06/06/2013 01:39 pm ET Updated Aug 06, 2013

Trying to Be 'Positive' Doesn't Work

I recently was having a conversation with a very close friend. She had just broken up with her boyfriend after a long relationship; she was feeling lonely; she was having difficulties getting work; and she was feeling sad, frustrated and disappointed. At the same time, she was trying very hard to be positive during our talk.

"I know that everything will work out in the long run. I know that everything is just a learning experience. I know I should be giving positive meanings to everything that's happening to me."

She went on and on trying to be positive, when I could tell she was really feeling miserable. She kept talking about what she "knew" she should feel (positive), instead of what she actually did feel (negative).

Most of Us Try to Be Positive

Haven't you done the same thing? Haven't you done your best to put a positive spin on what was happening to you, when deep inside you felt very unhappy?

Most of us do that because of the conventional wisdom that it's better to be positive than negative, optimistic instead of pessimistic. We are constantly admonished that we shouldn't be victims; we should look at the bright side of things. And of course, it is important to banish negative thoughts from consciousness so they don't manifest.

Pretending Can Get You Into Trouble

Unfortunately, pretending that you don't feel what you actually feel doesn't make the feelings go away. Yes, you can suppress them so that you aren't fully in touch with them for a short time. But feelings that you are not in touch with still affect your health and your behavior. Suppressed fear will still inhibit your behavior and suppressed anger has been linked to heart disease. In fact, suppression doesn't even work in the long run, suppressed feelings usually pop back into consciousness when you least expect them. So working directly on feelings to try to get rid of them doesn't work.

Fortunately, there is an indirect way to get negative feelings to literally disappear. Almost all our feelings -- positive and negative -- are the result of how events occur to us (in other words, the meaning we give events) moment to moment. By dissolving the meaning we give events, we are able to simultaneously dissolve any negative feelings caused by the meaning.

Events Have No Inherent Meaning

Before I remind you how to do that, it is important to really get that events have no inherent meaning. By which I mean, you can never draw any conclusion, for sure, from an event. In other words, you can't know anything for sure about anything merely as the result of an event or a series of events. All you can know for sure is that the event happened.

And if events have no inherent meaning, they can't make you feel anything. Your feelings come primarily from the meaning you ascribe to events.

For example, losing your job has no inherent meaning. It could mean you will now change your career to do what you've always wanted to do, and that meaning probably would make you feel good. It could mean that you will be out of work for a long time and use up all your savings, and that meaning would make you feel bad. What does the fact of losing your job mean? Nothing. What would the event make you feel? Nothing.

Here's another example: You call a friend a few times and leave messages, but the friend doesn't return the call after two or three days. The failure to return the calls would occur to most people as the friend does not care about me, he is rejecting me, and perhaps there is something wrong with me, which is why the friend doesn't care about me. In fact, the friend not calling back could mean he has been out of town and not getting his messages, it could mean he has been really busy, it could mean almost anything. What does it really mean? Can you get that the friend not calling back has no real meaning?

It should now be clear that pretending you feel good when you really don't doesn't work, that suppressing negative feelings doesn't help, and the only way to really get rid of negative feelings is to dissolve the meaning that is causing the feeling.

Here's How to Do That

So here is what to do:

First, recognize that all meaning exists only in your mind, in other words, that events have no inherent meaning.

Second, when you are having negative feelings, allow yourself to experience them fully. Don't try to cover them up with positive thoughts.

Third, ask yourself what meaning you have ascribed to the event facing you that is causing the feeling.

Fourth, make a clear distinction between the actual event and the meaning that exists in the world. The only reason the meaning is able to affect you is that it appears to be part of the event, in other words, inherent in the event. As soon as you disconnect the meaning from the event and recognize that the meaning exists only in your mind -- and not in the event -- it is no longer "the truth." At which point it loses its power to create feelings. As a result, when the meaning dissolves, the feeling it causes does also.

There is no need to pretend to feel better when you can actually feel better.

Morty Lefkoe is the creator of The Lefkoe Method, a system for permanently eliminating limiting beliefs. For more information go to

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