Have you ever beaten yourself up because you feel stressed, anxious or challenged in some way and you think you should “be positive” so you can create what you want?
Sometimes clients tell me this. They’re in a tough situation and feel disappointed they’re not being positive. It can feel like there are a lot of messages in the personal development world and online about being positive in the face of challenge.
When you’re going through a genuinely challenging time, being positive about it may not be the answer. For a start, that can invalidate the feelings you’re experiencing, and if you focus too much on trying to be positive about what’s going on, this might also prevent you from taking the action required to create change.
Here’s the thing: sometimes your attitude is not the problem. Sometimes, just being more positive is far from the answer.
Let me give you a personal example.
Back around 2012/13 I became rather confused what was going on in my personal life. My partner at the time seemed to be changing, and had started losing jobs, creating much stress and pressure.
I was relentlessly positive. I looked at myself and what I could do to improve the situation. I communicated. I stayed focused on a happy future.
“Surely *this* is rock bottom, and now the only way is up,” I thought on numerous occasions.
I would pull tarot or oracle cards for guidance and insight and even though I was convinced things were going to improve, the cards did not suggest thus. I continued to pull cards like: The Tower, Death and other cards that indicate chaos, deception and endings. SO ANNOYING.
So, what did I do?
How did I handle the news that something bigger might be going on that positivity couldn’t fix?
Well, I threw those cards out, of course.
I was not having that kind of negativity around me.
Clearly, rather than working on “being positive in the face of challenge”, there were a few other things I could have been doing. Stepping back and doing less may have allowed the situation to expose itself quicker.
Because, sure enough, things did only become worse before I was able to find out what was really going on behind the scenes and the situation was exposed in a rather dramatic fashion. The cards were right, I just didn’t want to believe it.
I may not have seen what was really going any quicker not matter what my approach as there were many layers to it BUT it is also true I caused myself pain by continuing to focus on being positive within and about a situation that was becoming increasingly untenable.
A desire to be positive and to focus on a happy future can cause us to miss key information in the present.
How else might this look?
- You might try to feel positive about your job or business even though something really isn’t working out and you need to look at why this is.
- You might try to feel positive about a debt situation, but really this just looks like going into denial about it and continuing to rack up more debt.
- You might feel worried about making a significant and stressful investment but decide you have to be more positive and do it as that’s the only way to succeed, and not consider other less risky options.
- You might feel increasingly troubled by the fact that your partner is putting you down and criticising you, or becoming distant or secretive, or by some other problem that is emerging, but you’re committed to what the relationship was supposed to be, so you try to perfect yourself, avoid confrontation and be positive about a happy future together instead of tackling the real issues.
Can you relate to any of these examples? Can you add any of your own?
There are real risks in being relentlessly positive.
It’s nice to feel positive about your future, but you need to make some changes and take consistent action if you want to create that future. Mark Manson wrote about the risks of being positive to an excessive, even delusional degree, in the context of his take on the book, The Secret.
In The Staggering Bull**** of the Secret he says:
“The Secret actually requires that you never doubt yourself, never consider negative repercussions, and never indulge in negative thoughts.
This is the confirmation bias on steroids and it can be dangerous: taking on risky business ventures or investments, ignoring red flag behaviors from a romantic partner, denying personal problems or health issues, avoiding necessary confrontations, failing to weigh the possibility of failure in decision making, and so on.
While this sort of “delusionally positive” thinking may make one feel better in some (or even many) situations, as a long-term life strategy, it is utterly disastrous.”
Whilst I think The Secret opened many eyes as to the power of our thoughts and intentions, and I 100% believe our thoughts and intentions are powerful, I do agree with Mark that there is a lot more to creating the life you desire than simply being positive about it, and that denial and avoidance often create massive problems of their own.
An excessive focus on being positive can be a form of spiritual bypassing:
“Aspects of spiritual bypassing include exaggerated detachment, emotional numbing and repression, overemphasis on the positive, anger-phobia, blind or overly tolerant compassion, weak or too porous boundaries, lopsided development (cognitive intelligence often being far ahead of emotional and moral intelligence), debilitating judgment about one’s negativity or shadow elements, devaluation of the personal relative to the spiritual, and delusions of having arrived at a higher level of being.“
When you’re feeling challenged or stuck, here are 5 things you might do instead of just trying to feel more positive.
- Develop your resilience. This is about believing in your own ability to navigate through life. It’s about supporting and encouraging yourself. Reinforce to yourself that you have the power to create a life that feels good for you, and to move through challenging times and to make whatever choices are required and follow through. Find ways to develop your connection to yourself through meditation, journalling, yoga, movement or whatever works for you.
- Release fear. Sometimes trying to feel positive can be a reaction to feelings of fear. Pasting positive emotions over fear won’t tend to work – the fears still linger, and will often play out in undesirable ways if your only strategy is to try and ignore them. Watch my webinar: Release Fear and Step into Your Power for help with this. I help you defuse your fears right on the call, and also get in touch with any fears that are actually messengers.
- Get honest. Are you in a dysfunctional situation? Ain’t no amount of positivity that is going to paper over those cracks. Firstly, get honest with yourself. What are you accepting or tolerating that is not acceptable? What needs to change? What is your part in the situation? What actions do you need to take?
- Respect your own needs. If you’re feeling negative or challenged, there’s a good chance you have some needs which are not being met and it will be helpful to get in touch with what these are rather than suppressing or ignoring them. Grab your journal right now and start some lists. Try one or more of these to get you started: “Here’s what I really need…” “I need to say no to…” “I can respect myself more by…” “I feel…” “I want to feel…”
- Ask for help. Talk to a trusted friend or colleague about what is going on and ask if they can see something you can’t see. Book a Kinesiology session. Ask for the right guidance and support to come your way and take action. Depending on the situation (dealing with grief due to loss of a loved one, or infertility, for example) it may or may not be possible to have what you truly desire, but you might work on finding a way to come to peace with what’s unfolding and evolving in your life and find a perspective that empowers you.
So does this mean I don’t think there’s value in being positive? Have I instead become cynical or negative?
Nope! I’m still a positive person.
However that doesn’t mean I feel that I have to be positive about things that aren’t working, situations that are unpleasant, things that make me uncomfortable or new and unfamiliar situations or experiences that I’m adjusting to. I can be in the moment and feel my true feelings; I don’t need to judge or deny them or think that I should feel or not feel a certain way.
I won’t over-function, because:
“If you have to over-function to make a situation or relationship work? It is NOT WORKING.”
I still choose positive, empowering perspectives but these days, there’s a hefty dose of honesty with self and others, stronger self-worth and much healthier boundaries. I have clearer expectations and I let other people take responsibility for their own lives and choices.
I’ve evolved my positivity so it continues to serve me.
Love to hear your thoughts!
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