Lately (in preparation to launch FeelGooder) I’ve spent a fair amount of time reading self improvement literature. I wanted to get a feel for the vibe of what’s being taught.
While there were certainly some good, positive resources in the mix of what I read, I also found myself reacting against some of the teaching that I saw.
There was a distinct negative thread running through some of the resources that left a bad taste in my mouth. It went something like this:
“Your life sucks and I’m going to show you how to fix all your problems.”
Okay, so I never read that exact statement anywhere, but it was a recurring theme.
Disclaimer: I’m a “The Glass is Full” kinda guy
Before I go on, I think I need to say up front that I’m a pretty positive guy—perhaps too positive. When people ask me whether I’m a “glass half-empty or glass half-full” person, I reply that it’s completely full (it’s half full of water and half full of air). I’m an optimist—annoyingly so (according to some of those closest to me).
Okay, with that disclaimer out of the way, lets get back to the negative thread I picked up in some of the self improvement literature that I’ve been reading.
It’s not that I don’t think people have problems that they need to work on or fix (I have my fair share) it’s just that I wonder whether a better starting point might be a positive place.
My darkest night
I wasn’t always a “glass full” kind of guy.
Back in 1993, as a 21-year old, I came to a place in my life where I didn’t see a lot of point in going on. Through a series of events (of broken relationships and friendships, death, depression, dependency, and failure) that I didn’t have an ability to process healthily, I found myself one night on the side of a highway considering throwing myself in front of a truck.
It was my Darkest Night and an experience that I know many share.
I was unable to find a way to move forward through the mess that I faced.
Obviously—as evidenced by the fact that I’m writing this—I didn’t act on the thoughts I was having that night. Over the days, months, and years that followed, I was gradually able to find sense in the circumstances that lead me to that place and saw my life head in a more positive direction.
What brought about the change?
A number of factors played a part in my recovery but one was the influence of a woman I’ll call Alice (it’s not her real name).
Alice was the mother of a friend, and a person who had seen her own fair share of hardship in life. She had every right to be negative, bitter, and living in a dark place too—but she wasn’t.
We had many conversations over that time. I remember coming to her with the problems that I faced and asking for advice. She would almost ignore them as she refocused me upon the positives in my life.
I wanted to solve my problems—fix my life and make it better. She wanted me to see that I already had a good life in many ways.
Over the coming months Alice helped me to reframe my view on life—to take my eyes off the things that needed fixing and to begin to see a future based upon the positives that were already present in my life.
These positives included people (family and friends), experiences, and passions—things that I’d failed to see because I was so absorbed in fixing the broken areas in my life.
At first I struggled against seeing the positive (I was so absorbed in what was broken), but in time I began to see a few glimmers of hope.
Being able to see the positive is not always an easy thing to do. In fact, it took me years to get good at it (and there are days where I still catch myself and need to “switch it on”).
For me, this was actually something I needed to practice. Alice helped me initially but as I began to see the impact it was having on me, it became something I started to work on more intentionally. Over time I learned to look for and spot the good stuff. I began to be more aware of what was giving me energy and build upon that. In time it became more natural.
What I found is that the more I looked for and started to focus upon thinking about and doing what was working in my life, the less important the problems were.
There have still been problems that I’ve needed to overcome and work on (positive thinking doesn’t fix everything), but what I’ve found is it’s easier to tackle a problem when you have a positive outlook than one which is negative.
Avoiding false positivity
I hope I’m not coming across as one of those people who delude themselves with false positivity. I’m certainly not talking about convincing yourself that something that is bad is actually good.
Sometimes life does get dark—legitimately so.
Sometimes we need to grieve.
Sometimes we need to feel those dark times and acknowledge that we hurt and are experiencing pain.
However, sometimes I suspect we can get so overwhelmed and focused upon the negatives of life that they hold us back from experiencing life.
So as you face the day ahead, or ponder the day that’s been, take a moment or two out to identify some of the good things in your life.
For some of you this will be an easy task—you’ve already made a long list in your mind.
For others, it’ll be more of a struggle, but I encourage you to try it. Think about the people around you, the experiences that you’ve had, the interests and passions that you have (or have once had). You might need to search high and low, but keep searching until you find a glimmer of good and let yourself ponder that for a while.
One last tip—if you’re someone who struggles to find the positive, find someone who doesn’t. I was in such a gloomy place in my life that it took someone like Alice to help me in this area. Perhaps there’s an Alice in your life that you can ask for help?