Think positively! they say. Good vibes only!
But when you’re sitting in the mud, wallowing in all the mess about you, it can be hard to see anything positive about the current situation. Because, let’s face it, sometimes life just throws us a big steaming pile of whatsit. And reality gets in the way, and logic gets in the way, and sometimes it’s just all a bit too much to put on a happy face and just “fake it till you make it”.
Having a positive attitude to life is helpful, there is no doubt about that. It allows us to see things from a different angle, allows us to move forward and get things done, instead of wallowing in self-pity or remaining stuck where we are, frozen and incapacitated with unhappiness, fear or self-doubt.
But when we are stuck, is forcing positivity upon ourselves a good thing?
Indeed, a big part of coaching is actually helping people shift their perspective of the world, from something keeping them stuck, to something more empowering or helpful, which I love. There are also a lot of well-meaning people out there who espouse the benefits of positive affirmations, and meditations with life-affirming mantras in them: I am strong, I am courageous, I am worthy. But this can sometimes be interpreted as being a little too “Pollyanna-ish”, or based in toxic positivity.
Pushing positivity upon yourself can work for some, of course. But if you’ve ever felt that this is just not your jam, you’re not alone, my friend! It’s as if the logic part of your brain jumps in and tells you this is all very well and good, but it’s not true! This situation is objectively rubbish, there is no getting around that! No amount of thinking positively will change that!
Now, studies are beginning to show that this type of positivity can actually do us harm. When we are saying to ourselves “I am courageous” because we’ve been told to by some recording, our brain objects, because it knows that we don’t believe this. And the harm is done when this is pointed out to us, because it makes us even more aware of our shortcomings, and how far away we are from our ideal image of ourselves, which in turn potentially damages our self-confidence.
Trying to convince ourselves that something is beneficial or positive can indeed sometimes be a fool’s errand; so then how are we supposed to see past all the negativity crowding our sight? How are we supposed to see our next step, when all we see are roadblocks?
After acknowledging and accepting your current situation, instead of looking for the positive, ask yourself: What’s the opportunity here?
Maybe it gives us the opportunity to review our true career aspirations, or have a deeper conversation with a loved one, or to learn a new skill we’ve been neglecting or avoiding.
When we look for the opportunity, we are not denying what is logically and arguably happening to us, or around us, that is making life difficult, but we are looking for more. By asking ourselves to seek out an opportunity we are asking our brain to open just a crack wider in its contemplation of the situation, to look just that little bit deeper for that little something that will help us take some sort of action out of this mess, some movement forward.
And when you see one opportunity, a little bit of the energy is taken away from all the current negative, and has been shifted into a future hope. Now the door has been opened, and the brain is free to search around for something more, and something more, and something more. We are no longer as stuck as we first felt, and there is indeed a little something to look forward to.
Even, dare I say it, something to be positive about.