The Path to Positivity

IMG_1235We constantly hear about the importance of having a positive mindset.  Clichés abound: “Look at the bright side,” “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade,” and, “Every cloud has a silver lining”.  While I agree with these sentiments, I also find them pollyannaish and simplistic.

Pushing positivity on someone who isn’t feeling it can be insensitive or even dismissive.  It’s like saying, buck-up no matter what you’re feeling.  There’s nothing worse than the double whammy of being upset and feeling like a failure because you’re not optimistic enough!

Positivity doesn’t always work by flipping a switch, though that image can be a helpful reminder later on. When we have enough disappointing and hurtful experiences, it becomes exceedingly hard to think positively. We begin to expect the worst and our thoughts veer towards negativity.

We also may get in the habit of having harsh thoughts.  These may be self-critical, such as, “I’m pathetic,” assign meaning to other’s actions – “since he was late, it means he doesn’t care” – or highlight superiority, as in, “I would never sink that low.”  Or we may just proceed through life with an approach that we’ll never get what we want. The problem is that these beliefs and judgments do not inspire but lead us to pessimism.

It takes a conscious decision along with time and effort to develop a new attitude.  We need to learn to do so in a way that feels grounded and does not dismiss our current reality, whatever that may be.

If you’ve had a deer jump in front of your car, you’re likely to drive a little more cautiously through wooded areas. At the same time, you don’t stop going places, nor do you constantly focus on the possibility of a horrific encounter with a deer.

Positivity is similar.  You know unfortunate things can happen and that you may not always succeed. But rather than focusing on what could go wrong, you look beyond to where you are heading. By choosing to develop a compassionate attitude that avoids assumptions and focuses on curiosity and learning, you are taking an enormous step towards positivity.

Practice!  Like anything new, the more you practice the sooner you’ll change. By taking full responsibility for your attitude and stepping away from blame and victimhood, you regain control. Notice when you’re slipping off course, and learn to discharge the negativity and replace it with thoughts that will benefit you.

As we enter the New Year, remember that the past is in the past.  As you face people you may have disappointed or recall ways in which you let yourself down, know that you can choose to let go of it.  You might say I am advocating making lemonade from lemons, and in the end, perhaps I am.  I know, it’s terribly hokey but some clichés are just too essential to ignore.