Positive Thinking Versus Feeling More Optimistic
Positive thinking doesn’t work. In fact, it can be dangerous.
Now there's a controversial statement! Life coaches around the world will be scowling at me right now! But hear me out...
Many experts out there will tell you that if you say something enough times, your subconscious mind will believe it to be true. And that if you stand in front of the mirror, look yourself in the eye and tell yourself that you are the happiest person in the world, you will – if you say it enough times within a short period – become the happiest person in the world. And they will also tell you that if you don’t feel happier, it’s because you haven’t said it enough times, or with enough passion and feeling.
Now, while there is a small element of truth in this, it comes with some massive caveats. If you are already in a fairly good place about your level of happiness, then your Chimp brain (the part of your brain in charge of survival) will be much more likely to accept this kind of positive thinking. If, however, you have been suffering from sadness, grief or depression, simply telling yourself that you are the happiest person in the world is not necessarily going to work. In fact, it may have the opposite effect.
Years ago, one of these “experts” told me that if I looked myself in the eye every day and told myself, I loved myself enough times, eventually I would believe it. I tried this for months, and it didn’t work.
When we try to think positively, and it doesn’t work, we feel like a failure, which in turn can make us feel even worse about ourselves. If you are feeling sad or depressed, the last thing you need is someone bouncing in telling you to “just think positively”, and all will be happy, wonderful and terrific. You would probably just want to slap them across the face.
As many of you know, in 2012 I had cancer and had you bounced in my living room when I was on my “chemo week”, to tell me, “just think happy thoughts, and you will feel better”, I probably would have slapped you across the face. (Well, in my mind I would at least.) I wasn’t ready to think positively. I was, however, ready to choose a slightly more helpful thought.
HappiMe is not about “positive thinking” – it’s about learning to FEEL more optimistic. There is a huge difference. It’s about choosing a slightly more helpful thought, or a slightly more helpful emotion than you are currently thinking or feeling. Your thoughts, feelings, physical sensations and actions are interconnected, and negative thoughts and feelings can trap you in a vicious cycle. There is a whole chapter on choosing more helpful thoughts later.
Just “thinking positively”, is a little like putting a sticking plaster on a gaping wound. It’s not going to help. Eventually, whatever problem caused you to feel so awful will start seeping through.
Or it’s a little like standing in the garden saying, “weeds don’t grow, weeds don’t grow” – they will still grow. Unless you pull them out at the roots or go in with some pretty heavy-duty weed killer. When I discovered EFT a few years ago, within weeks of using it, I understood that it was the heavy-duty weed killer for negative emotions, childhood trauma and self-limiting beliefs. There lots of informatiom on EFT here.
It's important to understand that positive thinking is not about being in denial. It’s not about pretending that we don’t have problems. It’s not about putting on a brave face and ignoring our “stuff”. It’s not about denying our feelings and emotions. I did that for the best part of my life and it didn't work!
It’s about learning to accept our emotions. It’s OK to feel sadness, grief, anger, and frustration. When we acknowledge and accept our problems and emotions, we are able to find a way to move through them much easier. Denying them means that we will never move through them. We’ll get stuck.
Rumi, one of the greatest spiritual masters of all time, wrote this beautiful poem that sums it up perfectly:
The Guest House by Rumi
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they're a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honourably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
Simply put, we are the guest house, and it’s our job to welcome these emotions, both good and bad. Welcome them into our lives. Accept them. Be grateful for the message they send, and go about your day. Just don’t sit with them and have a week-long pity party.
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How To Choose A More Helpful Thought
Some if you may have heard of CBT, or Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. Some of you may not have. I’m going to tell you what it is, some of the benefits, along with a really simple way to use CBT in your day-to-day life.
Cognitive Behaviour Therapy is a form of talking therapy that focuses on how your attitude, thoughts and beliefs can affect the way you feel and behave. CBT uses cognitive therapy and behaviour therapy, whilst teaching you coping mechanisms for dealing with your problems. Cognitive therapy examines what you think about, and behaviour therapy examines the things you do and the way you behave.
How many of these Thought Traps are you falling into every day?
ANTs & Thought Traps
When we are feeling low or anxious, it is common to have automatic negative thoughts (ANTs). These unhelpful thoughts are subtle, sneaky and can pop into our minds without any effort. As our thoughts, feelings and actions are all interconnected, when we start thinking negatively we start to feel bad- which then impacts our behaviour. Or we think negatively, which impacts how we feel - which then impacts our actions.
On the flip side, improving in one will also impact the others in a positive way.
-Gaining control of your thinking and recognising your "thought traps", will make you feel better and more motivated to take action.
-Taking positive action when you don''t really feel like it, will make you feel more positive, which leads to more positive self-talk.
-Watching funny films or videos or listening to upbeat music can change your mood, leading to more positive thoughts and feelings.
Have a look at the following list of Thought Traps to see if you can recognise any of your thinking patterns.
Positive thinking has a lot to answer for!
I'LL BE HAPPY WHEN …
“Happiness is not something you postpone for the future; it is something you design for the present:. -Jim Rohn
Have you noticed that the western world seems to have adopted a mass "I'll be happy when" mind-set?.
I’ll be happy when… I have lost weight, got a new job, new partner, new car, new business, new house. I'll be happy when…. I get that promotion, have paid of my debts, have more money, am married, divorced or had a baby. I thought like this for most of my adult life. I truly believed that I would be happier when I lost weight. That life would be absolutely perfect. That I would suddenly look in the mirror and be wonderfully happy with who I saw looking back at me. But after losing six and a half stones, that didn't happen. I still felt the same way about myself.
We are often so fixated on what we don't have in our lives that we miss the point. I know I did. I didn’t understand that true happiness lies within us, not outside of us. Yes, we can be happy about external events or situations, like a new relationship, a promotion or a fun, pleasurable experience but that kind of happiness is short lived, it fades as quickly as the memory of the event fades
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