazy, ugly, and nothing will ever work out for me.”

Do you think the positive thought is going to win against all of the counter arguments against it? Definitely not!

So, if thinking positive isn’t the answer, what is?

It all starts with awareness
You need to listen to the thoughts that are already there and recognize which ones you actually believe.  It’s not what you say or what anyone else says, for that matter. It’s what YOU actually believe to be true.

Belief is EVERYTHING.  None of the words matter if you won’t believe the truth of them.  The funny thing is, most of the thoughts in your head are subjective.  Whatever you choose to believe, is truth!

What I mean by this is that no matter what you believe, you will find situations and facts to support those beliefs about yourself and/or your circumstances.  You even have the power to take facts and then make meanings around the facts that are subjective.  You can make a fact good, bad or simply a fact.

It’s the meanings you believe and justify that actually create how you behave in the world and you will seek out circumstances that more fully justify your beliefs.  The world is all things.  The world is evil, wonderful, a playground, a war zone, a game, a…  You, a long time ago, chose one overarching belief and ran with it.  What is your belief about the world? That’s always a good place to start.
Time to get curious.

So what do you do?
The first thing you need to address is what thought are you choosing to believe. Recognize the story you are telling yourself, and the underlying belief that makes your story true, for you. Then you must show yourself some compassion for that belief, whatever it is. Hell, even celebrate because it’s super hard to dig though your thoughts and find the belief that makes your story real.

What’s after that? Work. You have to embrace the slow process of separating fact from story.  You must decide if the underlying belief is making you more empowered and motivated or shutdown and fearful. If the belief isn’t helpful, search for instances that prove your belief wrong. This is the most powerful work you can do for yourself. And it’s the hardest work because it’s uncomfortable to be wrong.

Can you relax into the idea that sometimes being wrong will actually make you feel better?  Being wrong about old beliefs opens up a space to create new belief and new perspectives that can feel empowering.

If you choose to make this work a daily practice you CAN think positive, believe it, and change your life.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Penny Adair says:

    “Being wrong about old beliefs opens up a space to create new belief and new perspectives that can feel empowering.”
    Truer words have never been written… working on this powerful concept every day! This was just what I needed today, thank you Jenn.

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