I become rather irritated when I enter the sugary world portrayed by the Happiness movement and the average self-help book. The message is clear : Think positively and the world will be a better place, riches and happiness will follow and you will never have a negative thought again. Nice as this thought is, it is totally unrealistic in practice and usually a more realistic view on life is a better angle to take.
As a CBT therapist, I deal in realism. What that means is that in therapy, my clients are made to realize that life is mostly difficult with various ups and downs and things are not going to be great all the time. It is how we deal with the downs that determine how good the ups will be. This is an essential mindset to take if recovery is to take place. If we can be mostly satisfied with who we are, what we are doing and who with are with most of the time, then life is not so bad and maybe that is all we can ask for. Contrast that with the unreal, perfectionist world portrayed in self-help literature. Please don’t get me wrong at this point. I am all for positive thinking but only when it is realistically applied.
When I take on a new client, one of the first assignments they get is to fill in Daily Mood Sheets. This is a wonderful instrument that charts reaction to negative triggers, looks at the automatic thoughts and behavior that follows and then gives the client a chance to look at the situation from a different angle. The biggest hurdle to these sheets is the ability to look at things realistically in the context that the situation took place. Once this is learnt, a mindset clicks in that is one of acceptance that things won’t and can’t always go our way, people do not always (though sometimes) set out to offend us and not every situation we find ourselves in (though some) is aimed at us personally. This is the idea behind realistic thinking, that we accept that life will not always be as we want it to be but mostly will.
Certainly, it’s important to maintain a positive attitude, but this is different from positive thinking. Positive thinking in a way puts unrealistic goals in our path, which when they fail to materialize after so much emotional investment, can be devastating. Conversely, a positive attitude gives us the energy to deal with either success or failure in a meaningful way. Positive thinking can be considered somewhat of a trap, looking at things with a black or white stance , giving us an attachment to outcomes which has an effect on our self-worth. It also closes the door to awareness of what it is to learn from failure and hence a chance to enjoy success.
The Tao doesn’t take sides;
it gives birth to both good and evil.
The Master doesn’t take sides;
she welcomes both saints and sinners.
The Tao is like a bellows:
it is empty yet infinitely capable.
The more you use it, the more it produces;
the more you talk of it, the less you understand.
Hold on to the center.
– Tao Te Ching verse 5
Want to know more about Dr Nicholas Jenner? Check out what his clients say….HERE