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Whenever someone tells me that I've got to face reality, I always ask, which side? Because reality has a positive and a negative. What they really mean is I have to face the negative side. But too many people think that positive thinking means ignoring the negative and pretending all the time that everything is fine.
And that is where the confusion arises:
Positive thinking is more about acknowledging the negative side of a situation and then looking at what you can do to change it. It can also be about looking for the positives within any situation.
Acknowledging the negative does not mean complaining and moaning, and then doing nothing about it. It’s calling it as it is, and then choosing positive action to change it.
If I need a new car, visualizing the new car in my driveway is not enough. The car will not magically appear. Now I know that lots of people will tell you that the power of attraction will cause all sorts of synchronicities and coincidences to occur so that, against all the odds, I will wind up with the new car. And they may be right. But it still will not just appear in my driveway. It still requires some positive action on my part, such as opening a savings account, applying for a bank loan or buying a lottery ticket!
Henry Ford is famously quoted as saying “Whether you think you can, or you think you can't--you're right.” And he was right.
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If you think something is impossible, then there is no motivation to even try. Positive thinking is acknowledging that something is impossible in the present circumstances, but given the right circumstances, it may become possible.
For example, I could not run a 10 Kilometre race tomorrow, but with proper training and practice, I probably could in three months time. I would need to focus on my goal and be positive in my thinking. If I keep focusing on how unfit I am right now, or thinking about how difficult the training is, chances are, I will not be ready in three months time. Yes, I am unfit and yes, the training would be difficult and it’s okay to say that. Saying it is not being negative, it’s being real. Focusing on it is being negative.
So positive thinking does not mean pretending all is well and ignoring the negative. Nothing changes that way. Positive thinking involves acknowledging the problem, taking positive action to find a solution, and then focusing on the solution rather than continuing to focus on the problem.
And I know that there are some situations that seem impossible to change: But here's a story of how even the most difficult circumstances can contain something positive:
Some years ago, my friend's sister, Elaine (not her real name for privacy reasons) was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Of course, she and her family were shocked and sad, and they went through a period of grieving at first. But then Elaine came to the realization that she was wasting what precious time she had left, so she tried to savour the moments she had with her husband and children. The more she did this, the more she appreciated the life and family she had, and this more positive attitude began to rub off on her family.
Elaine insisted that they didn't ignore her illness and its inevitable consequences, and that they talked about it whenever they needed to. I remember one day coming into the house with my friend to find Elaine's teenage daughter sobbing on her mother's shoulder. Elaine just held her quietly until the sobbing subsided. We retreated into the garden to give them some space, but after a little while, we were called back to the kitchen where her daughter was making tea. They were talking about how the family were going to cope when Elaine was gone and how it was important to her that they allowed themselves all the time they needed to grieve, but she was adamant that they were not to “wallow in self-pity”. The conversation moved to reminiscing about the children’s’ early years and before long, everyone was laughing. I will admit that at the time, I found all of this a bit weird.
Some years later I ran into Elaine’s daughter when she was at college. The conversation came around to that day, and she said to me:
“Having my mum dying of cancer was very hard for me, and I still miss her. But the things she taught me during those last months will always stay with me. And I've tried to pass on her positivity to others.”
And then she told me a story:
The year before, her friend’s little brother was diagnosed with terminal cancer. She told the family the story of how her mother coped, and this family took her words to heart and did their best to savour the time they had with their little boy. They took him to Disney, to football games and tried to have as much fun as possible with him. In fact, the family laughed together more during this time than they ever had before.
But, this story has a happy ending. The child defied the doctors and eventually made a full recovery from the cancer. And his mother began a local support group for families affected by serious illness.
Both of these stories demonstrate that even in the most difficult circumstances, a positive attitude can make things a little easier to bear.
Both the positive and the negative are realities. Which are you choosing to focus on?