Everybody seems to be swearing by positive thinking, but is it really as helpful as it’s supposed to be? What if it was actually counterproductive to force ourselves to think positively when we are feeling otherwise?
Let’s take a look at the impact of the “keep smiling” attitude and see if there are alternatives to reach our goals all while preserving our emotional health.
The problem with positive thinking
Positive thinking is the idea that you can positively influence your life and circumstances by consciously holding a positive attitude. This is usually achieved using techniques such as affirmations and visualization.
While that may sound well and good at first thought, trying to force yourself to have positive thoughts at any price is not ideal and may lead to some frustration and disappointment.
Black and white thinking
One of the caveats of positive thinking is that it can lead to categorizing things into positive and negative: our emotions, our attitudes, situations, etc. However, life isn’t black and white, and particularly emotions can have a variety of nuances.
Putting emotions aside
Very often, when we try to think positively, we fall into the trap of trying to push our emotions aside. Perhaps you think that having difficult emotions is a sign of weakness? Or maybe you are just trying to get rid of uncomfortable feelings?
Unfortunately, the more you try to ignore your emotions, the stronger they become. I used to be a bottler as Susan David, psychologist
Another challenging aspect of positive thinking is that it’s raising sometimes impossible expectations, which in turn can trigger feelings of guilt and frustration.
Isn’t it unrealistic to expect from ourselves to think positively at all times? It might sound like a cliché, but life isn’t always easy and
It’s crucial to understand that there’s nothing wrong with being sad or angry. The fact that these feelings aren’t comfortable doesn’t mean they are wrong. Put the pressure off you and allow yourself to feel these emotions.
Being always happy is not the solution
Did you know that we tend to oversee red flags and danger when we are in a happy or even euphoric mood (e.g., when we are in love)? Moreover, when we are content and satisfied, we are more prone to stay in our comfort zone. Indeed, change is usually triggered by pain or difficult situations that motivate us to adopt a different approach.
Being in a more balanced or even bad mood actually helps us find more appropriate responses or become more creative to find alternatives. Hardships help us grow and learn emotional resilience becoming more flexible psychologically.
Alternatives to Positive Thinking
Learn to distinguish between positive thinking and a positive mindset
Having a positive mindset is different from being happy all the time. It refers to a mentality where you aspire to see the positive side in situations. In a difficult situation, where you might feel sad, angry, or scared, you can give yourself the time to feel these emotions and process them, and realize afterward that it also had
The issue with positive thinking is that it acutally treats the symptoms instead of the causes. Feeling a challenging emotion is just a consequence. With mere positive thinking, you are missing the point and not getting at the root of the problem. Why are you feeling these emotions in a specific situation? What is the trigger? What is your mind trying to tell you?
Changing your mindset means that you accept your emotions as important indicators that shouldn’t be ignored by swiping them away through forced positive thinking. You realize that these uncomfortable and sometimes hardly bearable feelings are beneficial to your mental health and well-being.
Identify negativity triggers
Even if you cannot always be happy, it can be extremely helpful to reflect and identify what triggers your negativity.
Do you have negative beliefs that stop you from enjoying or achieving certain things in life? Maybe you convinced yourself that there’s no way a single mother can have a great career? Or does the fact that you were told that you were a bad writer at school prevent you from pursuing your dream of writing a book?
Once you start treating your thoughts for what they are – constructs based on your history and environment – you’ll be able to distance yourself and question them. E.g., “Wait a minute, there are many examples of single moms that are professionally accomplished. If they can do it, I can achieve it as well!”
The use of affirmations or journalling can be helpful to remodel your thinking patterns. And remember to be kind to yourself! Don’t expect all your negative habits to be blown away from one day to another. Remember that this is a process.
When I’m feeling uneasy because of challenging emotions, I try to find time to stop and listen inside asking myself: How do you feel? What might be causing these feelings? Why does this situation trigger you? Even though strong emotions might come up, only allowing myself to feel them helps me to move on and eventually feel relief.
Mindfulness techniques and exercises are extremely effective tools that will help you not only quiet your
Focusing on your breathing or on something else (music, nature, etc.) will allow you to pause to allow your emotions to surface, identify and accept them, and try to find out where they are coming from.
Negativity is a huge energy drain, but so is forcing yourself to be happy and positive whatever life throws at you. Positive thinking is nothing more than trying to control the uncontrollable. The key is to accept and let go.