Positivity! It has a lot of angles and it can make you feel very good, or very bad. This post is about how to be positive without neglecting your feelings or burying your head in the sand. It’s one of the posts I’ve been writing on in my vacation. I’ve had this on my list for a while, and the funny thing is that while writing it, I found a lot more articles about this topic.
“Positive vibes only!”
“When you can’t find the sunshine, be the sunshine!”
“Life is 10% what happens to us and 90% how we react to it.”
Well… no. It’s so easy to say this to someone else when you are not in a shitty situation. The people who wrote this are probably not familiar with things like chronical illnesses, mentally or physically, or just very crappy situations. You can’t always ‘choose’ happiness or positivity.
Processes in our brain
Our mind is a very powerful tool that can do amazing things. But, it can also work against us. As we can learn good behaviour, we can also learn bad behaviour. I’m talking about traumas, fears, phobias (read more about that here). You can actually ‘learn’ your brain to have food allergies by telling it that food is bad all the time. I think my bloated belly had something to do with that (it’s called ‘Limbic System Impairment’) (and read more about belly here). On the other hand, our brain can focus on certain things and pay less attention to other things. You can train this, or use coping mechanisms to force it.
There are many definitions of positive thinking on the internet. This is the best one I could find (because most of them are about being successful) (source):
Positive thinking is a discipline that trains the human mind to change a perceived reality by repeatedly making positive mental statements. A positive mental attitude is the belief that one can increase achievement through optimistic thought processes.
If I had to come up with a definition, I would say: positive thinking is changing your feelings and actions by changing your mind. But changing your mind is not always easy. You have to think beyond your current situation.
The hype of positivity
In the last few years, I’ve had quite some ups and downs. My “IBS” has been a huge downer. Especially in these years, a lot of people told me how to feel or how to deal with it.
Positive thinking is a popular thing these days. And in a way, this can be a strong and helpful thing to use. But in my opinion, there are different ways to practise positive thinking. Some are good practice, and some are bad practice.
People have mentioned positive thinking since forever. Philosophists like Plato and Aristotle already knew that our mind can have an effect on our success. In the last few years, I’ve noticed this as well, in bad ways and in good ways. As I was writing this post, I thought about how this subject has crossed my path.
So here’s how to be positive, and how not to do it.
Just let it disappear
“Just don’t think about it!” I’ve heard this and variations on this a lot. “Just do it” is also one of them. Just do the presentation (speech anxiety omg), or just eat. Some people seem to think that because they can do it, you can do it too. People told me to just not think about my terribly aching belly. To just put my mind on other things. Well, I’ve tried to put my mind on not eating once to not think about issues, and it wasn’t the best idea to be honest. Besides that, try to chop off your leg and don’t think about the pain. 😐
You can also deny feelings yourself. This was quite normal a few decades ago. People wouldn’t talk about bad things, so it wasn’t there, or so they thought.
When you experience shitty feelings, like depression or a headache, your body is trying to tell you something. Covering it up with something else or ignoring it isn’t going to solve the problem. At the clinic, we learned to confront ourselves with the thoughts we tried to ignore so bad, instead of doing what we always did; cover up the screaming voice inside our head with bad things that screamed louder. But that is actually what people ask of you when they tell you to “just be cool and not whine”. I think this kind of positive thinking never works, it only makes it worse.
In perspective part 1: Looking from a different angle
I’ve been following Courtney Westlake on Instagram for a while now. She has a seven-year-old daughter, Brenna, who has Ichthyosis, which is a terrible skin disease. Brenna really made me think about the phenomenon of thinking in perspective. She is ALWAYS happy, no matter how much her disease sucks. Look at this:
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Brenna’s in a lot of pain today with a foot that’s cracked and blistering on her heel – yet even though it hurts too much to walk right now, I found her crawling around the living room exuberantly singing “oh happy day! Oh happy day! When Jesus washed my sins away!” Her faithful spirit constantly points me to God. What a reminder to count it all joy ❤️
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Delighted with her piggies for school today. That smile is etched on my heart now 😍 This time of year always hits me quickly, even nearly 7 years later. Our lives were transformed with Brenna’s birth and diagnosis of #harlequinichthyosis – but today, I constantly see where and how God has shown up throughout our good times and in our struggles. Looking at her today, I am amazed and grateful for how far we’ve all come. It’s such a privilege to get to see this smile every day. I’m praising God for these immensely beautiful moments of styling the pigtails I didn’t think I’d ever get to see. The other day, she was asking me what a wig was. After considering it for a minute, she said “well I don’t need a wig because I have PLENTY of hair!” Keep this confidence forever, my beautiful girl. 💕 #adifferentbeautiful #pigtails #almostseven
“I don’t need a wig because I have plenty of hair!!” Man, I wish I had her attitude!! There is a fine line between the ‘just let is disappear’ and the ‘perspective thinking’, but I think it’s all about acknowledging that the good and the bad things are both there, and allowing them to both be there. You need good circumstances and a positive surrounding to put things in perspective.
In perspective part 2: The glass is half full
“Look at what you have, not at what you miss.” AKA the glass is half full. Closely related to the previous one, but not the same in my opinion. This is a really good way of living! Train it and do it, just don’t let it cover up all the bad things.
In perspective part 3: Being positive on failure
Failure is a good thing. Failure is learning. However, failure never feels right and everyone avoids it. It’s a shame that our society teaches us that failure is something to be ashamed of. I certainly have made a lot of choices based on my fear to fail. I have a hard time accepting myself for who I am and with the mistakes I make. But, failure makes us grow and it makes us better people! My life would be so much different if I could embrace failure. I try but it’s hard. This is definitely something I will teach my kids: failure is something good.
In perspective part 4: Comparison
“There are always people who feel worse than me” is also thinking in perspective, but this is NEVER a good idea. Don’t do it.
I once had a trip to France with my school. The idea was to walk around all day and speak French with native speakers. I sucked at French, or so I thought. I didn’t want to say a single word, so I joined my friend who was in another class, but in my year. We had been friends for a year but never joined a French class together. And so she had a small conversation with a French dude. At this point I thought: “Omg, I know all these words! I can do this too!” I don’t know why I hadn’t realized this until then, but my point is: expectations can make you perform totally different.
Recently we had a seminar about mathematics in primary school. The lecturer told us about a study that proved that having a higher expectation of students makes them perform better. In other words: if you think you can do something, you have a much higher chance of success. You could call it a mindset. I believe this works and I think it’s a good thing to do.
The quote below is a famous one. But it’s true!
Don’t bury your head in the sand
Some problems will not go away if you ignore them. Things like a dept, unpaid bills, or a study that needs to be finished. Or a disorder that spirals down. This is where “Everything will be alright!” goes wrong. Sometimes, everything will only be alright if you take care of certain things. It sucks but there is only one way to fix it: look it in the eye. Ask for help if you can’t do it on your own!
And then there are things like The Secret, which in my opinion is the dumbest thing ever. It’s having a positive mindset on steroids. In short, it’s a book written by Rhonda Byrne. She says that we can influence our fate with the law of attraction. Because of gravity, things attract each other. So, she says: think about something, and you will attract it. Think about being rich, and you will be rich. Yeah. Maybe just stay in school and get a decent job and be rich. And accept the fact that bad things happen.
Positivity is a good thing if you use it in a good way! Let the good and the bad both be there. Rejoice the good and take care of the bad.
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