An interesting thing often occurs when people begin to recognize their negative patterns of thinking and seek to shift toward a more positive orientation:
It doesn’t work.
And what I mean by “working” is, they don’t actually feel more at peace or more optimistic, and their lives don’t really start flowing in a more fulfilling way. Things pretty much stay the same, except now they’ve developed either an annoying habit of being inauthentic…or they’ve given up and dropped to a new level of resignation and cynicism.
The reason why trying to be positive, or trying to think in a positive way, often doesn’t work is that it’s being used as a mere technique rather than an opportunity for greater self-awareness and the recognition of deeper truths. There’s also a strong element of self-judgment and resistance in the energy of “trying” – people often become frustrated, impatient or even fearful when they catch themselves thinking a negative thought, and so they quickly try to obliterate it with a positive one.
Let me back up here a moment to enthusiastically acknowledge that learning to shift your orientation, your perspective, your thoughts and your language to a more positive place is a very worthwhile thing to do. As you think, believe and speak, so you act and attract. Your thoughts and beliefs and language have a vibrational reality to them that tunes you to certain frequencies and probabilities. Or more simply put, as you think, so you create.
So when you shift your thinking, you open yourself to insights, inspiration, people and opportunities you simply didn’t have access to before. You literally move to a different platform from which to create and live your life. It’s potent stuff, and that’s why so many people teach it and so many people want to master it.
Yet the desire to master it can generate a sense of enthusiasm bordering on urgency that causes many people to railroad themselves into positive thinking. They become intolerant of any thought that has even the slightest wisp of negativity and immediately paste over it with a positive one.
I actually refer to this as the “pasteover.” And I can assure you that it doesn’t work.
The old pattern of thinking is still present and vibrating, muffled a bit beneath the veneer of positive words but not being addressed. So it still has a powerful influence over what they are attracting into their lives.
Sometimes the desire to learn how to think positively is even distorted by the fear that, if they don’t master it and they keep thinking negative thoughts, bad things will happen. (Or more benignly, good things won’t happen.) I’ve worked with clients who have become fearful of their own negative thoughts, wondering what unpleasant outcomes they’re in the process of manifesting and being intensely frustrated with themselves for still having negative thoughts.
As you might suspect, intolerance, frustration and fear are hardly the ingredients you want in your recipe for inspired living.
What’s taking place in these scenarios is, fundamentally, this: a negative thought occurs, which is immediately judged as “bad.” The self-judgment stimulates an impulsive reaction to “fix” the negative thought with a positive one. So it’s
Negative Thought — Judgment — Impulsive Reaction
To call on the perhaps overused metaphor of the glass of water (which is overused precisely because of its clarity and simplicity), this approach is akin to seeing 4 ounces of water in an 8-ounce glass and thinking the glass is half-empty…then berating yourself for thinking so negatively and declaring loudly to yourself, “No, damn it, the glass is half-full!” – even though, to your eyes, it still looks half-empty.
You’ve accomplished nothing more than contradicting yourself.
A far more elegant, loving and effective approach to shifting your thinking looks more like this: you become aware of a negative thought, you pause to acknowledge it, then you become willing to see things in a more loving or empowering way and to consciously choose a different perspective. So it looks like this:
Negative Thought — Pause to Acknowledge — Willingness to See Differently — Conscious Choice
Continuing with our glass of water metaphor, this approach runs along the lines of seeing 4 ounces of water in an 8-ounce glass, concluding the glass is half-empty and then pausing to notice the orientation of your conclusion. You say to yourself, “Well, it looks half-empty to me but I’m willing to acknowledge that, technically, it’s also half-full.”
In this scenario you’ve honored your current perceptions while also opening to consider other ones.
The pause without judgment is essential. It creates the space within which to actually make the shift you want to make, consciously and lovingly, rather than boomeranging into a reaction that is fueled by self-judgment. And let me repeat here something you’ve no doubt heard me say countless times:
Self-judgment will never, ever, ever get you where you want to go.
If you view “trying to be positive” as an effort to “fix” your negativity, you’re starting from a place of judgment. There is nothing wrong with you that needs to be fixed. There is an amazing opportunity to learn how to love, honor, support and empower yourself by becoming willing to see things differently.
That’s why I no longer encourage people to think positively. I encourage them to think lovingly. Thinking positively often ends up with people trying to convince themselves of something they don’t really believe is true. Thinking lovingly is reminding themselves of the deeper truth of who they are and what is possible for them. Here is a simple example of the difference between the two:
Let’s say you weigh more than you would prefer to weigh. You have a habit, when seeing yourself in the mirror, of thinking or saying something along the lines of, “My God, I look awful.”
This is the quintessential negative thought.
In the “I’ve got to fix my negative thoughts by applying positive thoughts” paradigm, you would feel immediate frustration with yourself for continuing to think negative thoughts and then declare, possibly a bit too loudly, “No, I look just fine.” (Even though you really don’t think you do.)
This is the quintessential pasteover.
In the “I want to learn how to support myself by aligning my thoughts with my intention” paradigm – what I refer to as loving yourself to fulfillment – you might still feel immediate frustration with yourself for continuing to think negative thoughts. You would pause and take a few deep breaths, then acknowledge this is an old habit of thinking. You would remind yourself that self-judgment will never get you where you want to go. And then you would say something along the lines of, “I’m going to learn how to love myself to my ideal weight.”
The key to this is noticing how you feel when you talk to or about yourself. It’s certainly possible, when you catch yourself saying, “I look awful,” to refocus your gaze on something you genuinely appreciate about yourself and say, “I really do look fine” – and mean it. In that instance your “I look fine” isn’t a pasteover, it’s a reminder that you’re willing to see your inherent goodness and beauty.
So this process isn’t about memorizing words and phrases, it’s about becoming exquisitely sensitive to your own feelings. Trying to be positive when you’re not feels yukky. Being kind and loving to yourself feels – well, kind and loving. Guess which approach is more effective in creating more of what you want in your life?
It’s true that your thinking can undermine you or uplift you. But please don’t “try” to be positive. Hold the entire enterprise of shifting from one perspective to the other with lightness, kindness and – whenever possible – humor. It’s life-changing stuff, and so it deserves to be handled with loving care.
As do you.