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Why Positive Thinking Doesn’t Work

positive thinking doesn't workPositive thinking is the one of the most popular terms used in personal development.

You should stay positive…You need to be more positive…Always find something positive in the situation.

I bet you heard that a lot before.

Great advice, I have nothing against it…but how is it working for you? 

 I’ll tell you how it was working for me in the past. I used to be a big believer in positive thinking.  Focus on positive things, you’ll get more positive things into your life, focus on negativity and that’s what you’ll get, right?

Again great advice, I totally agree with it.

But too often in the quest for trying to stay positive we reject ourselves. Or at least a part of us that is not always positive.

We are not perfect and we do get angry, frustrated, sad, and we do feel lonely and unhappy from time to time. It is life and things do happen no matter how positive you try to be.

Well, what I used to do in the past when I felt those negative emotions is I would first start blaming myself:” Why are you being negative, why can’t just stay positive?” Then I would try to push those feelings down and refocus. Or I would try to logically analyze them and give them my interpretation to make myself feel better.

 It did work, but eventually those negative feelings would come out again, because they didn’t really go away, they were just pushed deeper inside of me.

Just like when a child needs your attention, you can distract him for awhile by giving him a toy, but after awhile he’ll be there again asking for your attention.

 Some people are naturally positive and it is wonderful to be that way. But for most people staying positive means resisting a part of them that wants to be negative from time to time. It also means ignoring your feelings, resisting them and not accepting yourself.

Shadow is a part of life.

Without shadows we wouldn’t be complete. I am not saying we should all start dwelling on our negative feelings.  What I am saying is that in order for us to let them go, we have to accept them first.

 Accept your negative emotions, accept those parts of you that you don’t like but don’t dwell on them. When you accept them you’ll see how much easier it is to let them go.

The problem that happens with most people who are so much into positive thinking is that each time they happen to have a negative thought or feeling they start blaming themselves and try to push those feelings away. They are afraid to feel their feeling fully.

What you resist persists.

Resisting your negative thoughts and feelings rarely works, just like resisting anything else in life. Accepting them on the other hand lets them go. It is counterintuitive but often we need to focus on the negative emotion with as much attention as possible, feel it as fully as possible, and express it all the way in order for us to let it go.

Pushing it down and ignoring it might work temporarily, but it won’t work long term, eventually those feelings will come out.

So forget about positive thinking.

Focus on acceptance. You are not perfect and probably never will be. Accept yourself with all of your shadows.

I am a member of a wonderful group called Awakening to Wholeness led by an amazing teacher named Michael Casteel.  He teaches Emotional Mastery which is simply a method to learn to feel your feelings fully without giving them some kind of interpretation.  

If you feel sadness, you feel it fully without feelings of sadness about that sadness. If you are angry, you feel angry fully, without being angry at yourself for being angry or trying to push that feeling away.

You face your feelings; you name them as they are.

If you feel fear, you face it, you feel it fully and amazingly that allows you to not be overtaken by that fear. Actually fear goes away because you felt it fully, you faced it and that allowed you to release it.  

You consciously face your feelings and that allows you to accept yourself and to experience more joy and peace and power.

Here is the process Michael teaches to follow to gain emotional mastery and to actually help yourself let go of your negative feelings without much effort:

  • Focus on the feeling you are having. Name it.
  • Ask yourself where you feel it in your body
  • Say it out loud, naming the feeling. If you are mad say- “I am mad”, if you feel lonely, say-“I feel lonely.”
  • Express the feeling the way it feels appropriate to you. If you need to cry – cry.  If you need to slam your fist on the table-do it.
  • Continue focusing on the feeling wherever you feel it in your body
  • Stay with that feeling, feel it all the way, feel it fully, don’t be afraid of it.
  • In a few minutes you’ll feel relief; the feeling will subside and eventually go away.

Imagine a crying child.

If you ignore him or just pretend that you care, the child won’t calm down. Only when you hold him tight and are actually  there for him 100% will he stop crying and become happy again.

Treat your feelings just like you would treat a crying child.

Feel them fully, don’t try to give them interpretation or push them away.

You can’t push them away, you can only push them deeper inside of you. They will come out eventually.

Only by facing them, by feeling them fully, without trying to analyze, without judgment, can you let them go.  

After that, focusing on a positive side of the situation will be easy. Staying positive will be easy.

You have to accept yourself completely, with your shadows, with your imperfections, and with your sadness and anger when they come.

Only true acceptance will make you a better and more positive person naturally, without much effort.

 

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{ 36 comments… read them below or add one }

Steve November 5, 2009 at 5:38 pm

Shadow is a part of life, I couldn’t agree more Lana! The comparison with a crying child is great!

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Ideas With A Kick November 5, 2009 at 7:17 pm

Small world! I’m witting the handouts for a training and I just wrote something about the same idea a couple of minutes ago.

My problem with positive thinking is that, like you said, it does not acknowledge and take into consideration the negative that often is there. This can be very unproductive. If you have 3 days left to an important exam and you didn’t learn almost anything, you do not want to think positive that you’ll get the 2 subjects you know, then go out partying.

This why I always recommend, not positive thinking, but rational thinking.

Eduard

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Anastasiya November 5, 2009 at 9:10 pm

It seems that the topic of negative thinking, pain and suffering is all over the blogosphere now 🙂 I guess a lot of people are just tired of being (rather pretending to be, maybe?) happy and positive.
I would add that you can always learn something from any negative situation that you are in. Just treat it as a life lesson that you have to learn really well if you want to move on in life.
I really loved your advice about emotional mastery. It sounds very simple and at the same time it is extremely effective. Thank you for a great article Lana!
.-= Anastasiya´s last blog ..10 Killer Strategies to Kill Negative Thinking (and Regain Life Balance) =-.

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Karlil November 5, 2009 at 9:33 pm

Great article Lana. I totally agree. Instead of trying to avoid the feeling, it’s better to face it. What I do most of the time when I’m feeling down is to go out and enjoy life. Listening to cheerful songs also help..
.-= Karlil´s last blog ..The Lazy Man’s Guide To Beating Procrastination =-.

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Stephen - Rat Race Trap November 6, 2009 at 1:45 am

Hi Lana, this was great.

“Accept your negative emotions, accept those parts of you that you don’t like but don’t dwell on them. When you accept them you’ll see how much easier it is to let them go.”

Right on with this. Being positive doesn’t mean repressing emotions or thoughts. It means not focusing on them and letting them snowball into something bigger than they are. I am not naturally positive and I come out poorly on all the tests of positivity or optimism. I finally found the balance between always being negative (my old self) and accepting my negative thoughts without dwelling on them (the new me).
.-= Stephen – Rat Race Trap´s last blog ..Should You Trust Your Intuition? =-.

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Lana November 6, 2009 at 3:50 am

Steve, thanks for stopping by again!

Eduard, indeed small world, thanks for commenting. I am very irrational person, so I like your “rational thinking” term. Something I definitely need to learn:)
.-= Lana´s last blog ..Why Positive Thinking Doesn’t Work =-.

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Lana November 6, 2009 at 3:55 am

Anastasiya, thank you for stopping by and commenting. You are right, every situation is there for a reason and helps us grow.

Karlil, thanks for commenting! To be honest I can’t even imagine you doing anything else but enjoying life. You seem like such a naturally cheerful and positive person.

Stephen, thank you. The balance is very important and I think I am right there with you – still have negative thoughts and feelings but accept them and move on.
.-= Lana´s last blog ..Why Positive Thinking Doesn’t Work =-.

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David/Yourfinances101 November 6, 2009 at 3:55 am

What a great post! I think that too many people out there spend too much time repressing their true feelings rather than gettig them out in the open. You can’t let go of them until you truly “feel” them.

I think I knew this all along, but it didn’t really sink in till I read it here.

Great motivational stuff……looking forward to more

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Lana November 6, 2009 at 4:49 am

Thank you David, I am so happy you are enjoying my articles.
.-= Lana´s last blog ..Why Positive Thinking Doesn’t Work =-.

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Marina November 6, 2009 at 7:58 am

Hi Lana ! I like this article a lot ! I love your style of writting
The comparisons you use are very unique!!!! Good luck and thank you for being my friend !
.-= Marina´s last blog ..Our First Visual Journaling Workshop =-.

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Lana** November 6, 2009 at 8:18 am

Marina, thank you my dear friend, I appreciate it!

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Dragos Roua November 8, 2009 at 10:19 am

Without shadow, you can’t see from where the light gets in. I thoroughly enjoyed your words about fear, Lana. This is a very good article 🙂
.-= Dragos Roua´s last blog ..Lifestyle Design =-.

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Lana November 8, 2009 at 9:42 pm

Thank you Dragos, shadows is a part of life, why to reject them..
.-= Lana´s last blog ..Why Positive Thinking Doesn’t Work =-.

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Evelyn Lim November 9, 2009 at 7:31 am

I came over to your site from Dragos. Reading your bio, we appear to share many similar interest. It was watching The Secret that led me to a journey into self mastery. Love what you shared in this article about positive thinking and the need to address our negative emotions.
.-= Evelyn Lim´s last blog ..Awakening Into Awareness =-.

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Lana November 9, 2009 at 5:05 pm

Thank you Evelyn, I jhave just read your bio too. It’s amazing I even saw several similar phrases that I used. I love yoru blog, you are an inspiration to so many!
.-= Lana´s last blog ..Why Positive Thinking Doesn’t Work =-.

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Armen Shirvanian November 9, 2009 at 9:21 pm

Hey Lana.

Good call here. Covering up something with some short-term emotional energy will not do the trick. A potato that isn’t cooked won’t get cooked if we think positive thoughts about it getting cooked.

Acceptance is somewhat tough because it means we have to deal with what the current circumstances are, and they are usually not as cool as the ones we like to imagine ourselves in.

At the same time, you tell someone who is not accepting their reality to do so, and if they do, they have a much better chance of getting to where they imagine themselves as already at.

Good dose of reality here.
.-= Armen Shirvanian´s last blog ..Knowledge Is Your Best Friend =-.

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Lana November 9, 2009 at 11:06 pm

Thanks for stopping by Armen, I loved this phrase – A potato that isn’t cooked won’t get cooked if we think positive thoughts about it getting cooked. So funny:)
.-= Lana´s last blog ..Why Positive Thinking Doesn’t Work =-.

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Amit Sodha - The Power Of Choice November 9, 2009 at 11:43 pm

How uncanny that on the same day you wrote this post I wrote a post called ‘never underestimate the power of negativity’. You hit the nail on the head and I totally agree that supressing that part of ourselves we’re only negating something which is incredibly important! 🙂
.-= Amit Sodha – The Power Of Choice´s last blog ..How To Be Single And Enjoy Every Second =-.

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SK November 10, 2009 at 12:38 am

Actually the crying child scenario is not as straight forward. There will be times when you need to soothe to stop the crying. However most times when they cry it’s for attention, by always soothing you can create a negative reinforcement.

e.g.
I want cookie!
[No cookie]
[Cry]
You give cookie.

That’s bad negative reinforcement.
.-= SK´s last blog ..Elmo on Google Homepage =-.

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Lana November 10, 2009 at 2:56 am

Thanks Amit, heading to your blog to read your post.
.-= Lana´s last blog ..Why Positive Thinking Doesn’t Work =-.

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Lana November 10, 2009 at 2:59 am

SK, I know what you are talking about, I have a two year old at home:) What I meant in this post is of course actual crying, not “let’s see if they do what I want” crying.
.-= Lana´s last blog ..Why Positive Thinking Doesn’t Work =-.

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Arvind Devalia November 10, 2009 at 2:50 pm

Lana, it’s my turn to visit your blog for the first time!

Excellent point about not suppressing your feelings, but expressing them.

Once you express them you can process and ultimately let them go.

I am one of those naturally positive people that you allude to – but I too have many monents of doubt, negativity, anger, frustration and so on. And I am now learning to really expereince that feeling and then see what’s behind that.

I will be applying your method next time a “negative” emotion bubbles up.

Oops, I can feel some anger coming up – got to go:-)
.-= Arvind Devalia´s last blog ..How My Single Day of Blindness Opened My Eyes Forever! =-.

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Prince November 10, 2009 at 7:57 pm

Hi Lana. Read your post, and found it pretty interesting. I think you do have a point there. I found you on Arvind’s blog, and I share his way of thinking when it comes to hardships in life, and how to deal with them. And like he mentioned in his comment, and you stated in your post, accept them, process them, and get them out of your system. I hope you will read my recent post as well. It is in fact very relevant to what you wrote here as well.
.-= Prince´s last blog ..God is Happiness; Happiness is God =-.

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Lana November 10, 2009 at 11:44 pm

Thanks Arvind, that’s exactly the point I was trying to make. Good luck with anger management:)
.-= Lana´s last blog ..Why Positive Thinking Doesn’t Work =-.

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Lana November 10, 2009 at 11:45 pm

That’s right Prince, accpet firts and then get them out. Without acceptance, they will most likely stay much longer than needed.
.-= Lana´s last blog ..Why Positive Thinking Doesn’t Work =-.

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Tami November 17, 2009 at 4:13 pm

Lana, so beautifully illustrated. Until recently, I used to pride myself on being a Pollyanna. You know, always looking for something to be glad about. Yet something was stirring in me, “Stop! Really feel those feelings that are there…the sadness, anger, frustration, worry. They’re there for a reason, and they want to be expressed.” Thus, I created a Mandorla, a sacred space, to be with all of them in a way I’ve never been with myself.

Through all of this, the energies have been given their time in the spotlight, and I’ve heard and felt them. Although it’s been scary because it’s been years of suppression, it actually has been so moving as well. There is peace within me now, and a space of new awareness of true self-acceptance.

I liken it to our breath, which requires both in-hale and ex-hale to be part of the flow. Likewise, our feelings require the same. We in-hale all this stuff, but if we don’t ex-hale it and ex-press it (like you said), it stays there until another time. When you think about it, if our breath only inhaled and didn’t exhale, it would be quite deadly…yikes! Same thing with our feelings.

As an EFT practitioner, I use EFT to assist this process, and it works beautifully. And for children as well.

Thank you for what you wrote….interesting how I found you, from a series of links….no accidents here!
.-= Tami´s last blog ..EFT for Children =-.

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Lana November 17, 2009 at 9:27 pm

Thank you Tami. I love the idea of creating a sacred place to let yourself feel all the feelings you tried to suppress before. Thanks for stopping by and commenting!
.-= Lana´s last blog ..Finding Your Life Purpose: The Most Powerful Way to Discover What You Truly Want In Life =-.

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Beat Schindler November 18, 2009 at 3:16 pm

Agree 100%. People who in their mind associate “positive thinking” to fake, pretense or force, are ignorant of the fact that a positive mental attitude implies truth. The starting point of truth (honesty) is with one’s Self. “If I have been untrue, I hope you know, it was never to you” – Leonard Cohen sings famously. Faithfulness, as well as unfaithfulness, start with oneself. It follows that people with frequent negative thinking (the fruit or visible part of the tree) “simply” have a negative self-image (the roots or invisible part of the tree). As long as they maintain their negative self-image, “positive” will remain forced, like wearing a mask. That said, we are subject to biorhythms, weather and mood swings, too. An occasional “negative” hour, or day, or two, is normal to the point that never having one wouldn’t be (normal).
.-= Beat Schindler´s last blog ..How To Get The Most Out Of Learning =-.

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pat price November 18, 2009 at 3:46 pm

Great article Lana. I was having some negative thoughts this morning about something. and feeling rather guilty about them. as I’m currently reading “The Law of Attraction”. Now I realise I needed to analyse the thoughts before I let go of them. Thanks for the reassurance that this was O.K.
Pat
.-= pat price´s last blog ..Pension Crisis =-.

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Lana November 19, 2009 at 8:53 am

Hi Pat, definitely don’t feel guilty. That’s putting negative emotion on top of negative emotion. I wouldn’t say analyze, just become aware, feel, and then let go and focus on something good in your life. I bet there is a lot!
.-= Lana´s last blog ..Finding Your Life Purpose: The Most Powerful Way to Discover What You Truly Want In Life =-.

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Lana November 19, 2009 at 8:53 am

Beat, I love the quote you shared, thanks!
.-= Lana´s last blog ..Finding Your Life Purpose: The Most Powerful Way to Discover What You Truly Want In Life =-.

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Ian December 8, 2009 at 7:31 pm

Great post Lana. I truly believe that neagative is a part of life and needs to be a part of life. You can’t have good without bad, success without failure, happiness without sadness or as they said in the movie Vanilla Sky “you can’t have the sweet without the sour”. How boring would life be if everyone was a millionare, if we all lived forever or if there were no sad songs. The key as you said is to accept the negative, to cry with the crying child….. but to not let the negative win. You need to feel the sadness and embrace it but not live too long in sadness or negativity. Accept things for what they are but then get back to work at making things better. Get back to focusing on all the positives in life and where you are headed.
At least that is my take on things…….take care
.-= Ian´s last blog ..Post #4 – Pillar #3 =-.

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JACQUI JONES December 9, 2009 at 5:57 pm

I’d like to put a big YES tick next to this – everything you say is spot on. What you resist does persist. I don’t think anyone ever is free of negative thinking. My way of dealing with those kind of thoughts now is to simply observe them, as if they are a separate from myself. It helps!
Thank you for this. Great blog.

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Lana December 11, 2009 at 7:31 am

That’s a really good way of dealing with them Jacqui!
.-= Lana´s last blog ..Life Purpose: Do you avoid challenges? =-.

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Lana December 11, 2009 at 7:32 am

That’s so true Ian, accept it and move on!
.-= Lana´s last blog ..Life Purpose: Do you avoid challenges? =-.

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Alvin Manzano June 3, 2010 at 9:26 am

Very nice article !
it does not acknowledge and take into consideration the negative that often is there. This can be very unproductive. If you have 3 days left to an important exam and you didn’t learn almost anything,
Thanks for sharing 🙂
.-= Alvin Manzano´s last blog ..CARDWATCH =-.

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