Why Trying to “Think Positive” is Bullshit

trying to think positive is bullshit

I know, I know. You’re thinking who stole Jen and replaced her with a pod person!? Her whole blog is about how to live a happier life!

I promise there are no pod people here. Pinky swear! Stick with me and it shall all become clear. Rubs crystal ball.

This is where I take a moment and do the “I am not a doctor and this is just my advice” dance. The below is just my opinions based on a lot of research and experience and is by no means meant as medical expertise. If you think you may be suffering from mental illness please seek out a doctor or therapist. It does wonders!

 

*Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links. When you make a purchase through the links, we may receive a small commission, at no extra cost to you. However, all my opinions are my own.

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Why doesn’t positive thinking work?

The myth of positive psychology is that we can rid ourselves of our negative thoughts and brain plasticity just doesn’t work that way.

We can grow new neural pathways, but we can’t get rid of old ones.

For example, if you are a native english speaker and learn how to speak french you don’t lose the ability to speak english. It’s still there.

The same goes for negative thoughts. Human beings are skewed towards seeing the negative. We keep a watchful eye for anything that may have any remote possibility of threatening us.

While we’ve evolved past our cavewomen sistahs in many ways our brains are still designed to see negatives first and foremost. That’s what kept us safe back when our biggest concern was watching out for things that wanted to make us a snack.

Having negative thoughts is NORMAL.

It doesn’t matter how many mantras you repeat or positive affirmations you say. You can’t get rid of negative thoughts.

Actually, trying too hard to think positively and suppress your negative thoughts can INCREASE your negative thoughts.

Well, crud muffins, how is that fair?

Positive thinking also limits how much control we think we have over a situation.

If we are only focusing on the positive and ignoring the negative then we’re not going to be thinking of solutions that can help us in situations that are less than ideal.

So if positive thinking can make things worse am I just stuck with these low self-esteem thoughts? I’m sick of being an Eyore! 

 

Related:  How to Create a Personal Development Plan: The Ultimate Guide (+ Bonus Workbook)

too good to be true disney GIF

 

Here’s what to try instead of positive thinking.

Try using tools from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). ACT is a mix of mindfulness and acceptance of what is reality.

With ACT you accept that negative thoughts are there and instead of trying to get rid of them you defuse them!

Ways to defuse negative thoughts:

  • Repeat the negative though but say I’m telling myself the story that….”.

    Example: I’m telling myself the story that people think I’m dorky”. It can help you realize that’s all it is. A story.
  • Say the negative thought outloud in a squeaky or comical voice. 
  • Name your thought. “Oh, there’s Critical Karen again”.
  • Close your eyes and imagine leaves floating down the river. Place each of your worries on a leaf and watch them keep floating on down the river. Here’s a great guided meditation to take you through this!
  • Reset by doing a guided meditation or even setting an alarm on your phont for two minutes and just concentrating on each inhale and exhale as you breathe. 

    Taking yourself out of the negative thought loop for a few minutes can help give you a better perspective on what the reality is and not just what your anxious mind is feeding to you.
  • Reframe your thoughts! Try out my Stop Self-doubt Now worksheet that can take you through this process.
  • THINK! This is my favorite one!

    True- is this thought fact or opinion? 
    Helpful- is this thought helpful to me?
    Inspiring or Important- Does this thought inspire me or is it important right now?
    Necessary- Is this thought something I really need to believe or act on?
    Kind- Is this thought kind? Would I say this to a friend?

 

Self-confidence and ACT

“Okay, Jen, I’m telling myself the story that I’m not confident enough to write my first book. But that’s true! I’ve never written a book before. It’s not going to be good enough and no one’s going to read it!”

First of all, great job on diffusing that negative thought! Second, I’ve gotten a boatload of questions like this one so you aren’t alone!

Of course you aren’t confident. You’re trying something you’ve never done before. You don’t have any past successes under your belt yet.

It would be weird if you were confident!

As Russ Harris says in The Confidence Gap:

The actions of confidence come first; the feelings of confidence come later. Genuine confidence is not the absence of fear; it is a transformed relationship with fear. Negative thoughts are normal. Don’t fight theml defuse them. Self-acceptance trums self-esteem.

Most of us don’t think twice about driving a car now, but we sure as heck weren’t confident about it until we had experience behind the wheel. Making left turns onto a busy road STILL makes me sweat profusely!

You don’t need confidence in order to start taking action. The confidence will come later after you’ve learned and gotten some wins.

Related:  The Top 10 Self-development Podcasts to Listen to in 2020

Accept that you have low self-confidence in a certain area and that’s okay!

When I started writing years ago I had no idea what I was doing and I had already put it off for years because I had no self-confidence in my writing ability. I didn’t think people would want to read what I had to say.

But I started writing…eventually. I learned by doing and by taking courses. The self-confidence came with time, but I never would have gotten any if I had just waited on the sidelines for it to come.

Ask yourself, “what would I do if I already had all the confidence I needed?” and then go do it!

 

Don’t stop those mantras or positive affirmations!

You don’t need to drop mantras or positive affirmations like moldy leftovers. 

If you feel like mantras and affirmations help you then keep with it! I am! There’s nothing like a good hype sesh before you do something that’s out of your comfort zone.

I’m just aware that mantras and positive affirmations won’t get rid of my negative thoughts. Believing that they will is setting yourself up for failure and that’s where the harmfulness of them comes in.

Also, be aware when your mind and you are arguing with each other.

If I’m saying the affirmation “I feel self-confident” and I find my brain arguing back with “yeah…..no. You really don’t”. I’m going to cut out that affirmation and start doing some ACT work around my negative thoughts and beliefs about my self-confidence.

Fighting with yourself can create a bigger disparity between how you feel and how you want to feel. No bueno!

Action Plan:

I challenge you to stop trying to rid yourself of your negative thoughts and start THINKing your way through them. Let me know below how it works for you!

Thank you so much for reading. You’re amazing and I hope this guide on how to handle negative thoughts helps you feel amazing too!

Share this post with your mom, bestie, Uber driver, or anyone else you think might benefit! 

Do you have a way you manage your negative thoughts that works for you? Sound out below!

Want to read more? Check out these similar posts!

Shine on,

Leave a Reply

22 Comments

  1. Annie wrote:

    I totally agree that being positive all the time is NOT the goal and is actually creepy as hell! Positive thinking is important and healthy but it’s actually more important to learn how to recognize and honor and process negative emotions too.

    Posted 6.18.20 Reply
    • awaitressnomore wrote:

      Yes! Thanks so much for sharing. Those negative emotions are bound to come up and if we don’t know how to handle them they just get worse!

      Posted 6.18.20 Reply
  2. Faiza Ikram wrote:

    Love this post! Thank you for this. I love doing meditation to defuse negative thoughts or at least disempowering them.

    Posted 6.19.20 Reply
    • awaitressnomore wrote:

      Hi Faiza,

      That’s one of my fave ways too!

      Posted 6.19.20 Reply
  3. I definitely have to say that I have never read a post like this. While It’s definitely not healthy to believe that it’s realistic to be positive all the time, I also think that positive thinking can do a world of good. I do positive affirmations with meditation, among a few other things, and I feel like it helps a lot. Great post xx

    Melina | http://www.melinaelisa.com

    Posted 6.19.20 Reply
    • awaitressnomore wrote:

      Thanks so much, Melina! I agree. Positive thinking can be healthy as long as the right approach is taken.

      Posted 6.19.20 Reply
  4. Lexi wrote:

    Wow this is such a great and inspiring post! More people need to understand we can’t have a positive mind about every single thing and that we do need to acknowledge the negative thoughts. I loved reading this!

    Posted 6.19.20 Reply
    • awaitressnomore wrote:

      Aw, you are too sweet. Thanks so much, Lexi! I’m glad you enjoyed it.

      Posted 6.19.20 Reply
  5. Wow this is one of the most beneficial posts I have ever seen. Keep it up, I think more people should see this!

    Posted 6.20.20 Reply
    • awaitressnomore wrote:

      Thanks so much! I’m glad you enjoyed it!

      Posted 6.20.20 Reply
  6. Wonderful post! I agree with this 100%. I really need to try meditation!

    Posted 6.22.20 Reply
    • awaitressnomore wrote:

      Thanks so much. Oh gosh, you should. I held off so long, but we’re often stubborn about doing the things we need most.

      Posted 6.22.20 Reply
  7. arrahdima wrote:

    Great post! I’ve never thought of it this way. I always try to think positively especially during this time instead of accepting my negative thoughts and working my way through them.

    Posted 6.22.20 Reply
    • awaitressnomore wrote:

      I’m glad I got to share a different perspective for you. I hope it was helpful!

      Posted 6.22.20 Reply
  8. Great insights! Thanks for taking the time to share these tips 🙂

    Posted 6.22.20 Reply
    • awaitressnomore wrote:

      Thanks so much!

      Posted 6.22.20 Reply
  9. jlarson95 wrote:

    I really like your perspective on this! It feels nice to read that negative thoughts are normal. It’s kind of freeing to think about accepting them but naming them or trying ACT. Great post!

    Posted 6.23.20 Reply
    • awaitressnomore wrote:

      Thank you! I’m glad it helped free you about around feeling negative thoughts. I hope you’re having a wonderful day!

      Posted 6.23.20 Reply
  10. Allison wrote:

    Great outlook and new perspective on tackling negative thoughts! Thank you for sharing!

    Posted 6.24.20 Reply
    • awaitressnomore wrote:

      Thanks, Allison! :3

      Posted 6.24.20 Reply
  11. This was a great post! I’ve been listening to The Happiness Lab podcast and they had an episode that touched on this topic too. It is hard to eliminate negative thoughts, but I find affirmations to be helpful to overpower them.

    Posted 7.14.20 Reply
    • awaitressnomore wrote:

      I love it and The Happiness Lab is one of my faves!

      Posted 7.15.20 Reply