The True Positivity
It's easy to think positivity is a code word for invincible happiness in a world that often tells you to suck it up, stop complaining, practice gratitude, and don't dwell on the negatives. But that's not practical or realistic. Or healthy.
Positivity doesn't mean you're always happy.
Positivity doesn't mean ignoring problems or never having tough emotions.
Having a variety of human emotions, both ups and downs, in life is a normal human experience. Everyone feels sad or mad or angry or frustrated sometimes. Everyone has problems and challenges in life. Noticing our emotions and problems is a good thing because it is the first step to being able to make them better.
Positivity means we're able to see the possibilities, that we're open to options and we are willing to keep problem solving even when circumstances are challenging!
Why is Positivity so Difficult?!
When we have difficult experiences, it is normal to have difficult emotions (like frustration, anxiety, worry, tired, sadness). And when we have difficult emotions, it is normal to have a more difficult time thinking positively!
Also, we learn a lot of bad mental habits throughout our lives. Maybe it is stuff you heard your caregivers say about themselves, about you, or other people; maybe it is stuff you heard your friends or people on social media say about themselves, you, or other people. When we hear something a lot throughout our life, like "you're a loser," it can be really difficult to kick those thoughts out of your head later in life. They just pop right up on cue because they become an automatic response.
Of course you sometimes have negative thoughts about yourself or a situation when you haven't heard a lot of alternative ways of thinking about things! It's much easier to do the thing you're really familiar with than the new, unknown thing.
So let's make the unknown known.
Top Tips for Positive Thinking
Give Yourself Space to Feel All Emotions
Have you ever tried ignoring negative feelings and they just end up leaking all over or building and then you're a hot mess down the road? When you give yourself the opportunity to actually feel your negative emotions rather than just fighting with them and trying to push them away, they often soften a little. Crying, venting, writing down your feelings, listing off emotions that you're experiencing are all good ways to let those emotions out so they don't have to keep badgering you for attention.
Keep in mind when venting, focus on your emotions, not your thoughts. "I feel [insert one word that is an emotion." PERIOD. Do not explain, do not say, "I feel like..."
Acknowledge the Smallest Positives
If you struggle with positive thinking, you probably don't have any trouble noticing the failures, the things you did wrong, the things that didn't work out. To counter this, spend some time noticing and appreciating the good things about any situation, even tough ones.
Some things you can focus on are:
- A positive thing you learned from the situation
- Appreciate the effort you put in, despite the outcome
- Acknowledge your bravery or courage in trying something new
- Notice any small ways in which you improved, even if the overall outcome wasn't great (ex. you waited a bit longer than usual before you fell back into a bad habit)
- Some part of a situation went ok or better than you expected or not as bad as you expected
You're the Hiker, Challenges are your Path
Start to identify any positive traits, improvements, and accomplishments with who you are and associate any difficulties and problems as something EXTERNAL to you that you are working to overcome.
So in life, imagine you are a hiker. You have the backpack full of resources and tools, you are on a journey down a trail. Sometimes you're tired, sometimes you're low on water, but you're doing your best. The challenges you face in life are things on that trail, like muddy puddles, a hot sun beaming down on you, a rockslide that obscured your path. You are the good stuff, the tough stuff is something outside of you that you are working on.
Change Your Perspective
Next time you're finding yourself being negative, ask yourself: would you talk to your friend this way? Would you say the same things to them when they're having a hard time? Is this how you would talk to someone you care about and want to help them succeed?
You know that talking to someone that you care about like this wouldn't be helpful, right? So use that to check if you're being helpful to yourself or not.
Notice Your Feelings & Motivation Level
Sometimes we don't realize how much our crap talking to ourselves wrecks our mood, our confidence, our motivation and willingness to try things. When you talk to yourself about life, yourself, or difficulties - take time to check in with how that self-talk is making you feel. Do you feel better or worse after talking to yourself like that? Do you feel more or less capable?
Our distorted ideas about what we SHOULD be doing, SHOULD be feeling, etc are a huge source of negativity. A lot of times our expectations for ourselves aren't even reasonable, so it is crucial to do reality checks to make sure we're not sabotaging ourselves with unfair expectations.
Review and remind yourself:
- Success isn't a straight line up - everyone struggles, everyone fails, bad things happen to literally everyone sometimes. It doesn't mean you're bad or that you'll never succeed. This is what the process of growth and "getting better" looks like.
- Success takes time - so focus on the process, focus on your efforts, not the immediate outcomes. Notice how much you're trying, notice all the ways in which you are problem solving, notice how you are trying different things.
- Positive thinking is practical thinking - don't aim to be happy 24/7 and always smiling. That isn't positivity. Positive thinking is flexible thinking. Positive thinking is being curious, wondering, being open to possibilities even when you're unsure. Practical thinking is knowing that you don't know the outcome, that success might be possible, that few things in life are truly 100% awful.
- Know that you don't know - negativity is often certain that it knows everything. But it doesn't. There are options you never thought of, possibilities you haven't encountered yet, outcomes you never dreamed of. You don't know that someone is thinks bad stuff about you, you don't know how things will work out, and the actual reality might be much better than you think!
Manage Your Mental Health Needs
Get treatment for any mental health diagnoses - depression, anxiety, ADHD, and other diagnoses can often be a HUGE reason you're having a hard time with negative thoughts. We like to think we can just strong-arm our mental health problems into submission by sheer will or ignoring them, but that's not how these things work. We need treatment if they're causing us notable trouble in life.