Isn't positive thinking supposed to be a wonderful thing? It's a positive thing, right? So why does the term make me bristle? Somehow positive thinking evokes for me some hyper-cheerful type with a teeth-baring smile, strained cheeks, a painful handshake, and a strong propensity for sweet denial. Makes me want my old cynical self back.
But I won't have her. I traded in my not only cynical but also depressive, dark, miserable, underachieving self almost a decade ago when years of often halfhearted searching (amazingly) brought me to a new way to look at my thoughts ... which led me to a new way of thinking ... which led me to see the world and people and myself in much friendlier terms. For the record, though this article isn't about that, the powerful form of self-inquiry I discovered and, more important, applied and keep applying, was The Work of Byron Katie. You can learn all about it by visiting www.thework.com or by reading Loving What Is.
Here's one of the most pivotal things I ever heard Byron Katie explain: anytime that you believe anyone or anything outside of you can keep you from your well-being, you're a victim. Gulp. I recognized myself instantly as a habitual victim constantly pointing outward (to insane politicians, greedy corporate types, bigoted neighbors, loved ones who didn't understand me, family whose needs drained me, the economy, not enough time) that made it impossible for me to be peaceful, content, and creative. In bumper sticker terms, I was more into "If you're not outraged, you're not paying attention" than "Live the life you love" or "I'd rather be here now." With a new awareness of victim mentality, I made it my business to catch myself in any victim talk or thought and to speak or think again.
Here's how it works. Notice anywhere you say you can't, you have to, you don't have much choice, it's impossible to, you would, except they or that won't let you ...
The antidote to victim mentality is a consciousness of choice. It's so simple: find where you have choice in any situation. Don't declare you have to keep a job you hate because you need the insurance. You want insurance, and right now this job is your best option for securing that; you choose this job. Do the job well and with gratitude. You may then feel more empowered to create a new career direction.
Make good choices and get 100 percent behind your choices: you'll find it hard to be a victim.
How do you get 100 percent behind a choice? Don't keep second-guessing it. Don't complain about what you have to do to live it. (I hate getting up this early. I can't stand the 9 to 5 thing.) Don't ignore (fail to do, put off, constantly renegotiate) any attendant task. Let go of what you didn't do instead; don't indulge in fantasy comparison that forever posits the other as better. So quit pining over Seattle if you followed a spouse to Ithaca. You moved here for you, not for your spouse. You liked that option better than divorce, and the spousal career move was for the good of all concerned. Get behind it every day, in all you say and in each next choice you make.
If you just can't get behind a choice, here are two good options: 1) get supports in place that will allow you to do so; 2) choose again.
Is life for you or against you? While positive thinking may deny the undeniably hard aspects of this life, Byron Katie has people look at hard events or circumstances and ask a simple question: If it's a friendly Universe, how is this perfect? Count the ways any difficulty is here to evolve and heal you, or to build some muscle that's weak — but never to thwart or harm you. When I couldn't afford a car, I fulfilled my intention to walk more; the bus and, later, wonderful Ithaca Carshare put into practice that theoretical low-carbon footprint. Poor single mom with no car, or healthy woman walking her talk? How we interpret our lives is a choice.
As a life coach, I don't glibly prescribe positive thinking; I do steer clients — people sometimes navigating harsh realities — away from victim mentality. I empower them and connect them to their own highest values by guiding them to find in adversity all the resulting blessings, connections to community, increased compassion, muscles built, and more. What if you move through your current life challenge assuming that ample gifts will reveal themselves? Then you can watch for how life supports you along the way, even when the going is grim.
If positive thinking means telling yourself it's all good when it all looks grim, that may not take you too far. But trade in victim mentality for a consciousness of choice; make room for what feels hard and experiment with the concept of a friendly Universe ever evolving you — ah, then life really is good. And sure, your thoughts — your entire worldview — will be much more positive.
Jayalalita, aka Jaya the Trust Coach, is an inquiry-based life coach working out of Ithaca. Learn more about her work and how you might benefit from coaching at www.jayathetrustcoach.com. Find daily inspiration at www.facebook.com/jayathetrustcoach. Jaya offers a free 30-minute exploration session in person or by phone or Skype. Contact: 607.339.9714.