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There comes a point where we realize that life is not all sunshine and rainbows. We’re bound to confront things for the way they truly are. The problem begins when it has become too difficult for us to confront reality.
A lot of fantasy happens when it has become too difficult to confront reality. We can start with scapegoating: failed at waking up early? “It’s the alarm clock’s fault.” Failed at babysitting the baby? “It’s the baby’s fault.”
Another one is sugarcoating: gained 150 pounds eating daily at McDonald’s? Just say, “I’m not fat, I’m just really healthy.”
We all compensate in some form but we can overdo it. What psychologists tell us is that we’re built with some form of psychological immunity. The purpose of this immunity is to protect ourselves from something that can be too overwhelming for us to understand or process. So, for a developing mind, it involves constant learning, training, and conditioning in order to accept and face varying life challenges.
Now, when there’s limited learning to none at all, the mind becomes ineffective at confronting life issues. This is where psychological immunity can be detrimental to one’s growth. In the process of protecting itself, the mind can become strongly ego-based, and end up enabling self-destructive and anti-social behaviors due to its inability to work with reality. Because it’s only working through its limited tools, it becomes just an issue of self-preservation.
Then enter the magic pill syndrome. The quick fix tendency. Our favorite pill: positive thinking.
Positive thinking is often misunderstood. Add the confusing law of attraction which says to focus only on the positive so that whatever you want will happen: problems will go away on their own, money will suddenly appear, broken relationships will be automatically fixed—because it’s all about positive thinking. Yet all they really are, in the grand scheme of things, are temporary patches or feel-good pills. At the end of the day, you still have to face the many issues driving whatever problems you’re dealing with.
Avoidance, which involves denial, is one common unhealthy coping strategy when faced with a serious problem. Somehow it found its way in under the guise of positive thinking and the enabling of the following myths:
MYTH #1.) POSITIVE THINKING MEANS AVOIDING REALITY
Positive thinkers embrace reality and are hopeful. For them, everything is laid on the table. They don’t see reality as something that is always fixed or automatically a problem. If there’s something they cannot change, they find alternatives. They face the problem head on and let things take their natural course. They look for solutions and do what they can. They’re willing to face the facts, even if it hurts.
Unlike negative thinkers, positive thinkers choose and believe that they can overcome the reality that they face. They’re even willing to fail many times to get it right.
Positive thinkers are emotionally resilient and they do face reality. Positive thinkers are focused on the specific actions and opportunities that are relevant for overcoming many problems and in the process they end up acquiring many awesome skills.
Problems for positive thinkers are opportunities. Accepting reality actually makes them even stronger and able to solve problems more effectively because they learn from it.
MYTH #2.) BEING REALISTIC IS BEING NEGATIVE
Being realistic means you’re acknowledging what’s going on. Acknowledging is not the same as being negative. Negativity is more of a response or a reaction. It’s about showing more of the attitude that is being given.
It’s up to us whether we want to give in to fear or whether we take a step back and process the reality that we are presented with. Often times, we actually make more mistakes deciding out of fear, which then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. We hurry in our decisions instead of taking time to process things.
Fear-based thinking actually limits our vision of reality. If you think about it, reality is way bigger than our thoughts. So, in a way, our perceived realistic thinking is not necessarily equivalent to the actual reality.
Positive thinking, on the other hand, broadens our vision of reality. It allows us to expand our thinking. It allows us to see new variables that would be helpful in solving a problem.
MYTH #3.) POSITIVE THINKING MEANS TO BE COMPLETELY FREE OF PAIN AND CHALLENGES
Positive thinkers accept that pain and challenges are part of life. Positive thinkers see pain as a learning, conditioning, or strengthening tool. For them, pain is an ally, a master, or a teacher.
The big misconception of positive thinking is to completely disregard the hard stuff. But at the end of the day, reality is still going to be there no matter what. It doesn’t care about your feelings or your life circumstances. It’s up to you if you want to face it or make excuses.
PAIN & ADVERSITY AS GIFTS
Of course, it’s natural to avoid pain because it’s an indication that something is harmful for us. But not all pain or life challenges are indications of something so bad for us that we should run away from them or avoid them—pain or life challenges actually strengthen us and make us grow. If you look at how nature behaves, diamonds are formed by millions of years of heat and pressure. An Adonis body is carved by going through the pain of working out. Mental strength is built through enduring mental stress. Discoveries or breakthroughs are made through hard work. Emotionally strong individuals have endured defeats.
The same goes for developing a healthy self-esteem—it is developed by experiencing honest criticisms. That is why those who have fragile self-esteems can’t even handle the slightest truth about themselves—even if the truth is not a personal attack, they still think it’s personal. They get defensive, and even lash out when corrected. Of course, there are exceptions. One is if it’s coming from a condescending, pretentious narcissist who is focused on assassinating your character—this is toxic, and those are the type of criticisms you should ignore.
We have varying measures of resiliency. The key is to improve our resiliency over time. We have to be able to take the difficulties life hits us with. That is why when we were kids, we were pushed—no matter how much we hated it—to be diligent in doing our homework or school projects, for they were meant to build us up mentally. But if you’ve always been a lazy bum, copying (or stealing) someone’s homework, or letting your nanny do your school project for you, you will not build enough healthy tolerance to face higher levels of schooling such as college and, eventually, life. You’ll end up going for quick fixes and become narcissistic yourself, relying on delusions which are far, far away from reality.
INCREASE YOUR PSYCHOLOGICAL CAPITAL
Under the context of Positive Psychology, instead of relying just on feel-good quick fixes which often lead to different addictions, raise your level in these four traits:
Hope and optimism are closely related but are often confused. According to psychologist Rick Snyder, hope works within the framework of reality. It’s the need to realize something that the individual desires and that it involves a will towards a goal and planning. Optimism, on the other hand, is the confidence towards a favorable outcome in spite of reality. Because reality is not always fixed. Things can still change. And even if things don’t change, there’s always another opportunity.
Self-efficacy is the belief in oneself in accomplishing specific tasks (and they accumulate to accomplish a goal), while resilience is the ability to bounce back and beyond in the face of adversity. It means to persist in spite of difficulty. To cope in spite of distress.
These are the four components of what is called Psychological Capital (also known as Positive Psychological Capital). And positive thinkers do invest in increasing their psychological capital. They know it’s not enough just to think positively but that they have to act as well. They know they have to go through adversity or face the music, which in turn enables them to go further in life.
Raising your psychological capital doesn’t mean that life is just all about pain but accepting it still plays a part. Of course, life is meant to be lived happily, with sunshine and rainbows, so raising your psychological capital actually results in a paradox:
It is actually by facing pain that life becomes less painful. It is actually by facing difficulties that life becomes less difficult.
That is why it’s narcissism when we end up always scapegoating, or blaming everybody or anything else. And putting down people who are enduring life difficulties. We avoid or overcompensate. Or we end up surrendering to the status quo and nothing changes.
We can go on with life by trolling, gossiping, and making bad excuses. We can tell ourselves and others a different story just to save face. We can keep avoiding confrontations, issues, and problems. We can choose to believe that we can’t be wrong because we have to be positive—but what all that means is we’re still fragile underneath.
And when things do go wrong or when it’s too late, we have no one else to blame but ourselves.