August 7, 2017

What no one tells you about positive thinking - Encouragement Weekly Photo Chalenge #17

I've always been called a pessimist, a wet blanket, someone who's gloomy. Sometimes even likened to Winnie the Pooh's pal Eeyore, or recently, with Inside Out's Sadness. I'm not sure when  or how I learned to think that way. It seemed natural, something that developed with my personality. They say that it could be the product of a combination of nature and nurture, and starts early in life (Mosley, 2013). It probably happened without me being aware. Add my resting bitch face to my pessimism and I could be considered as unpleasant.

Can you relate to this struggle?

A downard spiral of negativity

Then people will tell you, "Hey, stop being so pessimistic, think positive!", "You have a wonderful life, be contented. Be happy! Other people have it worse." or, "Why so gloomy? Stop frowning and start smiling!".

When I hear this, I tell myself to think positive. It works for a while, but eventually negative thoughts will cloud my mind again.

I also try smiling but it just makes me feel ridiculous!

Then I feel bad for failing to be optimistic, leaving me feeling worse than when I started. It's like moving a step forward then two steps back. This happens again, and again, and again, and I'm trapped in a downward spiral of negativity.

Does that ever happen to you?

When negative thinking does not help

When I was still in school, there were times when instead of preparing for a test, I would just watch movies and sleep because I'm too afraid to try. I'd think to myself "what if I study hard but still score low on my test?". The result? Dismal.

There are theories that say being pessimistic could actually be beneficial at times. It prevents us from negligent and reckless behavior that may come with blind optimism and overconfidence. It helps us prepare for possible challenges that may come our way. However, if we allow negative thinking to dominate our thought patterns and influence us in a depressive way, then we might be in trouble. It may lead to avoidance behavior, passivity, exacerbation of low mood and increased vulnerability to depression. (Hecht, 2013)

Benefits of positive thinking

Recently I've been teaching biology to Senior High students, to help them prepare for college entrance tests. I heard about the review center from one of the parents in my younger sister's school. At the time I was idle, without a job, so I was relatively unproductive.

You know what? I took courage to contact the owner of the review center and asked for a job. I could have told myself that they wouldn't want to hire me, or that they probably have enough teachers already and would not need another one, but I did not listen to that voice.  Instead, I thought of the positive things about me, and how I can use them so that I can land the job. Thankfully, I did! I got the job, and it turns out I love teaching!

Negative thinking at that time, could not have helped as it could have rendered me helpless and could have prevented me from trying.

Aside from immediate benefits of thinking positive, studies actually show that positive thinking has long term benefits such as increase in lifespan, lower rates of depression, and better psychological and physical well being. (Mayo Clinic, 2017) Of course there is still room for research in this area, but I believe it when they say that positive thinking is good for you.

If this is the case, then why are there times when thinking positive can have negative results?

Personally, I think the problem is not with positive thinking as it is. The problem is our approach to it.

The right approach to positive thinking

Optimism is beyond making positive declarations in front of the mirror early in the morning. It's beyond telling yourself that everything is going to be okay. Yes these are helpful, but you know what would be more helpful? Acceptance.

How acceptance has helped me

I've lived my life trying to please others. There's always this pressure to be perfect and I've succumbed to that. I pummelled myself with criticism to push me to improve. The standard of course for "improvement" is the approval of others.

However, no matter how people commended my efforts, for me, I was never enough. I kept on beating myself to be a better version, and in the process, I lost who I am. I was a miserable person, striving to live a perfect life.

I remember this one time, I cried, 

"Lord, I'm so tired of living this life, striving to be 'who you want me to be'. You know my heart and how it aches. I don't feel okay, so I'm going to stop whatever I'm doing. I'll be myself, mistakes and all. If You're not okay with that then this one's on You. Change my heart. You know me, and my tendencies, so help me change from the inside. You know what's best. For now, I'll be myself."

Finally, I couldn't handle it anymore so I quit. I stopped striving to be "good enough".
I did not feel instant relief. For months I've struggled, but eventually, I was able to gradually accept myself. Accepting myself enabled me to accept others too.

With accepting myself and others followed a slow release from pessimism. I believe that behind all these things that are happening, God's hand is guiding me no matter how stubborn I am. For that, I'm very grateful.

My problems have not completely been resolved but it's okay. You know why? because I've learned to accept them. Instead of wasting my time worrying, I redirect my efforts to facing my problems, using and maximizing the resources I'm given.

Acceptance and positive thinking

So how can you apply acceptance in your life to help you think positive?

For this I'd like to quote the serenity prayer:

"God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference"

- Reinhold Niebuhr

Although it helps others to imagine paradise when our reality is otherwise, but for some, this just does not work. 

So what can we do? We accept our realities. We start with where we are, and with what we have. We use what we have so that we can move from where we are to somewhere better.

What can you do during those times when you've done everything and there's nothing left to do? Pray. Because when we pray, we are reminded that there is hope.
This is just the third week of a 12-week long Encouragement Weekly Photo Challenge featuring verses from the Bible. You wouldn't want to miss any of that wouldn't you?
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  1. Thanks so much for sharing! I really appreciate your honesty. I grew up with one parent who was pretty negative. In my early adult years, I made a decision that I would be optimistic. It gets tiring at times - it's like it's a conscious, continual choice. But the more I do it, the more it becomes a part of me and the easier it gets. Great post!

    1. Thank you so much Sara :) I will actively try to frame things in a positive way :)

  2. I can definitely relate to the struggle of trying to always be perfect. Where I come from, a lot of people in the family have high expectations of the first child, which is a lot of pressure. I can't get away with things my younger siblings can. Whatever I did wasn't good enough and I lived most of my life with that mentality. I only started to love myself, be better at praying and being more positive. Thanks for this post!!
    Pinned btw :)

    1. I'm a first child too and the pressure is real! It's okay Annabel, we all are learning how to do that. You're welcome, and thank you! :)

  3. Thanks so much for this post! I recently read about the WOOP method, and the author/Dr talks about studies showing that envisioning yourself in these ideal situations can actually give you the 'good feelings' as if you've accomplished it, thereby re-wiring your brain to sort of reject the motivation from that point on to actually achieve it.
    I've always sort of been a non-positive person by nature as well (or maybe nurture/childhood experiences?) but I do try to have a positive outlook even though it's difficult a lot. But I do agree with you-- there has to be a balance. Like the movie you referred to--Inside Out--you have to have the sad times to recognize and appreciate the happy ones! :)

    1. Yes! That's true about what you said about sadness from the movie :) Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. :)


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