Use the Power of Positive Thinking to Transform Your Life

THE BURDEN OF THE BRIGHT SIDE

Thinking positively can become a chore, says Jeanie – an unattainable gold standard, which can cause more anxiety and depression than it can hope to solve. Khosi agrees – ignoring the external factors that influence outcomes places an inordinate amount of responsibility on you. So if you don’t get that job, it’s your fault: you weren’t thinking positively enough. If your cancer returns, it’s your fault. And so on.

‘It can begin to engender feelings of inadequacy, helplessness, hopelessness and resignation,’ Khosi says. ‘It turns the person against themselves, instead of them working with and for themselves towards those desired outcomes.’

‘When there is pressure to think positively, spontaneous negative thoughts are reacted to with anxiety and judgement, making the overall emotional state worse,’ says Jeanie.

For instance: what if someone who believes in positive thinking is in an awful car accident and loses the use of their legs? Tn addition to the burden of being in a wheelchair, you’re searching within yourself for what you have done to deserve this,’ says Khosi. ‘And by the same token, you should be able to get up from that wheelchair. And if you don’t, it again points back at you. You can start to berate yourself and that will delay necessary help-seeking behaviours.’

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IT’S OKAY TO FEEL DISTRESSED

Social media is another minefield.

Just try complaining about something on Twitter; I dare you. You’ll be attacked immediately -your husband leaving you isn’t so bad – it could be worse; you could be homeless. ‘When you complain, people are very quick to tell you: “At least you have XYZ,”’ says Khosi. For her, this idealism negates an important part of being human.

RETHINKING POSITIVE THINKING: INSIDE THE NEW SCIENCE OF MOTIVATION

By Gabriele Oettingen ‘The solution isn’t to do away with dreaming and positive thinking. Rather, it’s making the most of our fantasies by brushing them up against the very thing most of us are taught to ignore or diminish: obstacles that stand in our way.’

THE ANTIDOTE: HAPPINESS FOR PEOPLE WHO CAN’T STAND POSITIVE THINKING

By Oliver Burkeman

Oliver Burkeman forces us to rethink our attitudes towards failure, uncertainty and death, and shows us how our constant efforts to avoid negative thinking are making us feel anxious, insecure and unhappy.

BRIGHT-SIDED: HOW THE RELENTLESS PROMOTION OF POSITIVE THINKING HAS UNDERMINED AMERICA

By Barbara Ehrenreich A sharp-witted takedown of America’s love affair with positive thinking, this book shows us the perils of positive thinking and the’reckless optimism’ that Americans are obsessed with.

An emphasis on positive thinking can create emotional distance between people: when we don’t acknowledge somebody’s suffering and tell them to focus on the positives instead (‘just have faith and everything will be fine’), we effectively push them away. Life is not always a beautiful, wonderful experience; it’s ‘a gooey, messy thing’, as Khosi says.

Helping someone is all about timing, says Jeanie, ‘because human beings can feel two things at once: they can feel grateful for what they have be in distress about the other things happening in their life’. When you then home in on the thing that they are not ready to feel yet, you exacerbate the other feeling.

IS THERE A PLACE FOR POSITIVE THINKING?

Of course, says Khosi. ‘It’s the fuel that energises us and gives us hope when we can’t afford to live with hopelessness.

‘Holistic development is about embracing the light and the shadow,’ she adds. ‘It’s about coming to terms with the fact that life can be crap.’ You want to be able to express your frustrations without feeling judged, or that you are ungrateful.

While it’s not a productive use of our time to dwell on the negative, we should aim to acknowledge it, work through it and make sense of it. In his book Man’s Search for Meaning, about his experiences as a holocaust survivor, Viktor Frankl writes: ‘Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing – your freedom to choose how you w’ill respond to the situation.’Jeanie explains that this is about reframing circumstances as meaningful.

‘It’s about making sense of the things that we go through and not necessarily making them positive.’

FINAL THOUGHTS

The Covid-19 pandemic has really thrust us into an unprecedented time. ‘None of us could have anticipated the magnitude and the depths of the time we find ourselves in,’ says Khosi. ‘It is something traumatic, so now we are having to reconstruct who we are, what our lives are about, and what to do with ourselves.’

The one thing we have in abundance is time, so it’s important that you check in with where you are, how you’re feeling, what’s sitting behind a feeling – and acknowledge and validate it, she adds. ‘Be honest with yourself. There is no need to fuss or fight – just acknowledge it. Remember, yesterday you were feeling a different way, so this w’ill pass.’

‘For me, there are three important keys to getting through this time,’ says Jeanie. ‘Firstly, connection: connect with people that you get a good feeling from. Secondly, movement: our bodies regulate themselves through movement. Finally, practising mindfulness: doing yoga and meditating.

‘I have a client who has been going through a divorce during all of this [Covid-19 and lockdown],’ adds Khosi. ‘She recently told me that while she’s feeling fine now, she’s worried that one day she’ll break down. I told her that she can’t allow the fear of something that might happen in the future to envelop her – we don’t even know7 w’hat’s going to happen in the next five minutes. I’m not promising anything. I’m saying to her, “You might fall apart – so what? Remember that it will not be the first time you fall apart, and it probably won’t be the last.’”

The take-home message? Stop overburdening yourself with forced positivity — there is enough to deal with at the moment.

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