The ‘be positive’ movement has been running for a while now. On the surface, it feels like a great thing – why wouldn’t you be positive? It makes sense that being positive is better for you mentally, emotionally and physically. The problem is that a lot of people employ what I call ‘false positivity’. False positivity can actually get people into more of a pickle or at least, keep them stuck where they are instead of helping them move forward during times of difficulty. True optimism is much more complex and powerful than false positivity.
What is false positivity?
False positivity is a sticky plaster we put on things when they’re broken. It is a cover we put on our painful feelings. It’s the glitter we sprinkle on our negative thoughts. Key signs of false positivity are avoidance, dishonesty and naivety. We tend to use false positivity to avoid a painful truth or to pretend that we’re fine when we’re not. We also use it often unconsciously, to mentally and emotionally detach from what might be a very serious situation that needs properly addressing.
When we use false positivity we don’t really believe the positive words we say to ourselves e.g. “it’ll be fine” or “it’ll all work out in the end”. I’m not saying it won’t be fine or, that it won’t work out in the end but, I am suggesting that most people are just paying lip service when they say things like this. They don’t really believe it. In fact, what they deeply believe is probably the opposite. If your life is crumbling and all you’re doing is saying “it’ll be fine” you’re simply creating more discord within yourself. You’re out of alignment. You are not standing in truth. And truth is really important.
What is true optimism?
True optimism is about acceptance, honesty and complexity of thought. It’s about facing where you currently stand. No matter how much of a mess you think you’re in, you first face it without needing to cover it up or immediately fix it. And then, you employ sophisticated thinking to help move you towards where you really want to be. True optimism goes way beyond “it’ll be fine”.
I’ve come up with 3 P’s that can help you cultivate true optimism.
Stand fully in the truth of where you are. Be present with it, accept it and allow it all to be without trying to fix it or fight it. No matter how bad it is, be honest about it. Speak it out, write it out, observe it and feel it. If you read my blog on ‘How to lose emotional weight’ you can learn a process that helps you become totally present with how you feel. Radical honesty is an important foundation for true optimism. It’s about making space for the very real pain and challenge you may be facing and not trying to run away from it or pretend it’s not there – which is often what happens with false positivity.
Now that we’ve opened our arms and welcomed in our current problems, rather than trying to sugar coat them, we’re going to look more closely at them and balance our perspective. We’re going to deconstruct some of the negative thinking myths that we fall into in times of trouble:
- Myth 1: What we’re experiencing is pervasive – it affects all areas of our life.
- Myth 2: What we’re experiencing is permanent – it will never go away.
- Myth 3: What we’re experiencing is personal – life has targeted us with this challenge.
Take a look at your problem and list all the ways you can see that it’s not pervasive, permanent or personal.
For example, if you’ve lost your job, there are likely other things in your life which are still intact – family, health and some hobbies for example. You could go further – the Earth still spins, the sun still shines, air is still abundant, the birds still fly and the rain still falls. Take it as far as you wish! Really show yourself how there are many areas of your life that are still intact and thus this problem is not pervasive. The entirety of your world has not come crashing down.
In this scenario about losing a job, we can also see that millions of people around the world are losing jobs right now, millions have lost them in the past and will lose them in the future. This is not personal, at all. You are not a target. It’s happening to many of us. Remember, true optimism isn’t about belittling you or your problems, it’s just about being honest about what’s really going on. And what’s going on is not personal.
Keeping with this example, we can dispel the last myth of permanency. Job loss is many difficult things but, it’s unlikely to be permanent. Even people in the most destitute situations have managed to get a job again. Some have had to try for a really long time but they did get there. Maybe you’ve been there before yourself too. This problem does not last forever. Nothing lasts forever in this life.
Using this perspective-shifting exercise I hope you can see that true optimism is not about flipping your negative situation on its head with throwaway positive comments, it’s about deeply understanding and embracing the multiple perspectives that surround a problem. It’s about seeing the true reality, not the small, limited version of reality that your mind has created. Doing this little bit of mental gymnastics helps to open your field of vision and it takes you out of the narrow tunnel vision which negative experiences can often throw us into.
Now that you’ve got your juices flowing with some optimistic truths about this problem you’re having, it’s time to look at the possibilities.
Some would say that we live in a universe of infinite possibility. I know for sure that in my own life, possibilities have occurred that I didn’t even know were possible! So, let’s expand our awareness further into the realms of true optimism: list all the possible outcomes and paths of progress that could arise in your current situation.
Sticking with the job example, you could get a job through a friend, you could start your own business, you could get a virtual job in another country, you could get an unexpected opportunity through social media, you could get a physical job in another country, you could move into a totally new industry, you could start contracting, you could take on one or more part-time jobs to tide you over, you could freelance, you could go into a partnership with someone, you might carve out a new role in a firm, maybe you can afford to not work for a little longer and it could be time to learn a new skill or, it could be a much-needed rest and time to reflect. What else? Don’t just think about you, think about what has happened to other people. Remember, problems aren’t personal and thus solutions aren’t either. If it can happen to someone else, it can happen to you.
Getting into the details of these perspectives and possibilities is not only going to expand your awareness and give you hope and courage, it also helps you generate ideas and actions you can take to progress. Such hope, ideas and actions rarely arise from false positivity where all you can muster up is “it’ll be fine”! I hope you’ll try out my 3Ps for true optimism, do let me know how it goes.
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