Are you tired of always being told to “think positive”?
If you said “yes,” you have some esteemed company. I recently picked up Barbara Ehrenreich’s latest book, “Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America.” If you think the title is provocative, wait until you start reading!
I almost didn’t make it through the introduction… seeing her write “life coaches” – with the quotes! – well, I was insulted. In the same paragraph, she talked about cults and snake oil salesmen (putting coaches and other promoters of positivity in the same little box), at which point my annoyance turned to amusement. The idea was so laughable, and her tone so snarky, I could not longer take it seriously. When she started tying positive thinking to all of the ills of the world, it became downright ridiculous.
The first chapter details Ehrenreich’s experience with cancer (see, I couldn’t bring myself to write “battle” – I am the evil of which she speaks!). And through her eyes, I can understand that the constant message of staying positive could become suffocating. Not only that, positive thinking could begin to sound like denial.
And therein lies the rub. While I still have to finish the book, the anger I am sensing Ehrenreich feels is against denial, not positive thinking. She’s seeing positive thinking as an imbalance, a denying of the facts or the possibility of disaster, a shoving-into-the-closet of our darkest fears. If I chose to take positive thinking to this extreme, I would concur with her assessment.
If I had been one of the coaches interviewed for Ehrenreich’s book (and I really hope she eventually checks out her assumption that “… it [positive thinking] requires deliberate self-deception, including a constant effort to repress or block out unpleasant possibilities or ‘negative’ thoughts.”), I would have offered this perspective:
1) Our self-talk and emotional lives are like a balance sheet. We have assets and liabilities: love that moves us forward and fear that holds us back. To have balance – to be fully human – we need to experience and honor both.
2) What we resist, persists. Denying our fears means they will keep coming back to visit. Part of the power of coaching is that it provides a safe space for shining the light on the fears so that the truth can come out and (dare I say it), love can win.
3) Rather than being about self-deception, it’s about finding the truth. What she deems “negative” thinking is really fear-based thinking, which is often not the truth. “Positive” thinking is love-based, which is authentic and real. It’s Being “positive” is simply about approaching ourselves and others from a place of love.
Since I started coaching, I’ve felt challenged to come up with alternative words for “positive” and “negative” thinking – to me, those words are loaded and judgmental. Thanks to Ehrenreich, I’ve found clarity and a simple answer: love and fear.
I invite you to join me in reframing the way you look at your thoughts. Are they based in love or fear? If the answer is fear, give it a voice! Let it out! Challenge it! Get curious! Choose to give space for the fear to inform you, not define you. We all have a choice; choose to live from love.