Positively Insane

Today Gregory (On the Spiral) tweets:

Which links to a Scientific American article, The Pitfalls of Positive Thinking. And I think this is a great excuse to debunk the sense that because I am positive focused and nurturing, that I live in some lala land of illusion where everything is soft and beautiful and unicorns run wild and perfectly groomed and everything is sprinkled with fairy dust.

Unicorn (Design by Román Díaz)

Unicorn (Design by Román Díaz)

Positive thinking doesn’t have to be about daydreaming some future in which you are the bestest, most beautiful, and amazing person ever and then assuming that will somehow magically make it happen. Positive thinking is about wondering about possibility. Is it possible that I could get that? If I could, how would that happen? What would I need to do to get closer to it? Are there other ways I could go about it? When I encounter hurdles, I am not going to tell myself some self-hating story about how I suck. Instead, I am going to tell myself that I am trying, I can keep trying, or I can use feedback to decide how realistic my goals are…and adjust.
Creative Commons License photo credit: Origamiancy

Positive thinking can be knowing that while I feel crushed right now, I have been crushed before, and I survived that and grew from it. I am resilient. So instead of using self-talk that denigrates my efforts by focusing on what went wrong (and how that is my fault), I am going to focus on getting to that place where I am not crushed because I know I can do it (and learn from where I can do better next time).

I have worked with coaching clients who want to set big hairy audacious goals for themselves. And that is fantastic. I applaud that. AND… let’s celebrate each step toward that instead of waiting to see if we shoot past that goal. Let’s work on enjoying the process instead of the outcome. Because even when we achieve the big hairy audacious goals, as we sometimes do, we are often then beset by post-goal hitting blues! If you emotionally hype yourself up too much for a bold goal, you collapse at the finish line. Which is fine, if you can accept and enjoy that process. But for you high-performing addicts, the dip after the high seems to be a negative space most people weren’t expecting and have a tricky time navigating (aren’t they supposed to be happy when they succeed?).

Positive thinking is about having an intentional conversation with yourself about the experience you want to be having. What experience do you want to be having, what experience are you having, what is the gap, what do you want to adjust about that? And it turns out, reframing your perspective is the quickest way to level out emotional spikes (of both highs and lows). I know, because I have had to become masterful at thinking my way out of emotional highs and lows. I am a pretty excitable and emotional person. And I don’t like getting hijacked by my emotions. So I learned how to have a conversation with my emotions and give them different perspectives to look through. Sometimes I have to sit with myself in conversation before I can find a perspective that soothes my emotions… but I am looking, and I feel empowered by the process instead of feeling hijacked. No one gave me a users manual for my brain and heart. I had to create it myself. And so do you. We can learn together.

In sum, positive thinking is not about airy fairy day dreaming wish making. If you do it that way, you will be disappointed. Wishful thinking is like Wiley E Coyote stepping off a cliff assuming there is ground there. There isn’t. There is a real world out there with a fair bit of complexity to it, and if you want to make it yours, you better put in persistent and determined effort and manage your expectations. Be mindful of your surroundings.

Oh, that is the one other guide to positive thinking. Manage your expectations. I have a saying I usually only use in private with clients: Expectations are a bitch. Hope for something. Dream of something. Imagine wild possibilities. Drive toward something. All of those can go well. But once you start to expect them, you put your emotions at risk of being disappointed. Find the balance that works for you between what you want to expect for and of yourself and what dreams you want to seek out and make real for yourself.

2 thoughts on “Positively Insane

  • Wow, don’t talk negatively of positive thinking in the presence of Jean Russell 😉

    Actually, I agree with everything you’ve said here, particularly the emphasis on continual process over specific achievement. Unfortunately the term ‘positive thinking’ has been diluted by people who profess the unicorns and fairy dust interpretation. I would refer to your position as something like ‘forward thinking’ – an optimal mix of optimism and reality as needed to make forward progress.

    I found the SciAm article interesting because it parallels a TED talk by Derek Sivers that has stuck with me (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NHopJHSlVo4).

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