Ah, positive thinking. The stalwart of most self development books. And a regular feature on any spiritual or lifestyle Instagram worth its salt, right?
Disclaimer: This post isn’t anti positivity! Staying positive has helped me so much in my life. Cultivating a positive attitude was a real anchor for me when I was dealing with challenges including mental health issues, chronic fatigue syndrome, and cancer.
I’ve been around the block and got the (probably tie-dyed) t shirt. And that means I know that positive thinking doesn’t always look like we think it should. And that honestly, it’s all too easy to beat ourselves up if we think we’re not doing it right.
If you’ve ever struggled to “think positive”, this post is for you.
We’re so often told that positive thinking looks like this:
Oh em gee!!! I feel better than crackers with cheese!!!!! I’m so in the flow I’m practically a mermaid!!!!
And hey if you have a day like that, fantastic! Feeling like the universe is on your side is an amazing feeling.
Seeing that kind of relentless positivity around can be hard if you’re not quite feeling it.
It can make you feel inadequate – like you’re doing positive thinking wrong.
Or, it can make you turn your back on the whole positive thinking thing as being just fluff for people with no real problems.
Neither of those standpoints is very helpful if you’re wanting to feel more positive in your life!
You can’t make yourself think positive.
That’s not healthy – that’s repressing your true feelings. Repressing how you really feel is like holding a beach ball under water. It might seem sort of easy – but at some point that sucker’s gonna break through the surface and make a big ole splash. Most likely when you least want it to!
Forced positivity isn’t a good idea for anyone. But this goes double if you have something like ptsd, anxiety or depression. Sometimes when you’ve got something like that going on, trying to tell yourself to be positive is like trying to tell yourself you’re a brain surgeon, if you’re not one.
In fact, trying too hard to “be positive” when you’re not feeling it can backfire. It becomes something you “should” do and are failing, which makes you feel even worse (ironic, right?)
The key to cultivating positivity is to take little steps.
Focus on the small victories. Redefine what being positive means for you.
Think about what being more positive might feel and look like for you. You’re not under any obligation to be positive. You didn’t sign a contract that promised to think positively. But you might be feeling that you’d like to feel more open and happy in your life, in which case, try starting with little steps.
See, sometimes positive thinking looks like big shifts and feeling super good about yourself. But sometimes it looks like this:
Thinking one good thing about yourself just for a moment.
Watching something that makes you smile for a few minutes.
Feeling like actually, maybe being alive is ok after all.
Not actively beating up on yourself.
Entertaining the possibility that things might look a little brighter, just not today.
Doing a few minutes of self care even on the hardest day.
Waking up the next morning and trying again.
Acknowledging all your feelings and thoughts because they’re all valid.
Positivity isn’t flipping a switch or magically changing your mood.
It’s not “turning your frown upside down.”
It’s finding or making itty bitty pockets of good. It’s taking tiny steps towards loving and valuing yourself more. All those little moments of happiness and joy are like extra seeds you just planted in your spiritual and mental garden. They all add up. Together, they create a beautiful vista of colour and scent.
Sometimes it’s accepting that consistent positive thinking isn’t doable for you. And that’s ok because having so-called negative thoughts doesn’t have to hold you back from a fulfilling life. Add to your store of positive when you can, and be kind to yourself when you can’t.
Start where you are. Figure out how to love and support yourself more daily.
It’s ok. It’s all ok. You’re doing great. You’ve got this.