How to Redefine Positive Thinking for Living in the Real World

Positive Attitude
Image courtesy of Eric Chan

Ask any motivational speaker what the keys to success are, and I promise you the words “positive attitude” will be in there somewhere.

Which is great, and I fully agree, but with all the life-improvement programs out there promising magical results if you just think happy thoughts for long enough, I think many people misinterpret what a positive attitude really is, and then get frustrated when their misinterpretation ends up backfiring on them.

At one time or another, we’ve all been that person – the one who keeps pretending everything is fine as their hard work burns to the ground around them. The theory behind such behavior: “as long as I stay true to my positive attitude, everything will be okay.”

But… that’s not a positive attitude. That’s denial. And ignoring problems is almost never the way to fix them, though I see people doing it all the time and calling it their “positive attitude.” And then when their projects fail, they claim they tried the whole positive attitude thing and it turned out to be a load of crap.

Telling yourself that everything in your world will be amazing all the time is not only unrealistic, it can actually keep you from reaching your goals. Pasting on a fake smile and powering through as if nothing’s ever wrong is not what having a positive attitude is about.

A better path to attainable progress is to be optimistic about the overall picture, but still recognize issues when they arise. Prepare yourself for the fact that problems will occur, and accept that as part of the growth process. Throwing your arms up in the air and saying, “see, I knew positive thinking was too good to be true” doesn’t help. Neither does smiling and pretending that positive thinking fixes everything. Instead, try taking the more empowering standpoint of accepting that you’ve derailed, and reminding yourself that you are capable of figuring out what the solution is. Then you can take the appropriate actions to get yourself back on track and actually feel positive about it.

We all want to move forward with our lives, but we also have to accept that progress is rarely linear. Not only is it okay to experience setbacks, it’s a great opportunity to learn from negative experiences and prove to yourself that you really can recover from anything.

If you’ve got something that’s blocking you at the moment and you’re either wallowing in frustration or trying to drown it in positive thoughts, take a few minutes today to sit down and actually work through the issue (if you have an iPad, Unstuck is a great app to help with this). What are your options for moving forward? What can you do to keep this problem from happening again in the future? Use a positive attitude not as a magic wand, but as a tool to deconstruct obstacles and build something stronger.

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