‘I’ve lost my job’, ‘My partner has left me’, ‘My child is failing at school’.
How can we, as coaches, expect our clients to ‘think positive’ in the face of the realities of daily life?
While scientists have found that we can create positive feelings just by smiling, and on social networks one person’s happiness can spread to countless others at a click of the mouse, it can sometimes seem as if we constantly are exhorted to ‘think positive’ as if this is the answer to all the challenges we face on a daily basis.
Rereading an article by Barbara Ehrenreich in a 2010 issue of Therapy Today I have been interested in the notion that nations aspiring to happiness turn out to be ‘not very happy at all’. Why might this be?
Could it be that we think we ‘ought’ to be happy and that it therefore becomes something to strive for rather than a way to ‘be’?
Another contributing factor could be that, having expended energy on trying to be happy and discovering that there is still some residual sadness, disappointment or discomfort in our lives, we begin to feel that we have somehow failed.
After all, doesn’t the phrase ‘I’m trying’ suggest that I’m not achieving the happiness I set out to achieve? Maybe the effort to think positive can, itself, be a self-defeating strategy.
Furthermore, if you believe that, in order to achieve positive thinking, you have to practise some kind of self-hypnosis, then your positivity will probably be undermined by your feelings about a strategy that seems to require a level of self-deception.
It doesn’t sound good for positive thinking does it?
There is no doubting that our mood affects our thinking and behaviour, and I have experienced – both for myself and with clients – how a positive outlook that embraces possibility can lead to the seizing of opportunities that might otherwise have been overlooked. I have also seen how the apparently inescapable grip of old habits of thought; old patterns of behaviour, can be loosened through an unexpected glimpse of positivity, where none was visible before.
Maybe the answer lies in a paradoxical embracing of life’s difficulties… I know I am me because this, this and this, have brought me to this point. Without the experiences and the ensuing sadness, disappointment or discomfort, I would not know what I now know and I would not be looking to change.
This sounds suspiciously like positive thinking doesn’t it?
So why not give this a try?
- Acknowledge that life is not always easy, comfortable or happy.
- Identify what you have learned from negative experiences in the past.
- Trust that armed with this knowledge you need not make the same mistakes again.
- Now set out with the positive intention of seeing opportunities and letting go of old habits or thought patterns that weren’t serving you well.
This is the kind of positive thinking that make the present different from the past so that you can look forward to a future of new possibilities.