So you’ve heard it a million times by now, “Be positive…” or… “You’re too negative...” and... "Always be positive... your life has no room for negativity..." Should that always be true?
Recently the phenomenon of “Positive Thinking” has hit the market in a ferocious whirlwind. People attempt to quote studies and stories they’ve heard 4th and 5th hand like how:
"Once off the coast of the African Atlantical Ocean a mad scientist performed a study about negativity and rice. The study consisted of two batches of rice. One batch was yelled and cursed at while the other had people whispering sweet nothings its way. The mad scientist found that the rice that was yelled at turned black and the rice spoken nicely to stayed a light color, obviously proving that light rice equals happy rice and black rice equals sad rice" - all correlating towards the magical argument that if you're negative in life your insides will turn black and your soul will die. Obviously.
Well, when things come by way of 4th and 5th hand-knowledge, stories tend to get twisted. You wind up with only a modicum of truth. Much like when people try to quote the rice experiment. And, even at Di-Cypher we admit that the Dr. Masaru Emoto experiment, when told correctly, is kind of cool; but, for every cool story about positivity you get the uncool hippie in the background telling you that all you need to do is “be positive man” in that long drawn out voice we’ve all learned to mimic when it comes to hippie speak. Like the words alone are going to do something for you. We say forget the hippie speak and lets break things down logically. Let’s try to take a Di-Cypher like approach to it all.
At Di-Cypher we take a no nonsense approach to personal coaching. We hate when people talk down to others as if they have all of the answers to life. You know who we are talking about, the same people that believe if a person doesn’t walk on hot coals chanting “this won't hurt me… this won't hurt me…” then they are just not committed to self improvement. Forget that noise. We understand that walking on hot coals is and sounds dumb. We would never ask anyone to do that. Therefore we approach issues much like everyday Americans would approach them.
A realistic view on positive thinking.
As far back as you can remember people have been touting and promoting the power of positive thinking. Most famously in the 1913 novel Pollyanna the author Eleanor H. Porter highlighted the tendency for people to remember pleasant items more accurately than unpleasant ones- the Pollyanna principle- thus giving resurgence to positive thinking. But can it be taken too far? Can forcing yourself to be positive be a bad thing? The answer is yes. Look, we’re not here to lie to you. Almost every thing taken too far can be bad for anyone. Positive thinking is not immune. Hell, there's even some people out in the world believing that positive thinking can cure cancer. Don’t believe us? Google it. You’ll end up finding something called the “nocebo effect”. And just to clarify, we are not saying that positive thinking can’t help cure cancer; but rather, that relaying solely on positive thinking to seal up a potentially life threating disease is a little unreasonable.
So what is it about life that “positive thinking” helps to curb? Many experts point to stress. Stress in many ways is seen as bad. Stress has been scientifically linked to many negative effects on the body. We all know that it's not fun being stressed out all of the time. Additionally, it bears to say that being positive in stressful situations can help you overall. When you’re being positive the mind is open to other possibilities- avenues that show you a way out of a stressful situation can arise. But, sometimes life throws you a huge curb ball. So much so, that if you force yourself to be positive you feel as if you're just faking your way through the situation. How do you learn from tough moments in life if you're constantly faking it?
A batter comes up to bat. The pitcher throws a curb ball and the batter misses it completely. The batter says to himself, "Yep, that sucka got lucky... I'm the best dammit. I can't be beat... Just a lucky pitch... I'm the best!" The pitcher reaches back and throws again- STRIKE! In his mind the batter says, "Hahahaaaa, oh yeah; that sucka is lucky today... Not again though.... I'm the best.... I can't be beat..." I think you know how this story ends. See, positivity can force situations to become cloudy and can stunt learning. Sometimes negativity is a good thing. Yes, I'm saying it- it is ok to be negative from time to time. Being negative can force you to learn and grow. But just like being positive all of the time can mess you up; being negative all of the time can ruin your life. Life is always about balance.
Look, I’ve been homeless and completely broke. I’ve had a gun pointed to my face and felt the gravity of stress that comes with that situation. I've been in horrible situations. Situations where positive thinking would have gotten me shot or situations where forced positivity made me feel fake. When I was homeless trying to be positive felt fake. It was artificial. I could have said, "Yep, its cold out here but at least I have this cardboard box to keep me warm..." Instead, I was negative and that negativity forced me to go find real shelter. It force me to eventually join the army. Life is not about being positive but rather it's about balance.
Since we brought up stress lets wrap that up
Look at Stanford psychologist Kelly McGonigal and George Mason professor Todd Kashdan who argue that, in some instances, stress can be a good thing. Emphasizing that if you take stress, absorb it, and use it for good then it can be a great tool. You have to stop looking at stress as something that is going to kill you. Rather, channel your stress as a tool making you mentally stronger overall and helping you overcome the obstacle stressing you out. Let negativity help you overcome. Try to see stress as good thing rather than a bad thing; but if you can't see it as a good thing then at least use the stress to force yourself out of the obstacle.
All in all, yes try to be positive. Positive the shit out of this life if you can. Wake up every morning and tell yourself that the day is going to be great. But realize that being positive is not the end all be all to a happy life. Sometimes life can be hard. It can be so bad that being positive feels fake and can even make you feel worse. And that is ok. See, now we know that when the situation gets really bad and that hippie in the background turns to you and says “be positive man…” you don’t have to fake your way out of it. Instead be yourself and if that self is negative then recognize it and turn that negativity into the motivation you need to break free from the situation. Embrace stress and use the energy to work things out. As soon as you begin to realize and recognize what you’re feeling, you increase activation in parts of the brain that give you more control and flexibility over your behavior and responses. So, next time you get down and can’t positive the hell out of the situation embrace the negativity and let it motivate you past the shitiness of the day.