Can Positive Thinking distort your view of reality and make life appear worse?


Positive Thinking blocked my ability to be objective.

Why I needed to think positive and set goals.

Thirty years ago I fled a marriage from domestic violence.

Alone with a toddler I felt guilty about the predicament I’d landed us in.

I was ashamed I’d ended up a single mum.

And worried about what the future held.

The Power of Positive Thinking offered the perfect solution to transition from victim of circumstance to a confident woman in control of my destiny.

I learned how to control life so life couldn’t control me.

I studied the Law of Attraction, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and visualized my happy future by reciting Affirmations.

Inspired and motivated I strove forward to create a bright and happy life.

No longer a victim of circumstance.

Visualization helped me create goals, form plans, then write to do lists.

This guaranteed my focus on success.

Smart goals assured a fast route, increasing my sense of achievement.

My contribution would be valued. From mid-life I would luxuriate in all my success.

My mid-life reality.

By mid-life I was so embedded in creating positive outcomes, it became me, the finder of the perfect solution.

Whilst this had excited me earlier in my career/life I now felt drained and ready for others to provide their own outcomes.

Though all of my positive goals had eventuated in the form of meeting my perfect man, my daughter growing into a fine young woman, a job and home which I loved, in my fifties I began to develop doubts. I suspected that all of that ‘looking on the bright side’ may be hiding a different version of reality.

So I began my journey to uncover my truth. First step was to look behind my positive thoughts to uncover my dark side.

The hidden truth behind my positive facade.

Let me be clear, I did not have an intentional facade, the power of positive thinking hid my truth from myself.

A new reality slowly unraveled.

Positive thinking had kept me so focused on solving problems,

I’d never noticed that my original problem had long ago resolved.

Instead of being satisfied I was looking for solutions to prevent every bad outcome.

This disassociated me from my present reality, increased my fear of the future and left me with an inability to be objective.

Working toward successful outcomes was ingrained in my psyche, an insatiable master, always wanting. No matter how hard I tried, I would always need to do more.

I was now out of control trying to be in control.

There was no time to enjoy life as I was too busy keeping everything in order so that life would remain secure and predictable.

Externally all appeared fine, internally life had shifted. Acquiring predictable security also left no room to enjoy the loving predictability I already had. Instead, I spent most of my time working for others who were not so secure or predictable.

The pursuit of happiness requires concentrated effort with short-term rewards.

  • The relentless pursuit of positive outcomes requires that you continually keep moving along the treadmill of life, there’s no getting off.
  • You feel depleted so you need something to sustain you.
  • You seek the quick reward of a feel good item such as a great night out, junk food, alcohol, a new gym outfit.
  • This type of reward is short-lived. After consuming you feel guilty for letting down your guard and allowing short-term gratification to impede on achieving your positive outcome.

You can’t save money if you spend it and you won’t get healthy if you don’t eat right, you feel bad for not living up to expectations, back on the treadmill, now you need to work harder to undo the damage.

Short term goals help you stay focused but being positive over a long period is not sustainable.

Just as continual growth does not sustain the planet, continual striving will not sustain you. Just like the planet, you need time out to rejuvenate and replenish.

This includes time to recover from hurt, disappointment, rejection and pain. Just as the planet needs time to recover after a wild storm we need time to recover from our own storms in life.

Your paying a high price emotionally and physically.

The law of attraction states that our thoughts create our reality, when things go wrong we feel overly responsible. This places stress on our bodies and we know what that does to our health.

Accept that at some point, each of us will take a wrong turn and fail.

Give up self-improvement and Practice Loving Kindness.

Step off the Self improvement treadmill. Take a break and relax. Be kind to yourself by accepting that life has been difficult and you’ve done your best.  Jack Kornfield has a wonderful Loving Kindness meditation to help get started. This is a powerful meditation on forgiveness and self acceptance.

Emotions add depth and quality to our lives. Suffering opens our heart to empathy for ourselves and others.

Your quirks are what make you unique.

Replace controlling your thoughts with observing them.

Practicing self-awareness is an alternative to using affirmations and positive thinking.

Instead of trying to produce positive thoughts, allow all thoughts to flow through.

Mindfulness uses an analogy of you being the sky and your thoughts are the clouds.

This helps you detach from your thoughts as you notice them flow by like clouds in the sky.

Separating thoughts removes their power because they no longer represent who you are. Your not your thoughts, your having a thought. You may have made a bad choice but that does not mean that your incompetent, you may have a thought that your incompetent, you now can decide to make another choice.

Self acceptance and non judgment.

Replacing self-improvement with self acceptance brought about profound change.

The belief that I’d been the instigator of bad karma disintegrated.

I was simply a naive and trusting young woman who’d stumbled on one man who mistreated her.

From this perspective it was far easier to forgive, feel empathy and recognize young innocence.

I’d been overly zealous attributing The Law of Attraction to a bad outcome.

I was just a young woman who’d made a bad move.

I now forgave that vulnerable young woman.

And accepted her as a part of me along with her fragility and shame.

I now truly understood despite her fear she had acted courageously.

Accepting the dark side broadened my ability to be objective.

And discovered life was better than it had appeared.

Today I’m participating in everyday life, there’s no need to worry about future outcomes, they can take care of themselves.

Let’s boom on with an open heart.

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  1. says

    I like that! I really do, like you I did the exact same thing and have reached that same point. You have written so clearly. Liked you on FB too, hope you stop by my page too.
    Hugs and Sparkles

  2. says

    Hi Priska,

    I agree that it is easy to get bogged down and stuck by putting a positive spin or affirmation on everything…No one makes changes when everything is sunshine and roses, that’s when we languish. It is feelings of discomfort, heartache and pain that prods us into forward action. It is only when we are at our worse, or at least heading in that direction, that we stand up and demand change within ourselves.

    • says

      What I was trying to say was that I was afraid to look at the negative because I believed this would make me wallow in sadness. I did not realize over a long term always being positive had the opposite affect, life becomes a little shallow. Allowing all feelings to flow through naturally somehow allowed me to be more forthcoming and honest.

    • says

      It’s a simple concept but for someone who is a natural problem solver it takes lots of practice. I am learning to be a better observer and listener. It’s helped me to notice and understand better where others are coming from.

  3. says

    Thanks for telling such an open, honest story, Priska. Used wisely, positive thinking and positive emotions can be very healing. But everything has a dark side and relying solely on short-term fixes is one that can pop up with seeking positive emotions constantly.

    Brave post!

  4. says

    Thank you Bobbi. I had trouble writing the post because I did not want to create the impression that being positive is bad. If your stuck ruminating over the past as I was positive thinking can provide just the thing to snap you out of it and move forward. I simply went too far for too long. Continually focusing on the future prevented me from noticing that I already had what I was seeking, it was time to get off the treadmill.

  5. says

    I can so relate to this situation. I also did the same thing. After my mom died and I found myself as a single mom on welfare, I employed the power of positive thinking and did create a fulfilling life for myself.

    I still believe that looking on the bright side is a preferred way to navigate the world. Yet, I’m now realizing that if you are too determined to constantly block out sadness that you miss out on the deep feelings that life offers! Now I’m on a mission to open myself up, be vulnerable and get back in touch with tears!

    That hasn’t changed my tendency to optimism, I’m hoping it will deepen my experience as a human being though. Thanks so much for your open and truthful sharing Priska!

  6. says

    Thanks for commenting Sarah, I agree, I now have a natural tendency toward optimism.
    But years of life experience had also toughened me up.
    Mid life has given me permission that it’s now OK to let down my guard and allow a gentler side to emerge.

  7. says

    Great piece Priska. Reminds me of an article I read a few months back suggesting that unhinged positive thinking may have caused the financial crisis.

    Perhaps because I’m young, I’ve never really given the self-improvement treadmill much thought. I’m a fan of self-compassion, but even that I look at from the perspective of self-improvement. Self-compassion as an alternative? That’s an interesting idea…

    Do you regret, and wish you had stepped off earlier? Or is it simply a change of preference as you’ve matured?

    • says

      Amit, your very perceptive.

      It was the world of business where it’s become common practice to set goals to achieve outcomes that began to feel (to me) like the business world was slowly becoming less ethical as everyone began to focus more on winning a sale than providing excellent service.

      I am also guilty of being drawn in, that was probably that funny feeling inside that I first felt, the need to look at the bigger picture, the long term impact of short term gain, the dark side.

      At the end of the day I had to ask myself what was it that I really enjoyed about my work. From day one I loved trying to provide clients with exactly what they were after. It made me happy and it made them happy. If I could not provide exactly what they were looking for I could lead them in the right direction, I was happy to lose business to do this.

      Positive thinking successful business books have changed the focus on capturing a sale at all costs as the most highly prized asset in business.

      I agree with you, I’m off the self improvement treadmill. I began mindfulness meditation to relieve stress (improve myself, lol). In the beginning listening to someone else’s soothing voice helped me to settle, bring me back to the present and stop planning for the future, even though it was only for a few minutes each day. A bit like seeing a doctor for a medical condition.

      Now I know that all I have to do is breath and take the good with the bad, but sometimes I forget, but thats OK, thats why I needed to learn to be kinder to myself. I’m trying to accept rather than improve which is easier said than done.

      When regrets pop up I let the feelings flow through without denying they exist. I’ve found that writing a post like this is a great way of dealing with regret.

      Thank you for commenting.

  8. says

    I don’t have much original to add that hasn’t been said well by Bobbi, Sarah, or Amit. This was a raw and vulnerable look into your past and how it’s shaping where you’re headed. I love reading posts like this and it hit an emotional chord inside me. Keep doing these Priska! Assuming that is, that these are therapeutic to write (and not draining).

  9. says

    Hi Joel,

    After my long reply to Amit I don’t think that I have much more to reply either. Thank you for the supporting me in being more forthcoming. This post originally did not include any of my story. It was Gary’s post on Write to Done that convinced me to risk sharing a rawer truth.

  10. says

    Hi Priska, What a beautiful, thought provoking piece. This is one of my favorite parts, “Working toward successful outcomes was ingrained in my psyche, an insatiable master, always wanting. No matter how hard I tried, I would always need to do more.”
    I understand and empathize. Putting a positive face on things has a negative impact on our souls if we don’t listen to the impact on our authentic selves. You have picked out and put together such wonderful questions for each of us to ask ourselves. In our lives, we had more in common than I thought. Thank you so much for being open as it help others still struggling.

    • says

      Hi Lee,
      I popped over to your site and yes, we do have interests in common. I’ve also been delving into Neuroscience, intrigued by how the mind works.
      I used to wonder why I never felt a sense of achievement at the end of the day despite my time management skills.
      Your post on The Neuroscience of writers block and video on the science of procrastination confirmed information which I’d also gathered.
      That we naturally do things for small immediate rewards rather than confront the hard stuff.
      I have changed my routine to doing the hard stuff (like writing for an hour of concentrated effort before paying bills, checking emails and making appointments.

  11. says

    Priska, you certainly have evolved through your experiences and you shared it with such sensitivity. Self-acceptance and non-judgment … those can go a long way toward healing; you make such a good point with that.

    I like the phrase “replace controlling your thoughts with observing them.” That is the essence of meditation, at least for me, and it has made a lot of changes in my life much easier to accept.

  12. says

    Priska, I got caught in abundance thinking then made myself wrong when it didn’t work… more or less the same situation… meditation, particularly zen, had made a huge positive difference… observing thoughts, just as you say. Thanks!

    • says

      Hi Anne,
      Thank you for dropping by and commenting.
      Rather than planning for future abundance zen has helped me notice abundant things I previously overlooked.

  13. says

    Hi Priska,

    This is a great post. I like it when you said “Replacing self-improvement with self acceptance brought about profound change.”

    It takes courage to admit, especially to ourselves, that we are not living in integrity with our deepest passions and joy. And it takes even more courage to do something about it. But it is only by taking these first steps that you can live a fulfilling and meaningful life.

    Warm regards!

  14. says

    Hi Priska,

    This is my favourite post of yours so far! Thank you for sharing your story.

    I was really struck by this:

    “I’d never noticed that my original problem had long ago resolved.”

    It’s such a useful observation. I’ve experienced a similar thing, using a technique to help me get through addiction problems I had in my 20’s, and then never moving on from that technique even though it had done its job. My focus at that point should have been to move on to the next thing.

    I loved that you ended with a call to open our hearts, an open heart trumps positive thinking every time!

    • says

      Hi Dave,
      We’re creatures of habit. When something works we tend to stick with it even though things have moved on. Taking a mindful pause may help in noticing more.

    • says

      Thank you sciencekitty. My original intention was not to be brave and honest, but to write a post.
      But when one gets into the flow of writing all sorts of things unfold.

  15. says

    Thanks for writing this. I’ve also been trying to focus a bit more on “observing” my own reactions to situations before trying shelf the bits and pieces of life that make me feel icky. This, along with practicing being gentle with myself, has really shaped a new way of being for myself. Hope the both of us continue down this path in the future… Onward!

    • says

      Hello Sarah,
      Thank you for dropping by and taking the time to comment. I spent a lot of 2012 ‘observing’ my reactions to situations, it helped me become aware of many things.
      Noticing when I was being a little hard on myself and learning to be a little gentler has been life changing. Let’s support each other in continuing down this path.

  16. says

    A very honest and moving post. Your journey is one many women have traveled and your experience helps to communicate the way through. I particularly liked “replace controlling your thoughts with observing them.” Yes, sometimes we focus on these controlling thoughts and let them spiral into an obsession or insomnia driven anxiety. To just acknowledge them, observe them and then let them be is a great tip. Thanks.

  17. says

    Personally, I find tremendous common sense here. A positive attitude is one thing. Pretending that everything will be fine (when it won’t, thus not accepting what isn’t changeable and getting more creative about what is) – not a solution!

  18. says

    Yes, yes Priska – I too have seen that positive thinking just gets people thinking they’re not positive so they have to think themselves positive – I think you get what I mean? Far better to just know whatever experience we’re having is coming from us – from us being conscious of our own thoughts and voila a positive one sneaks in here and there and the more I pay attention to those thoughts b/c they’re more enjoyable, the more they seem to grow – on their own – we really are built in an amazing way – fully equipped with free will, yet so few people realize that.

  19. says

    What an honest and brave post.

    I was especially drawn to the part about observing rather than controlling our thoughts. Observing suggests a little distance and perspective are required. Taking a step back and noting an emotion rather that immersing yourself in it – I find – can often change your view of a situation and the overall significance you allow it to have.

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