"Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see a shadow." - Helen Keller
Sounds lovely, doesn't it? But what about the stuff in the shadows? There's often some real shit going on in there, and it's worth checking it out.
I remember years ago when I worked for a large telecommunications company, we attended a sales training that introduced many principles that were new to us. The one that stuck the most was "Choose Your Attitude" -- only, it stuck for the wrong reasons.
From that day forward, everyone said it with a healthy dose of sarcasm and a fake, plastic smile plastered across their face. It became the running joke -- it really meant that we would choose to be in denial, and pretend that things were OK even when they weren't. Rather than empowering us, this message left us feeling invisible and alienated.
It would seem that although choosing your attitude sounds like it would keep spirits high, it achieved quite the opposite and taught us that our feelings didn't matter, our feedback was unwelcome, and it was best to simply suck it up. Talk about an attempt at positive thinking gone awry.
Don't get me wrong -- there's certainly merit in seeing the blessings in the chaos, or connecting with a sense of gratitude. Neuroscience is showing us that we have the power to rewire our brains to think differently, and that's a very promising and wonderful thing. However, the "just think positively" approach misses a few steps -- it's a little more complex than that.
When we practice positive thinking in a vacuum, we suppress real emotion and prevent ourselves from feeling our true feelings.
It's particularly unhelpful to use positive thinking as a Band-Aid to avoid looking at your wounds. You only end up suppressing your true feelings while you wear a fake plastic smile, like my old co-workers and me.
When we practice positive thinking in a vacuum, we suppress real emotion and prevent ourselves from feeling our true feelings. We lose the opportunity to give each other empathy and, when appropriate, find solutions that make our lives better. Because let's be honest -- sometimes things need to change.
I believe in taking a closer look. We should be honest about our feelings. Despite believing this, I too fall into the habit of positivity-washing my experience when I'm telling others about something crappy that I'm going through.
Part of me thinks I'd better tell them that I'm looking at it in a positive way so that they don't feel bad on my behalf, or worse yet, feel pressured to make me feel better.
We do it to each other, too. How many times have you been told to look on the bright side instead of someone saying they get it, and they're sorry to hear about your struggle? It's natural to collect social habits over your lifetime that are intended to help us all get along. Upon closer examination, many of them fail us as individuals and as a society.
Monica Lewinsky has a brilliant TED talk about opportunities for empathy and how they bring us closer. By choosing to simply think positively, we're erasing the opportunity to connect with others on a closer level -- one that is ultimately very fulfilling.
In a time when a sense of community is hard to come by and true connection with other people can sometimes feel like a rare thing, I believe that it's important to acknowledge when things are shitty. Now, I'm not advocating just sitting in the junk and not doing anything about it -- oh no.
This is simply a reminder that there's a vast field of possibility between just complaining about our circumstances and choosing to think positively about it. In truth, this field is where the magic happens.
It's more comfortable to deny that we're feeling sad or angry about something and insist that we can see the positive side. What's more challenging -- and way more fulfilling, I would offer -- is being honest with ourselves and trusted friends about our struggles, feeling and acknowledging our emotions, allowing ourselves to be seen when we're standing in a rough place, and developing the capacity to be present with others when they're going through a hard time.
The magic then occurs organically. When we feel our feelings, acknowledge and perhaps share them, they loosen their grip on us -- the fog lifts. We begin to feel more naturally hopeful about our prospects, and we can start to explore relevant solutions.
When we repeat a positive thought to ourselves before we're ready, we're really just lying to ourselves. It's totally inauthentic, and inauthenticity eats away at our self-esteem. We're denying our humanity, shutting ourselves off from our wholeness, severing our ties to the richness of life.
Of course, it makes perfect sense that we we would look for a Band-Aid instead of really examining and working through our wounds. I mean, it hurts, right? Who wants that?
People who want to grow, that's who. Sheltering ourselves from the truth (and therefore never doing the internal work that can help us to integrate our difficult chapters) keeps us stuck right where we are.
It's totally possible to emerge with a positive outlook, but just deciding to do it? Doesn't work. Not really.
Sometimes things suck. Please don't force yourself to think positively about it. Feel what you feel. Give yourself space. Embrace vulnerability with people you trust (or in your journal), and enjoy the natural sun after the storm.
Published at www.brigiddineen.com
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A simple change of focus can do wonders. Rather than consistently focusing on what you don't have, take a few minutes and actually write down ten things about your life that you are grateful for. When the frustration returns, go back to that list and focus on those things.
Feeling directionless and stuck can lead to feelings of frustration and helplessness. Set goals for yourself both short term and long term. Make a daily to-do list and check things off as you go. Also think about where you would like to be in a year, both professionally and personally. If you keep that picture in mind, you will find yourself moving toward that goal.
Physical exercise is a proven mood elevator and getting into shape is a surefire way to keep yourself feeling strong, optimistic and in control of your life. Be aware of the toxins you are putting into your body and make your health a priority so you can do the things that will move your life forward.
One of the best ways to boost your mood as well as your self-esteem is to take the focus off of yourself and focus on someone else. Try to do five nice things for other people every day. Don't expect immediate payback, just remember that what goes around comes around.
Be aware of using negative language and sending negative messages to those around you. Whether they're in your head or spoken out loud, your words are as important as your tone -- at work and in your personal life -- so communicate positively for positive results.
Think about your ideal version of yourself – physically, emotionally, professionally and personally. Once you have that picture in mind, start making the decisions and choices that you think that ideal version of you would be making.
Make a point of creatively expressing yourself every day. It might be in the way that you dress, the way you decorate your home, or painting or writing or even the way you plan your work day. Think outside the box and let your talents flow. You'll feel better about yourself and more optimistic about your situation.
Nothing paralyzes us like fear of failure, but everyone who has ever been successful has experienced failure at some point. Don't let that fear stop you from moving forward. If things don't go your way the first time, look at what went wrong, see what you can learn from it, and then enthusiastically use those lessons going forward.
Absolutely nothing good can come from belittling or berating yourself. Negativity only begets more negativity, so you need to replace those negative voices in your head with encouraging, positive reinforcement. Be as supportive of yourself as you are to your loved ones.
If you want to be anxious and tense, spend your time dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. If you want to be positive and productive, focus on the present and what you are doing today.
It's been shown that the simple act of smiling can actually change your mood. So look for the humor in everyday life, seek out others who make you laugh, and try smiling instead of scowling when interacting with others.
It's hard to feel optimistic when your batteries are always run down. Make sure to set aside some time each day – even if it's just 15 minutes -- to turn off the phone, the laptop and the voices in your head. Just enjoy the stillness and the calm and see how that little kid inside is doing.
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