The Value of Ditching Positive Thinking

Recently, life has been trying.  Like really trying.  In my immediate circle we’ve had technology crashes, major work stress, minor work stress, parenting troubles, troubles with parents, and health concerns from a medical procedure that didn’t heal properly.  All in the last month.  I was going to talk about putting things in perspective, that we can be grateful that there isn’t a terminal cancer diagnosis in the mix….until there was a terminal cancer diagnosis in the mix.

So, what is there to do when tough reality is running the show?  Especially when it is proximate and out of your control and a “good” outcome isn’t one of the options on the board? 

As much as I love it when positive reality is the main event, sometimes the chaos of life hijacks your world.  If I take a significant but not that emotional problem such as my recent computer meltdown (literally, the battery overheated and fried the machine), I could use perspective to be grateful that it was not something worse.  However, this approach doesn’t pay for the new machine, nor give me back the time and energy that it takes to recover data.  And, when the not catastrophic computer crash is followed by news of a major concern, perspective, positive thinking and gratitude can only go so far. 

We often seek to feel better, especially when life is trying.  Unfortunately, forced positive thinking actually increases pain, as it is unrealistic to replace real problems with positive platitudes.  Instead, shifting to basic self-care and slowing down is often your very best bet. 

In my world of managing trying situations and difficult news this month, the first step was to circle the wagons.  The focus became on getting support and letting ourselves feel all the feelings. After getting support, next on the agenda was getting good information.  Figuring out what is possible in the face of problems is a very freeing exercise.  And, after all this, returning to gratitude is actually pretty helpful.  But true gratitude for the present moment, not that silly idea that you can somehow make everything better by “thinking positive.”  No, we’re dealing with reality, not wishing it away.    

The next time life is trying, and especially if you have received very bad news, start by giving yourself space and time to notice and feel the variety of emotions coming up.  Slow down enough to really assess what skillful actions you can take in the situation.  Sometimes your best action is to rest, recharge and spend time with loved ones. Use gratitude and small moments of pleasure to stabilize yourself, not to try to “feel better.”  Once you’ve caught your breath and gotten some rest and support, then you can get some information about your options.  Long term strategy is possible once you have gotten clear in the moment about this time of difficulty. 

Until next month, thanks for reading!  Dr. C