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Being pregnant is probably the best possible time to write a post like this. There are tons of things to potentially complain about. Fatigue, nausea, that terrible metallic taste in my mouth…but there are also an infinite number of reasons to be grateful too. I’m growing a human, I was able to get pregnant, I am having a healthy, low risk pregnancy so far, we are excited to be starting a family…
This dichotomy fully explains my beliefs about being practical and positive at the same time. There is always a balance of good and bad in life. I want to show you how to use pessimism effectively so you can be practical and truly have a positive outlook in your life. Using pessimism in an effective way has greatly improved my happiness and mental strength. Sounds counterintuitive, doesn’t it?
We all know that when you focus on finding the silver lining, or having a glass half full mentality, you tend to see the bright side more often. It’s a trait you can train your mind to use as its’ default operating system if you practice. When we rock a positive attitude, we ARE happier. We experience less frustration and we create more possibilities for ourselves and our loved ones.
It can be hard to see how you would want to be anything but positive, right?!
But there is a serious lack of authentic positivity in the world. I don’t want to blindly look on the bright side and pretend that tough stuff isn’t happening. That doesn’t help me grow, and it doesn’t help me to be truly happy to the bottom of my soul.
Relentless positivity without acknowledging our struggles is dangerous. It can leave us with buried feelings, and living an inauthentic existence. It’s how years can go by and we find ourselves with mountains of emotional baggage to deal with.
So we need to see the light and acknowledge the dark to be truly mentally healthy.
I like to think of positive and negative outlooks as being on a spectrum. On one end of the spectrum we’ve got Pollyanna Positive, where we are constantly looking on the bright side, and rarely using objectivity and pessimism as tools. On the other end we’ve got Negative Nancy, where we find fault in ourselves, lay blame on others and believe that nothing will ever work out well for us. (I must say, I’m sorry for using the term Negative Nancy. I know lots of fabulous, positive women named Nancy, but it’s all for the sake of alliteration this time).
It won’t be surprising to you that I believe falling somewhere in the middle of the outlook spectrum is the healthiest place to be. Let’s say its best to be living more on the positive side of the middle to be exact.
I do not consider the word pessimism to be a bad thing. I think it can be useful when used effectively. Throwing out all pessimistic thoughts is like throwing the baby out with the bath water. Sure we stay positive, but we don’t learn anything either.
In order to use pessimism effectively, it is vital to know the difference between complaining and venting. I come from a family where we talk about our problems. We hash things out, we say how we feel and use words as a way of working through our struggles.
Complaining is when we talk about our negative experiences from a place of victimhood. We don’t seek to find a solution and we rarely admit that there could be benefits to going through tough stuff. This can be an addictive way of operating, but it rarely solves problems or works to uplift ourselves or those around us.
Venting is when we share our honest experiences and then work to find realistic turn arounds. It’s how we get true personal power from crappy situations, and can be incredibly motivating.
Pretending crappy things don’t happen is a terrible strategy for a life long positive outlook, so I think it is important to acknowledge our struggles and then get right on with finding a workable solution, even if that solution is ‘just’ acceptance.
Some people say that talking about our fears or insecurities gives them legs. I couldn’t disagree more. I believe that thoughts that are left unexamined get more perceived power than those we face head on.
The challenge we all face is to become a master of finding distinctions. We need to be able to distinguish the difference between real struggles and when we are playing the victim card.
Real struggles are those that come up over and over in my life (like finding balance with food, working to accept my introverted nature rather than thinking something was wrong with me, not placing the blame on my husband for any lack of fulfillment I’ve felt in life, getting consistent with my workouts, dealing with stress better).
I tend to play the victim card when I don’t want to put the effort into dealing with frustrating circumstances, or when someone else has made me feel a certain way. Now that I have worked on knowing the difference between a real struggle, and just wanting to blame something else for how I feel, it is much easier for me to take responsibility for my outlook.
Having a truly negative outlook means that you are unwilling to see possibility. You expect the worst from others, and believe that nothing will work out for you. Pure pessimists are great at playing the victim card. They can find one million reasons to feel hard done by.
It’s not easy to spend time with someone who is operating in a negative frame of mind. We end up feeling heavy, disheartened and sad. The best strategy to combat negativity is not to be Pollyanna Positive, it is acknowledge where our struggling friends are at and help them to find practical turn arounds that put them back in their power.
One of my favourite ways of using a negative outlook as a useful tool comes from Tim Ferriss, and is called Practical Pessimism.
Practical pessimism means that we go to the worst case scenario in our head. What if we started a new business and it failed? Would we be ok? The answer is yes in case you were wondering.
What if we told our significant other our real feelings and they freaked out? Would we be better off? Yep.
What if we spend money on a trainer, and tons of effort on eating well and we don’t see the results we want? Would it be a huge waste of time? I doubt it, you’d probably learn a ton through the experience.
So using the worst case scenario isn’t a ‘negative’ thing in the end. It helps us to take more action, and to take more risks that could potentially have very positive outcomes.
This is one of the biggest reasons I like to say that I am a positive person who uses negativity to my advantage. I firmly believe that using our most painful experiences as fuel to grow, understand and change is the best type of motivation. Rather than running from our fears, we acknowledge them.
When injuries left me unable to exercise as intensely as I had in the past, I was able to connect much more deeply with the clients I had who were dealing with similar pain. I could also resonate more with people who had completely different injuries than I did.
When I began to talk about my struggles with finding balance with food and exercise, my resolve to strike a lasting balance improved (ironically). Rather than throwing in the towel and eating whatever, I wanted to become more mindful and less mindless with what I chose to eat. More women opened up to me about their food and exercise struggles because I was honestly sharing my challenges and turn arounds.
When my Dad had a stroke and his personality did a 180, rather than push away the hard and scary feelings, I faced my fears head on and was able to show up for him mentally and physically. Sure I cried a lot, but I also have absolutely zero regrets about how I’ve dealt with the experience.
In the past I had used positivity as a blanket to pull over my deepest insecurities. Now I use it as a tool to help me move on and up, but only once I’ve gone to the hard places and stared my beliefs in the face first.
As with any mindset discussion, it’s important to move from theory into practice. All this chatter about authentic positivity and practical pessimism is great, but HOW do we actually use it in our daily life?
When I say ‘just be positive!’ or ‘look on the bright side!’ I don’t create effective, long term solutions for the normal ups and downs of life. So I’ve come to this embracement of positivity and pessimism from the way I’ve dealt with my own life experiences. Tough stuff happens (family members get sick, we get injured, relationships hit roadblocks, we feel unfulfilled, economic uncertainty happens…) and when we courageously and honestly go through (not around) our struggles, we come out stronger and more aware.
You can’t escape life, so you may as well find an enjoyable way of operating!
Here’s a list of practical tools that I use daily to lead an authentically positive life.
Alright, head on out into that big ol’ world and keep striving to life an authentically positive life. You never know who you’ll inspire when you share your struggles AND your turn arounds.
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