The Dark Side of Positive Thinking
The power of positive thinking is amazing. Tapping into a deep desire to overcome adversity by choosing to see what is positive rather than what overwhelms us is a strength that proves itself time and time again. Intentionally framing our experiences as opportunities rather than problems, learning rather than failing, and character development rather than a slam to our ego keeps us from crumbling under the pressure and stress of life today. Resilience relies heavily on positive thinking, optimism, and a sunny perspective.
Positive thinking and self-talk can also soothe the pain of what we do not want to face, luring us into a false reality where everything is okay even though it is not. Sometimes positive affirmations and assurances serve more to protect and insulate than to inspire and motivate.
I used to be part of an online community focused on weight loss and fitness, comprised mostly of women in their twenties who wanted to lose weight. In fact, my participation in this group is part of what led me to a career as a Certified Wellness Coach. It was in this virtual community where I was able to observe the psychology of weight loss, understand the complexities of motivation and momentum, analyze patterns of behavior, and ultimately begin to strategize with folks about how to change the path of their journey. Along the way, a few of the positive, upbeat mantras that were tossed around between the members began to sound a little hollow. Watch out for these tricky positive mantras that might lead you down a wayward path.
“Progress, not perfection.” Changing your health is a journey, and that road is not often a straight one. There are plenty of “two steps forward, one step back,” moments when progress is as slow as a turtle through molasses on a winter day. It’s frustrating, but that’s how it goes sometimes. And, it really is true that making progress, even slow progress, is the name of the game. The trick with this motivating mantra is in making sure that we’re not fooling ourselves into confusing effort with progress. Making an effort does not always lead to progress. Effort is important, but if it doesn’t move the rock a little further along, it’s not progress. Many times we shrug our shoulders and say, “well, I tried. It’s about progress, not perfection.” Hold on there. Trying is not progress. Sure, trying can lead to learning and learning is a form of growth, but it only counts as progress if the experience serves as a catalyst for a change in status.
“Healthy at any size.” This positive mantra is often confused with the similar but technically different perspective of beauty at any size. It is my personal opinion that beauty comes in all sizes; examples surround us in art, culture, and daily life. I absolutely believe in and champion the positive perspective of beauty regardless of the circumference of our bodies. But whether or not you can be healthy at any size is a conversation to be had with your physician. The human body is a tricky place; we all know someone who seems to defy logic and science when their habits don’t result in the outcome we expect. By chiming to each other that we can be healthy at any size, we lure ourselves into believing that the shape of our bodies directly translates to the health of our bodies. It is not necessarily so, on either end of the spectrum.
“Everything in moderation.” This is a tricky one, and where I want to add an asterisk and say, “unless that’s a problem for you!” It is my professional opinion that moderation is important and ideal for a healthy, balanced life. Sustainable habits are those that can survive and thrive in the actual lives we live in - with birthday parties, office lunches, pizza night, and road trips. Unless that’s a problem for you. If there is something that you know from experience always leads to chaos in your life, even a moderate amount of it can be too much. If an indulgence that you’re passing off as being okay in moderation is preventing you from making progress, that’s not moderation. That’s a habit. There are legitimate times when we have to accept that some things are not okay for us, even in moderation, and to try to force them into it is actually the opposite of living in moderation. It’s okay to opt out of moderation sometimes.
I love sharing positive affirmations and mantras to boost energy, smooth ruffled feathers, and motivate someone to take their effort to the next level of ability. But, it is important that those words have substance and are helpful, not enablers of maintaining the status quo. This week, choose your words carefully. Your heart and mind believe them!
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About This Blog
Each week, I write the "Healthy Heather Blog" in the Tallahassee Democrat. It is republished here in case you are not a subscriber (what???). Sometimes it is really good and other times it is just okay. Thanks for reading it regardless of your opinion!