Why positivity can affect me negatively…


Positive thinking may be overrated.

Wait — I don’t mean there is anything good about negativity.

Maybe a better way to say it is… Positivity can have its pitfalls.

I began this post as an attempt to understand why i sometimes find “positive thinking” posts off-putting. What i’m coming to realize is that what i’m really contrasting, rather than positive vs negative, is one mode of encouragement vs another.

What i will call Mode One is a sort of tough talk, one that says… “Stop making excuses! Don’t let obstacles get in your way.”

Whereas Mode Two is more like… “You have a lot to deal with. Take the time you need to process and recharge.”

I rarely hear Mode Two as excessively coddling, which, taken to a far enough degree, would be its own inherent pitfall, i suppose.

It seems i more often come across the tough talk mode taken to a degree which hits me as lacking balance. Let me state clearly that i’m not disputing the intent behind it. Now that i think about it, maybe it’s simply that some people are more given by temperament to the first, others to the second. And (or) perhaps the approach we tend to take with others reflects what we believe we need to hear ourselves.

What makes me uncomfortable is that if the stated objective is personal “success” (depending on how one defines it), the resulting motivational-speak can come across as advocating for excessive self-focus, and even as somewhat detached from others’ real struggles. Referring to another’s difficulties as excuses has the potential to be heard as dismissive rather than understanding.

Please know that I’m well acquainted with motivators for whom this is not true! They genuinely care as much about others as themselves and have pushed through their own crucibles. I mean only to say it can still sound that way. (Maybe it’s just me.)

I’ve heard it said, and find it to be true, that what we need from encouragement is rarely new information and much more often simply to be reminded of what we already know. It can be powerful to hear it in someone else’s voice.

Whether what is most needed is a gentle voice or, say, one that benevolently barks, will of course be a matter of timing as well.

It’s always true that our life experience is a mix of what happens to us and our response to it. The worst of times call for acknowledgement of the awfulness and for allowing time for transition. The acceptance comes, and then the determination toward forward movement.

We all need encouragement, in good times as well as bad  — and we are often more aware than we’d like to admit of what our wisest course of action is. It is motivating to hear it from an outside voice.

Even more urgently needed at times is to be reminded not of what we ought to do, but of who we are. That we are valuable, regardless of our choices. That we can be happy even if we are not driven in the same way someone else is.

I’ve said for a long time that people need to be very careful with Shoulds. Both the ones we hear from others and the ones we give them (to say nothing of the ones we speak to ourselves). As a hearer of them, i can never live up to other people’s Shoulds, even if it were wise to try – which it isn’t. As a giver of them, my Shoulds inevitably carry an implication that i know better than you. (And, yes, i’m aware i’m offering one now.)

Whether we are gentler encouragers or sterner admonishers, we can be true to our own voice while keeping in mind that our readers are in all different places — and that is what will give our motivating words the greatest positive charge.


21 thoughts on “Why positivity can affect me negatively…

  1. It’s important to remember that those who seek to give encouragement don’t always know what works best for the person who needs it. How does the person who may need encouragement tell the other what they require?

    • Yes, good point. It may be hard to tell – and this also ties in with the question of timing. Tnx for commenting, Ryan.

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  4. The “should” statements or even worse the “you have to” or “you need to” are anathema for many people. I think I may well be one of them. Interesting post with lots to consider.

    • It’s true that even the way a well-meaning piece of advice is constructed can make one bristle, regardless of the worthiness of the advice itself.

  5. I think it’s far healthier to be positive about any situation than be negative. Optimism and hope is far better than pessimism and gloominess. That’s not to say you ignore the problem, but you deal with it in a positive, understanding and determined manner. Thanks for sharing

  6. When I was a kid, my mother was quick to offer fervent but utterly contentless encouragement after any disappointment. To me at least, that kind of positivity was off-putting, as if somebody was waving a banner with a big happy face emoji in my (neither happy nor dejected) face.

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