Positive thinking?

Is always being positive actually a good thing? Motivational speakers will often talk about picking your attitude or making sure you always have a positive outlook to life? On the surface is sounds like some fairly harmless possibly slightly hippie-ish ramblings. In corporate world talk of positive outlooks is a popular mantra, often linked to improving the companies performance or lifting sales. Again is this really that bad?

It is possible to be too negative. People who have suffered many knock backs or disappointments in life can easily became stuck in a mindset where nothing good can happen. Often this is used as a resistance to change, as you know whats the point nothing is going to make things better.


But frankly, always being positive is not the best thing. Its false. If something bad happens in your life such as you lose your job, a relationship ends or a loved one dies – is being positive that helpful? Or are you just repressing the emotions that you actually feel, and whats more should feel. Those of feelings of sadness, anger, regret, disappointment, frustration and grief. Telling people to just put those aside and be positive is frankly just nonsence.

When I lost my mother to cancer a few years ago, people at the time would try to comfort me and say things like “you will grow stronger from this.” A work colleague at the time came up to me shortly after mum died and said “those who say you are stronger for this are talking crap, its a shit thing that happened and there is nothing good about it.” This was the single best thing anyone said to me during that time, it validated how I actually felt. Sadly the colleague who said this to me, died suddenly of a heart attack two years later.

The above is an extreme example. We also face disappointment in day to day working life. You have been working on a project that didn’t come through or a funding request was denied. No, the answer isn’t just to give up. But being all new aged and zen and loving the enriching experience of a knock back  is not helpful. And telling a colleague to be certainly is not.

My experience has been that it is important to have goals or a desired outcomes to work towards. In doing so you hope to make progress as quickly or pain free as possible. As my previous post related to setting up a UK bank account explains, this isn’t always the case. Were those phone calls to the Department of Work and Pensions positive or life enriching? Like hell they were. They were very frustrating. It wasn’t a positive attitude that eventually got me through to set up a bank account, it was determination and persistence. Was it fun? No. Did I learn anything? That bureaucracy is a pain in the arse (something I was already well aware of).  But I didn’t give up, and that eventually got me through.

There are times when you can pick your attitude, and where stubbornly wallowing in the negative can be utterly destructive. But so too is stubbornly fixating on everything being positive. Its false, and actually very draining to force yourself to feel a certain way when it doesn’t come naturally. And sometimes “shit things” happen, and you should just allow yourself to accept how you feel rather than force something thats not real.

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