Why I'm not thinking positively about "positive thinking."
There seems to be a trend at the moment where mental health difficulties are almost thought to be a choice.
That it’s your fault for being a negative person, for allowing things to 'get to you' and for not seeing things in a better light. There is a phrase that makes me grit my teeth. Apparently there’s a magical cure that is free, available for all, and ready and waiting in your very own mind! What is it? Positive thinking!
Ugh. I would argue that if it was that easy, wouldn’t we all be doing it? Wouldn’t a depressed individual simply jump out of bed, give themselves a shake and say actually I’ll just think positively and I’ll feel good today? Would be great if they could, wouldn’t it.
I googled positive thinking quotes. There are thousands.
Has reading these worked? Do you now realise that all your problems can be solved by thinking more positively? That you should just be zen and centred and sit in a yoga pose whilst drinking green tea and repeating a happy mantra to yourself? Surely now none of your problems exist and you now see them all as exciting opportunities instead..?
Nah, just ignore them all. It’s just words. It’s just Instagram fluff. It’s soulless and hollow and although well meant, just something to beat yourself up over as in reality, it's just not that easy.
View your thoughts about yourself and your life in the same way you view your religious beliefs. If you told me you believe in God and I said actually no you’re wrong, he doesn’t exist, would you just nod and change your mind, just like that? Would you trust me that my opinion is the correct one? Would you give up years and years of faith and beliefs on the word of a stranger? No you wouldn’t, and quite rightly so.
So in the same way if you told me you don’t like yourself, that life is too difficult and that everything seems so scary, would you change your entire belief system if I simply said don’t be silly you are lovely, everything is fine, stop worrying..? No! It’s just words. It means nothing. Change in how you view the world, how you deal with its difficulties and how you feel about yourself on a fundamental level, takes real time and commitment. You can’t magically force your thoughts to be positive. You can’t find ten things to be grateful for when you are depressed, you can’t embrace a challenge when you have debilitating anxiety, and you can’t change your life by just chanting affirmations in the mirror.
What you can do is reflect. Make small changes, look at things in a slightly different way, look at what hasn’t been working and try something new instead. Don’t always assume the worst will happen, don’t give up out of fear of failing something, and don’t make decisions based on imaginary things in the future. Stay rooted in today. Give yourself a break from your own criticism, and just let things come. Over time, this will add up. But it doesn’t happen overnight and you can’t expect it to. Remember your belief system. If you have always believed bad things will happen, you have to prove to yourself over time that this isn’t always true.
Sometimes things from the weirdest places can touch us, as if they have come to us at exactly the right time. Searching through poems for my son’s homework, I stumbled across a children’s poem that seemed to do just that. This grabbed me far more than any of the irritating internet quotes I have come across. To me it’s not a grinning, thumbs up version of positive thinking but a quiet and thought provoking way of suggesting it instead.
When The World Turned Upside Down
The day when the world
turned upside down:
when a frown became a smile
and a smile became a frown.
When the mice chased the cats
the cats chased the dogs.
The dogs laughed out loud
at the pink and yellow frogs.
When you went to bed in the daytime
and got up at night.
When birds caught the school bus
and the cows took flight.
When the moon came out
in the middle of the day
and all of the ocean's fish
rolled around in the hay.
When the children ruled the world
and ice cream was for free
and the elephants shrank
to the size of a flea.
When the grass rained lollipops
up to the sky.
When you wanted to laugh
but could only cry.
When magic beans were real
and giants very small,
you would eat spiders legs
so you could creep up the wall.
This all happened when the
world turned upside down
after I went to bed
with a smile - not a frown.
(By Margaret A. Savage)
When life is tough and things aren’t going well, don’t berate yourself. You haven’t ‘allowed’ yourself to feel or think negatively. You are experiencing a natural human emotion as a reaction to difficult things.
If, however, you are finding that you are repeatedly feeling low or anxious when nothing bad has actually happened, or are obsessing over the same worrying thoughts day in, day out, just consider if it’s time to try and look at things from a different angle. If this seems impossible and your thoughts are blackening your mood and your life on a daily basis, it may be time to ask for a little help. Because life is hard but it doesn’t have to be THAT hard.