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How Focusing on the Positives Can Be Counterproductive

How Focusing on the Positives Can Be Counterproductive

Whenever something bad happens or we’re feeling down, people will often tell us to keep our chin up—to look for the silver lining and keep focusing on the positives. The truth is that sometimes this is unhelpful and patronizing. When we are feeling sad or angry, when we’ve been through a rough time, we need our feelings validated and we need to acknowledge the negativity in a healthy way in order to move forward.

That doesn’t mean that we should wallow in bad feelings and harbor destructive tendencies. Instead we need to look for opportunities to see the bright side in healthy and constructive ways. We also need to give attention to negativity and address the things that are uncomfortable and unpleasant.

It’s important to find healthy ways of focusing on the positives.

When we face adversity, it’s vital to keep things in perspective so that we don’t spiral into depression and despair. Having an attitude of appreciation and gratitude about the things that are going right will help to balance our negative feelings. A good way to do this is to consider two things. Firstly, things can always be worse. Secondly, if things can’t get any worse, they can only get better.

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We should maintain awareness of privilege and ask ourselves, in the scheme of things, how bad is our situation really? Does what we are going through impact our physical safety and our health? Will it change our life dramatically in the long term? Or is it a minor hiccup, only causing us temporary discomfort and inconvenience? Often our emotional reactions are exaggerated because we are accustomed to a certain lifestyle or pattern and when things go wrong and our comfort zone is compromised, we can overreact. That is not to say that our initial feelings aren’t valid, but a brief moment of reflection will allow us to separate our immediate and reactive response from what is actually an appropriate and warranted reaction in a given situation.

It is precisely in the face of misfortune when experiencing joy is vital. There should be no guilt or shame for taking pleasure in the things that make us happy, even when a situation calls for grief or sadness. Laughter is indeed the best medicine and reminding ourselves about the things we love and the things that make us happy, in the midst of a crisis, is a good way to even out our emotions and help bring things into perspective. It gives us the relief and motivation we need to energize ourselves to get through hardship.

Living in the moment will take us away from the response to a bad situation that is often playing out in our minds rather than in reality. Often the psychological effects of a run of bad luck can be very powerful and crippling, stopping us from doing even simple day-to-day activities. Having a distraction from the drama and focusing on the positives in a healthy way, is best achieved by paying attention to the present. Sharpening our awareness of exactly what we are doing and where we are right now can be a potent strategy to take our mind off things.

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The good things in life are already good; let’s not taint them.

While putting things in perspective may inevitably mean making comparisons, we should be careful to avoid taking pleasure in others’ suffering. Schadenfreude is a German word meaning literally “harm-joy.” It refers to the feelings of happiness we can experience when we see others in a worse situation than ourselves. This is unnecessary and counterproductive. When we take pleasure in others’ suffering to feel good about ourselves, we inevitably assume others are doing the same to us when we find ourselves in crisis. Our attitude towards others will always inform how we think people see us too.

Instead of indulging in our privilege to boost our mood or self esteem, it is more constructive and kinder to understand our privilege and use it to promote empathy. Thinking about the good things in our life in comparison to the injustices others experience is important—not to serve the purpose of giving us satisfaction or pleasure, but instead to give us clarity and context. It should make us want to alleviate the suffering of others.

Altruism is cyclical. The more we connect with others and contribute to their well being, the more we find ourselves on the receiving end of the same generosity and affection and furthermore, the more we want to participate in the exchange. That doesn’t mean ignoring or shying away from trouble or ill feeling. It simply means using our common humanity and our shared experiences, even when they are painful, to raise each other up.

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Focusing on the positives and staying present shouldn’t result in a refusal to reflect on our past experiences or look forward to brighter horizons. Being mindful and present doesn’t mean disconnecting from the one thing that is unique to our human species: contemplation. In fact, mindfulness enhances this quality. The clearer our mind, the less clouded we are by irrationality, the more we are able to make sense of our past experiences in order to move forward.

While focusing on the positives in a self serving way can be counterproductive, we don’t need to spend our time dwelling on the negatives in order to extract value from our tribulations. Acknowledging our disappointment, feelings of betrayal, sadness, anger, jealousy and frustration is healthy, but it’s not necessary to feel obligated to indulge in ill feeling or lament injustice. It is perfectly normal and acceptable to respond appropriately to any situation that upsets us without needing to over analyze every aspect of it. However, to ignore these feelings or distract ourselves from dealing with them will only cause them to fester and grow. The result is a destructive and burdensome force that could have been prevented and avoided.

The negatives need our close attention.

Learning life’s lessons means living a life of complexity and diversity. We need the ebb and flow; the ups and downs to be able to make that distinction. How will we ever truly know and appreciate happiness if we never experience loneliness or sadness?

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Our endurance and resilience only flourishes when we are challenged and this in turn compels us to contribute and participate in life. It inspires us to want to make a difference.

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Diane Koopman

Writer, Author, Novelist, Self-Publisher

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Last Updated on September 18, 2020

13 Helping Points When Things Don’t Go Your Way

13 Helping Points When Things Don’t Go Your Way

For the original article by Celestine: 13 Helping Points When Things Don’t Go Your Way

“We all have problems. The way we solve them is what makes us different.” ~Unknown

“It’s not stress that kills us, it is our reaction to it.” – Hans Selye

Have you ever experienced moments when things just don’t go your way? For example, losing your keys, accidentally spilling your drink, waking up late, missing your buses/trains, forgetting to bring your things, and so on?

You’re not alone. All of us, myself included, experience times when things don’t go as we expect.

Here is my guide on how to deal with daily setbacks.

1. Take a step back and evaluate

When something bad happens, take a step back and evaluate the situation. Some questions to ask yourself:

  1. What is the problem?
  2. Are you the only person facing this problem in the world today?
  3. How does this problem look like at an individual level? A national level? On a global scale?
  4. What’s the worst possible thing that can happen to you as a result of this?
  5. How is it going to impact your life in the next 1 year? 5 years? 10 years?

Doing this exercise is not to undermine the problem or disclaiming responsibility, but to consider different perspectives, so you can adopt the best approach for it. Most problems we encounter daily may seem like huge issues when they crop up, but most, if not all, don’t have much impact in our life beyond that day.

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2. Vent if you have to, but don’t linger on the problem

If you feel very frustrated and need to let off some steam, go ahead and do that. Talk to a friend, complain, crib about it, or scream at the top of your lungs if it makes you happy.

At the same time, don’t get caught up with venting. While venting may temporarily relieve yourself, it’s not going to solve the problem ultimately. You don’t want to be an energy vampire.

Vent if there’s a need to, but do it for 15 to 20 minutes. Then move on.

3. Realize there are others out there facing this too

Even though the situation may be frustrating, you’re not alone. Remember there are almost 7 billion people in the world today, and chances are that other people have faced the same thing before too. Knowing it’s not just you helps you to get out of a self-victimizing mindset.

4. Process your thoughts/emotions

Process your thoughts/emotions with any of the four methods:

  1. Journal. Write your unhappiness in a private diary or in your blog. It doesn’t have to be formal at all – it can be a brain dump on rough paper or new word document. Delete after you are done.
  2. Audio taping. Record yourself as you talk out what’s on your mind. Tools include tape recorder, your PC (Audacity is a freeware for recording/editing audio) and your mobile (most mobiles today have audio recording functions). You can even use your voice mail for this. Just talking helps you to gain awareness of your emotions. After recording, play back and listen to what you said. You might find it quite revealing.
  3. Meditation. At its simplest form, meditation is just sitting/lying still and observing your reality as it is – including your thoughts and emotions. Some think that it involves some complex mambo-jumbo, but it doesn’t.
  4. Talking to someone. Talking about it with someone helps you work through the issue. It also gets you an alternate viewpoint and consider it from a different angle.

5. Acknowledge your thoughts

Don’t resist your thoughts, but acknowledge them. This includes both positive and negative thoughts.

By acknowledging, I mean recognizing these thoughts exist. So if say, you have a thought that says, “Wow, I’m so stupid!”, acknowledge that. If you have a thought that says, “I can’t believe this is happening to me again”, acknowledge that as well.

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Know that acknowledging the thoughts doesn’t mean you agree with them. It’s simply recognizing the existence of said thoughts so that you can stop resisting yourself and focus on the situation on hand.

6. Give yourself a break

If you’re very stressed out by the situation, and the problem is not time sensitive, then give yourself a break. Take a walk, listen to some music, watch a movie, or get some sleep. When you’re done, you should feel a lot more revitalized to deal with the situation.

7. Uncover what you’re really upset about

A lot of times, the anger we feel isn’t about the world. You may start off feeling angry at someone or something, but at the depth of it, it’s anger toward yourself.

Uncover the root of your anger. I have written a five part anger management series on how to permanently overcome anger.

After that, ask yourself: How can you improve the situation? Go to Step #9, where you define your actionable steps. Our anger comes from not having control on the situation. Sitting there and feeling infuriated is not going to change the situation. The more action we take, the more we will regain control over the situation, the better we will feel.

8. See this as an obstacle to be overcome

As Helen Keller once said,

“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experiences of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired and success achieved.”

Whatever you’re facing right now, see it as an obstacle to be overcome. In every worthy endeavor, there’ll always be countless obstacles that emerge along the way. These obstacles are what separate the people who make it, and those who don’t. If you’re able to push through and overcome them, you’ll emerge a stronger person than before. It’ll be harder for anything to get you down in the future.

9. Analyze the situation – Focus on actionable steps

In every setback, there are going to be things that can’t be reversed since they have already occurred. You want to focus on things that can still be changed (salvageable) vs. things that have already happened and can’t be changed. The only time the situation changes is when you take steps to improve it. Rather than cry over spilt milk, work through your situation:

  1. What’s the situation?
  2. What’s stressing you about this situation?
  3. What are the next steps that’ll help you resolve them?
  4. Take action on your next steps!

After you have identified your next steps, act on them. The key here is to focus on the actionable steps, not the inactionable steps. It’s about regaining control over the situation through direct action.

10. Identify how it occurred (so it won’t occur again next time)

A lot of times we react to our problems. The problem occurs, and we try to make the best out of what has happened within the context. While developing a healthy coping mechanism is important (which is what the other helping points are on), it’s also equally important, if not more, to understand how the problem arose. This way, you can work on preventing it from taking place next time, vs. dealing reactively with it.

Most of us probably think the problem is outside of our control, but reality is most of the times it’s fully preventable. It’s just a matter of how much responsibility you take over the problem.

For example, for someone who can’t get a cab for work in the morning, he/she may see the problem as a lack of cabs in the country, or bad luck. However, if you trace to the root of the problem, it’s probably more to do with (a) Having unrealistic expectations of the length of time to get a cab. He/she should budget more time for waiting for a cab next time. (b) Oversleeping, because he/she was too tired from working late the previous day. He/she should allocate enough time for rest next time. He/she should also pick up better time management skills, so as to finish work in lesser time.

11. Realize the situation can be a lot worse

No matter how bad the situation is, it can always be much worse. A plus point vs. negative point analysis will help you realize that.

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12. Do your best, but don’t kill yourself over it

No matter how bad your situation may seem, do your best, but don’t kill yourself over it. Life is too beautiful to worry so much over daily issues. Take a step back (#1), give yourself a break if you need to (#6), and do what you can within your means (#9). Everything else will unfold accordingly. Worrying too much about the outcome isn’t going to change things or make your life any better.

13. Pick out the learning points from the encounter

There’s something to learn from every encounter. What have you learned from this situation? What lessons have you taken away?

After you identify your learning points, think about how you’re going to apply them moving forward. With this, you’ve clearly gained something from this encounter. You’ve walked away a stronger, wiser, better person, with more life lessons to draw from in the future.

Get the manifesto version of this article: [Manifesto] What To Do When Things Don’t Go Your Way

Featured photo credit: Alice Donovan Rouse via unsplash.com

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