Life happens to all of us. It gets hard. It challenges us. It pushes us and it fights with us. It demands a lot and sometimes those demands just pile up. We get mad, sad, and scared. Did I mentioned tired? Life can exhaust us and overwhelm us in one fell swoop, if we let it.
It's easy to be drawn into negativity, like moths to a flame.
I sometimes get caught in the trap of calling out negative people for playing the victim, for choosing to lay down when they could stand up.
It's just not that simple. Sure, some people stay down because they like it there. It's easier. It's safer. However, some people stay down because they believe that the only way for their pain and struggle to be validated is if they stay knocked down by it.
Getting back up somehow implies that it's ok and not that big of a deal that a loved one passed away, that they didn't get the promotion, or that their child is facing a hardship. They don't want to give the hardship permission to have happened so they stay broken by it.
Step One is learning to hold both.
I'm a clinically trained social worker. One of my first lessons in graduate school was that our job as clinicians was to help people learn how to hold both the good and the pain in their lives. If someone just ignored the pain and only focused on the good, they were in denial and at risk of really getting socked by life because they'd never see it coming. Likewise, if people only hold on to the pain and the darkness, they never learn to let the light in and they become dangerously susceptible to depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Our challenge, as my professor put it, was to help the child love the mother who would read him bedtime stories and sing lullabies while also being angry at the same mother who slapped him across the face in a momentary fit of anger and loss of patience. It's all about holding both.
If you want to be positive, you have to go looking for it.
If you want to get through this rough patch, it's important that you acknowledge your painful truth and reality while also tuning in to your capabilities.
You want to acknowledge the experience, strength, and talents you have that will get you through this. You want to be aware of the people who are showing up and you want to acknowledge the things that are going your way. Any moment of respite counts.
A friend recently called it "seeing the yellow flower in the sidewalk." You can walk down a sidewalk and see the cracks or you can walk down that same sidewalk and admire the perseverance of the buttercup that made it through the crack in the sidewalk.
If you want to be positive, you have to wear a different lens and actively go looking for the moments of light. Look for them, seek them out, and be mindful of the good you are seeing, experiencing, and receiving. When times are tough, you might collect every stressor, every irritant, every ounce of effort. If you're going to do that with the negative things, you definitely have to do that with the positive things, too.
You have to look for the yellow flower in the crack of the sidewalk.
Don't define yourself by your hardship.
My mom passed away when I was six years old and for many, many years that was my identity. At some point, I discovered the book Motherless Daughters and suddenly I had a name to go with my pain. I waved it like a flag and wore it like some badge of honor. I was a motherless daughter.
Looking back, it was no surprise that I hit a spell of depression as a teen and young adult. The only way I'd learned to define myself was by the fact that my mom had died when I was young. I literally lost years of my life making that mistake.
Prioritize the company you keep.
A motivational speaker, Jim Rohm, is credited with the idea that we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with. We absorb their attitudes, their beliefs, and their perspectives. If you're choosing to be positive, whenever you have the choice of who you spend time with, you have to choose people who inspire you, motivate you, and have a similar outlook to the one you're trying to have.
This obviously won't be in your control all of the time. If you're at work and the person next to you is always miserable and complaining, you can't help that but you can help who you spend lunch with. You can choose who you spend your free time with. When the choice is yours, you can choose to surround yourself with people who make you bigger and better, not bitter and smaller.
Prioritize the entertainment you seek.
Take Rohm's idea one step further and think of yourself as the average of the top 5 things you spend your time on. Obviously, time is going to be sucked up by less enjoyable things.
Closely examine though, how you're spending your free time, no matter how limited it is, and see if it is helping you be positive. Are you listening to music that builds you up, makes you feel better, or helps you dispel angry, negative energy? Are you watching television shows or reading books with any kind of inspiring messages, humor, or moments of light?
What do your social media feeds look like? That little arrow in the top right hand corner of Facebook posts can be your new best friend as you start to unfollow people who waste time raging about stupid, petty things.
You don't have to "Kumbaya" your way through life but if every show you're binging on involves darkness, death, or pessimism, you might want to re-order your Netflix queue.
Have you let your favorite hobby or activity go in favor of numbing out to one of the many screens in your life?
Screen time can be numbing but it offers little else in way of helping you be positive.
It might be time to get moving.
It's natural to feel knocked down and to slow down when life hits us with its crushing weight. It's important that you rest and that you nurture the hurts.
However, it is also equally important that you get moving as much as you're physically able to. If you have a favorite gym or physical activity, don't stop doing it unless you're physically limited in your ability to do it.
Get outside Give the stress and strain of your daily life somewhere to go other than lying dormant within you.
Feelings are just energy and you can control how you move them.
Whether we are sad, mad, scared, elated, frustrated, giddy, excited, or overwhelmed, those feelings are inside of us and they create energy.
We can be mad as hell and choose to use that energy to tackle a challenge or an obstacle that we never thought we could achieve. We could be stressed with financial strain and decide to perform 5 random acts of kindness for strangers. We can take our anxiety and channel it by playing on a playground with a kid in our lives. We can sing at the top of our lungs.
Positivity is a choice.
You can't control what happens to you but you can decide who you are going to be despite what is happening to you.