I used to believe that positive thinking is the key to a happy life. We've all heard it before -- try to look at the glass half full and you'll be happier that way. And who knows, maybe you can even "think (positively) and grow rich" or "attract what you want with (positive) thought wave," as well-meaning motivational speakers want you to believe.
I worked diligently on my thoughts. I did daily affirmations and tried all sorts of visualizations. They did make me feel better... for a spectacular half-day. And then I would fall back to the old me, like Cinderella after the midnight ball.
The problem with positive thinking is that thoughts are only one layer in the complex totality of human existence. A fluid and shallow layer, for that matter. Thoughts come and go faster than you can say "hello." You may breed a hatch of new ones in the blink of an eye. But the next moment they disappear, faster than the falling stars across the sky.
It's true that thoughts affect your well-being. But what's even more true is that the state of your being governs the texture of your thoughts. When we are well rested and emotionally balanced, positive thoughts flow naturally with little effort. When we feel depressed and heavy, negative thoughts multiply, which the conscious mind then uses to justify our bad feelings -- the mind needs a reason for everything.
That's why believing in "change your thoughts, change your life" is just like believing that you can put out a fire by dispelling the smoke. Not that it will never work. It's just a lot of work for not a lot of results.
Yet manipulating thoughts has become a favorite "personal development" tool of many. Because it's safe and convenient. You don't have to face the ugly, dark and vulnerable within you. You don't have to get anywhere close to the your own vast humanness, which may be scary-looking to the untrained eyes. There would be no cracks on the wall of your existence, as long as you patch them up with the filling of positive thinking. And then you'll never have to look at them again.
That is, not until those cracks turn into gaping hollows on a certain stormy night. Whatever shame, guilt or fear we hide under the blanket of positivity, life has a way to shove them right in our face, some day.
This game will repeat itself, again and again, until we realize that the very feeling we avoid eye contact with, is what deserves the most love from us.
As long as you take your thoughts seriously, you can use one thought to counter the other. You can play house with yourself in the endless drama of human mind and be infinitely entertained.
But if what you want is real transformation, then deeper digging within your own being is a must. So instead of thinking yourself positively to happiness, why not try some of these:
1. Listen to your inner truth.
Choose honesty over positivity, every time. Instead of feeding yourself speeches of exhortation, learn to converse with yourself intimately. You have an internal GPS that tells you how you are and what you need at any given time, if you're willing, and have the courage, to listen.
2. Love and embrace whatever state you are in.
Do not judge or shun away from your sorrow, doubts or feelings of inadequacy. They are part of being human. Accept them as your own. Offer compassion to yourself, just like how you'd comfort a downtrodden friend. When you're safe for yourself to be with, the world becomes a more welcoming place for confidence and joy to grow naturally.
3. Take care of yourself.
Eat right, sleep well, exercise regularly. Give yourself plenty of downtime and playtime. You radiate effortless positivity when your body is healthy and your mind poised. A state of equanimity breeds benevolent thoughts, which in turn reinforces your well-being. It's a virtuous cycle that starts with tending your own precious self.
4. Trust your journey.
The mind is quick to assign value judgments to whatever happens to you based on its immediate payoff. But know that in the long term, no experience is wasted--even the ones you deem negative. The closing of one door may just be so that another can open. And ultimately, they all lead to the growth and expansion of your soul. You won't need positive thinking to get you through a challenge, if you trust that darkness has a purpose and life--though you may not see it right at this moment-- has its own intelligent design.
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Natasha Che is a writer based in Washington DC. She is obsessed about how life works, and writes about relationship, career, spirituality and creative process on natashache.com. You can also find her on Natasha's Channel on YouTube.