A Survival Guide For Uncertain Times Week #3: Give up Positive Thinking

American optimism and positive economic sentiment in the United States of America as a national government hope metaphor as a wiper clearing the gray dark wet clouds with 3D illustration elements.

It is the end of week three of Donald Trump’s presidential term, and this week my Survival Guide will address the pitfalls of positive thinking. I have spoken to many people who didn’t vote for Donald Trump and are now struggling with his daily tweets, executive orders and Cabinet appointments. I find that many of the people I spoke to are either completely negative about Trump’s Presidency or are trying to stay positive and failing miserably.

When you are completely comfortable with uncertainty, a positive outlook comes naturally. You are not rattled by new events or tweets and can sustain faith that life will work out one way or another. It doesn’t mean you are not concerned or active in your community, you just tend not to worry so much about the future. Most people, though, have some degree of fear of the unknown, and turn either to negative or to positive thinking to help themselves feel certain, while deep down they are really afraid. The problem is that the certainty we seek doesn’t exist. The more we try to lock into any perspective, the more pain and chaos we feel.

A person feeling negativity towards the Trump administration will feel pain most of the time because they are always projecting that whatever is occurring today cannot get better or that bad things are sure to happen in the future. The person Continue reading…

Why Is It So Tough To Be A Positive Thinker?

Smiling emoticon

I remember how I felt after reading Norman Vincent Peale’s, The Power of Positive Thinking.  I was so inspired that I made a commitment to become a positive thinker.  For days, I held onto my positive thinking so tightly; when a negative thought appeared I forced it away with positive thoughts.  I later learned that there was a problem with my new life philosophy.  I realized that we can’t push down a negative thought completely, because it stays inside of us and festers and grows. In fact, after a few days of only permitting positive thoughts, I had a horrible nightmare in which many people that I loved died.  I woke up petrified and when I fell asleep again I had the same dream.  I had never had the same dream twice in one night or a dream with so much negativity and loss.  To this day I believe these nightmares surfaced because I was not permitting my mind to be negative. I was suppressing my feelings and then the pressure became so great that my mind released a tremendous amount of negativity when I fell asleep and could not consciously control my thinking.

At first I was devastated that my positive thinking journey had failed. I still loved Peale’s book, but I realized that anyone with a great fear of uncertainty would have trouble staying positive. For example, you start a business with shining dreams and aspirations.  You feel so positive until sales are low, employees quit, or the economy staggers, and then you begin to worry.  You worry that things won’t get better. You worry that your dream is gone.  You want to stay positive but the present is terrifying and based on that, your future seems bleak.  Although some people can stay positive in such situations, those of us who fear uncertainty find it very hard to find hope in the unknown. When we don’t know how things will work out or whether they will get better, we feel distraught and hopeless.

When I found the philosophy of Maybe everything changed for me.  I realized that every situation has multiple outcomes and within those outcomes is the hope that whatever is happening, Maybe it can still lead to something good, Maybe my circumstances will improve or Maybe I will find a way to accept the situation and still be okay.  For me, it was the perfect combination; I could stay positive but with Maybe I could accept and dilute my negative thoughts.  Once I realized that life could unfold in infinite ways, I was no longer stuck in my negative projection of the future.  I began to live with the continuous realization that Maybe something else could happen other than the thing I feared most.

Since embracing Maybe I am now a much more effective positive thinker.  Negative thoughts hold no sway over me because I know they are just a limited view of all that can be.

Try incorporating some Maybe into your life!  Let me know if it helps you hold a more positive and hopeful outlook on life.

Helping Our Children Feel Less Stressed and Worried About Their Future

Palm with a tree growing from pile of coins

When the Boston Marathon tragedy occurred a few months ago, my friend’s daughter came home crying. She was frightened for her own safety and the safety of the people she loves. She worried that the world would never be at peace. Her mother told me that she knew her daughter needed to feel sadness for what happened, but was concerned that this was yet another event that would increase her daughter’s negative perspective on life. Another friend’s daughter was very upset about what happened in Boston, but she still felt safe and remained hopeful that people are good and we can all
 find a way to live more peacefully. Both children were clearly affected, but one child despaired and the other still felt hopeful. 
Of course there are many different reasons these two children reacted differently, including their past experiences, family life and even genetic makeup. However, regardless of all of those factors, the future of each child’s emotional and mental well-being will be dictated by their perspective toward life.

As parents, what can we do to help our children maintain an open and hopeful view about all they will face every day? Over the years, I developed the following exercise for my children after reading about an experiment in the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, by Sogyal Rinpoche. I like to use it when they are stuck and not achieving a particular goal, but its implications are much more far reaching.

Ask your child to pick up a coin. Ask them to imagine that the coin represents whatever is bothering him or her. Sometimes they are upset about a bad grade, a tragic event or problems with friends. The last time I did it with my daughter she was upset about not doing well on a test. She is very concerned with her grades and sometimes fears when something goes wrong that she won’t get into a good college or achieve her life goals. I asked her to hold a coin tightly clutched in her fist and extend her arm, with the palm of her hand facing the ground. I told her the coin she was holding represented her life’s goals and all that is possible.  The way she was holding it, so tightly in this example, shows her belief that she could only achieve her life goals and get into a good college if she did well on this test.  I then had her let go and relax her grip and the coin fell to the ground.  I explained that it is simply too hard and painful to hold on to anything so tightly with the belief that there is only one way.

Then I said Maybe there is another possibility here: Maybe you can let go of the coin and still keep hold of it. With her arm still outstretched, I asked her to turn her hand over so that her palm faced the sky. I then asked her to relax her hand and see if the coin still rested in her open palm. She let go and the coin was still there resting in her hand. I reminded her that holding the coin this way, relaxed in her palm, represents all the possibilities in her future, including achieving her goals in life no matter how she does on this or any future test. It allowed her to keep her dream of being successful regardless of this particular test or any other event in her life; she needn’t grasp it so tightly.

This experiment shows children that life doesn’t have to unfold one way, but instead there is open space in which life may unfold in many different ways and result in joy and success.  

It seems simple but this Maybe exercise teaches our children to hold the very thing they want but also leave space and room for other possibilities.  If our children can learn the skill of looking at life other ways, opening up and
 letting go will be less scary and more inviting. It allows our children to maintain their dreams and goals while experiencing the twists and turns of the journey of life.

As for my friend’s daughter that was scared and worried about her future after the Boston Marathon tragedy, this exercise helped her see that there were many possibilities for the future including being safe and helping to achieve a more peaceful society.  It gave her back some hope and sometimes that is all it takes to change a perspective and MAYBE change the world.

Helping Our Children Stay Positive!

When my daughter was eleven she tried out for the school play, The Wizard of Oz. She was quite nervous about trying out and wanted to be cast in the play more than anything. She told me that she was going to stay really positive because when you think positive good things happen. She began to say things like “when I make the play” and practiced acting and singing everyday. The day the cast list went up her name was not there. She said she couldn’t believe it and kept looking at the list again and again for her name.  She then thought it must be a mistake and began to look for the teacher but ran out of time. She came home crying hysterically and yelling “positive thinking does not work!!! I’m never trying out for a play again!!”

My heart wanted to break to think of my child looking at the list again and again in the hope that her name would appear. I held her as she cried uncontrollably, and I realized that the philosophy of Maybe is what the situation needed. My daughter had fallen into a common pitfall of positive thinking. To harness the power of positive thinking, we need to be optimistic no matter what happens. For many people, this is too hard to sustain when life takes unexpected turns. When we face obstacles in life that obscure the road ahead it is easy to doubt that things can still work out fine. It’s especially hard for children to access this positive perspective in the midst of emotional pain.  They get stuck on the idea that “if today doesn’t work out, it will never change in the future.”

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