The Problem With Positive Thinking

You may be wondering, what’s the problem?  Doesn’t positive thinking lead to happiness?  We all want more of that!  

 However……there is a huge difference between seeking out and celebrating positive experiences and what most of us refer to as “positive thinking.”

Yes, it is important to  notice and savor the many beautiful moments in our lives…. we need to stop and really bask in these experiences.  Cherishing the simple wonders in our lives leads to increased joy and contentment.

So what’s the problem with being positive and trying to be happy in the face of adverse circumstances?

In the words of Harvard Medical School professor and psychologist Susan David, PhD, “A lot of our cultural dialogue is fundamentally avoidant, so people will say things like, ‘just be positive and things will be fine…’

What is actually guaranteed in life is that it will not go well sometimes…

We will find ourselves in situations where we will feel anger, sadness and grief … Unless we can process, navigate and be comfortable with the full range of our emotions, we won’t learn to be resilient… I believe the strong cultural focus on happiness and thinking positively is actually making us less resilient.”

Positive thinking often suppresses and masks our life experiences.
When the mind is dutifully spouting positive thoughts, it cannot override the body’s automatic survival reaction to a negative experience. The nervous system responds by firing up and flooding the body with stress hormones.  

For much of my life I fed myself a stream of forced “upbeat” thoughts that served to totally disconnect me from myself.  I was trapped in a cage of pain and anxiety fueled by “positive” thoughts that could never protect me from the truth.

When I honored and allowed my emotions without fear or judgment, they flowed through me.  I found the safety inside myself that is available to all of us, and grew to understand that “there is gold to be mined in every experience.”  Debbie Ford

Emotions are energy in motion. They are physical sensations  that are meant to flow through our bodies. They come and go. When we allow and experience uncomfortable feelings of worry, fear, sadness, and anger they do not harm us and will pass.   

As Dr. David explains, “…drop any struggle with yourself about whether your feelings are right or wrong or if you should or shouldn’t feel a certain way.”

So where do we start?  Here are a few steps to bring us back into balance and flow during times of overwhelm. 

Spend a few minutes dropping into self – awareness as you:
STOP and PAUSE.  Focus on the present. 

NOTICE your physical sensations, including your breath, without trying to change anything.  Just notice with curiosity and without judgement.  Starting with your feet, scan your body. Do you feel light, heavy, cold, warm, tingly, tight, open, etc.?

NOTICE your mind activity and place your thoughts in a category such as ruminating, judging, figuring out, worrying, catastrophizing, etc.

Become FULLY AWARE of your physical surroundings by looking around your environment – just noticing without interpretation.

These practices facilitate self-awareness as well as bringing us into the present moment.  We can allow and accept what IS which leads us to our truth, eliminating the need for artificial and potentially dangerous “positive” thinking.

“Health is not just a matter of thinking happy thoughts,” writes renowned neuroscientist Candace Pert.  “Sometime the biggest impetus to healing can come from jump-starting the immune system with a burst of long-suppressed anger.”

When we acknowledge, allow and accept our challenges in the moment; we become empowered, strengthening our body’s innate repair mechanisms.

And as always remember, YOU hold the key!

Elaine

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