One of the first books I ever read in the genre of personal development or “self-help” is “The Power of Positive Thinking”, by Normal Vincent Peale. Growing up, I was surrounded by a plethora of books lying around the house. I was a teenager when I read it, and some would have considered me to have a bit of a negative mind set. I definitely saw the glass as half empty. Aside from the regular teenage angst, the multiple challenges life presented during that time of my life made me prone to seeing the dark side of life. I don’t remember the exact circumstances that led me to reading this book, but I did read it and the effect it had on me was not good. Basically, this book scared the crap out of me. The message I got was that I had to be careful with my thoughts, that negative thoughts had the power to ruin my life. Think positive, or else!!!! There are few catch phrases today that irk me as much as “Hey, think positive!” Really? Is it that simple? After reading this book, I became paranoid about the thoughts I was having, convinced that every time I had a negative thought, I was attracting the very thing I was thinking about and creating a negative reality for myself. I forced myself to replace negative thoughts with whatever positive thoughts I could make up at the time, even though I didn’t believe them and they didn’t ring true to me.  I became so caught in my head, with these damn thoughts and the need balance them out, that I lived in a constant state of fear. Fear of my thoughts and fear of their effects.

Forcing yourself to be positive or think positively when you feel gross physically, mentally and/or emotionally is a form of inauthenticity. You are lying to yourself, and even though you have good intentions, the million positive thoughts you conjure will not on their own lift you out of a negative state. To be true to yourself is to be real, and that means being real with your thoughts and feelings. To cover up a negative thought with a positive one does not remove the negative one. Am I condoning being negative? No! But when I feel don’t feel my best and have negative thoughts, I allow myself to have them and feel the way I feel. Ironically, the more you accept what is happening inside your mind and heart, the more easily and the more quickly you will shift out of that state. The reason has to do with resistance. What you resist persists. And if you’re constantly trying to resist your negative thoughts and the feelings associated with them, they will hang around and really make you miserable. Thoughts and feelings are dynamic. They flow, arising and passing like waves or clouds. They must be allowed to move through you, or they will get stuck and cause resistance you can feel in every cell of your being. Aches and pains, irritation and feelings of dis-ease can be forms of “stuck” energy. When you have negative thoughts, just notice them, and let them pass. When you have negative feelings (and no feelings are really negative), just let them be felt. You watch your thoughts and emotions; you see that they’re there, you feel them, and soon enough they will get bored or run themselves out and move on. If they don’t move on and you find yourself living in a constant state of negativity, then you must do something to shift your state, something that goes beyond the mere activity of thinking.

Thoughts in and of themselves have been given way too much credit for having an important effect on what we manifest or attract in our lives. I agree that thoughts shape our reality, but not all thoughts; only the ones we FOCUS on. In other words, you may think thousands of thoughts in a day, but there are a few that are dominant and take up most of your attention. Whatever you focus on or place your attention on is what must be examined. Usually, the thoughts you focus on are based on beliefs, general attitudes and perception. Take for example, a woman who is unhappy being single. She thinks she will never meet a man she can share her life with. If she listens closely to the thoughts she is focusing on, she may hear an underlying belief such as “all men are assholes”. It is that belief that needs to be dealt with. It goes without saying that if she holds onto that belief, she will never meet a man she can share her life with, because all she will attract is one asshole after another!

Affirmations are very popular in the world of personal development and “law of attraction” type of circles. “Look at yourself in the mirror and say I love you” is one I’ve often heard. Now, this affirmation is great if you really do have love for yourself and just need to re-affirm it. But I have a hard time seeing someone filled with self-loathing or huge insecurities doing this exercise. Say it until you believe it, they say…Maybe, but if you stand there and feel like a fraud or an idiot when you’re saying “I love you” to yourself, you’d be better off doing the work to uncover why you dislike yourself so much and finding another way to develop self-love. Here’s another example. Let’s say you’re exhausted and you’re constantly thinking “I’m so tired!” You fight this thought because you know your thoughts attract the energy of what you’re thinking and you don’t want more “tired” so you start replacing that thought with an uplifting, positive one such as “I feel great, I am filled with energy” and so on. Listen, if you’re tired, deal with the fact that you need rest and find a way to get it. Isn’t it much less of a battle to take a nap than to constantly mess around with your thoughts? Maybe all this positive thinking is why you’re so tired! How about getting away from thinking, whether it be negative or positive, and just being?

Please be assured that I’m not dissing affirmations. In fact, I use them and believe in their value. What?! Yes, in spite of what I’ve said, I do use them because there is a way to use them correctly. Affirmations are basically statements that affirm a certain way of feeling, being or believing. They must be used when you are in a state in which they resonate with you. A good way to use them is with physical movement or posture. In other words, it’s not enough to think an affirmation. Your entire body and being must be involved. Let’s say you want to affirm “I am healthy and strong”. If you feel horrible, are slouched over on the couch filled with aches and pains, you are wasting energy affirming anything. Instead, let’s say you decide to get off the couch, put your running shoes on and go for a brisk walk. After a few minutes of inhaling fresh air and moving your body, you may start to feel less crappy, and so you begin, with a spring in your step, to affirm that you are healthy and strong. Now we’re talking! Now your subconscious can believe what you are saying. You see, your subconscious mind hears what you MEAN, not what you say or think. You can’t lie to it. There has to be a measure of believability in what you are affirming, or, in my opinion, it’s useless. Now, let’s say you are ill and limited by what your body can or can’t do, but you still want to benefit from the power of affirmation. If you can get to a place, in your inner world, of centeredness and connection with an energy bigger than yourself, like in meditation, you can say “I am healthy and strong” and have it work for you because you are in a state beyond the superficial realm of body and mind. There, you are in touch with an ultimate truth and power that rings true to your authentic nature. You can therefore “drop” any affirmation you want into that expanded sense of awareness and be assured that you are not lying to yourself. In the same way, saying “I love you” or “I forgive you” to yourself or someone else can work if said with the right intention. Even if you don’t believe it, if you go to that place and say it humbly and with an open heart, your intention will be heard. It’s almost like a prayer, like you’re saying “May I love myself” or “May I forgive” etc.  Starting with “May I” (be well, be happy, be safe etc.) is at the heart of a practice called loving-kindness meditation. This method holds a very different energy than faking what you’re saying. It takes you from the level of mind/thinking straight to the soul of the matter.

Thinking positively, then, can be negative if used in the way I learned about it many years ago. Being paranoid about your thoughts and constantly struggling to replace the negative with positive ones is only exhausting. It is human to have negative thoughts. Take a deep breath, and let go of the need to control your thinking. Instead, notice the negative thoughts and be ok with them, letting them pass by. Stay tuned in to what you’re focusing on. Stay in touch with how you’re really feeling and what you’re meaning/believing. If there’s something you can do about the negative state you find yourself in (like taking a nap if you’re tired), do it! Otherwise, shift your state by engaging your body or turning to silence and stillness. Either way, you’ll be in a better position to use affirmations to your advantage, or to simply accept the state you’re in, knowing it is temporary.