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.