Often, what I see going around my twitter feed impacts what I think about. Especially when I see it for several days across several tweets. Sometimes these things are interesting, refreshing, and other times they are a little annoying or even irritating. When the latter happens, on a whim I might even mute or unfollow (that’s not a threat, neither an attempt to control what you tweet – everyone ought to keep tweeting what they like and not worry about who follows and unfollows, in my arrogant ‘pinion).
The subject this morning and the previous day has been the power of positive thinking and all the achievements manifested by it. Here’s Rachel Haywire. Introductions made, and I mulled over it in bed for a while and thought I can say a few things…
The Depress and her Friend
What people understand by “positive thinking” varies. Especially in cases where you are a little depressed and have been complaining to a friend how hard your life is and that the whole world seems to be working against you, and then your friend humbly advises to try to think more positively. Everybody hates that, that’s not news. My theory is the kind of friend who says that stuff just gets bored with your complaining and wants to do something else than listen to all that whining. So, in the disguise of well-meaning advice they simply try to tell you to shut the fuck up about it already, without offending you. And you know well enough – that’s not how it usually works out – the depressee takes offense in it anyway.
I find this is a situation in which both are stupid fucking idiots. Moaning oh woe is me doesn’t help anyone get anywhere, neither telling someone to think more positively. What the moaning in many cases does is equally selfish and stupid – many complain with the hopes to manipulate the listener into doing something about it – without asking for the favor. They want to shift the responsibility away from themselves; and dynamically – saying “think more positively” is an attempt to shift that responsibility right back. It all pans out.
The Secret and Norman Vincent Peale
Another angle with all this positive thinking is the one in which the movie “The Secret” promises to you that if you visualize it and vibe just right for long enough – good things will come to you. Norman Vincent Peale makes a similar case by saying that having a habit of good prayers or having at reach the good book full of fascinating quotes will make you more attractive to positive outcomes.
While it is tempting to take a piss at those ideas saying that they are silly believing one can make things manifest out of thin air with their mind – positive OR negative – it is equally tempting to take a piss at those who like to take such a piss at those ideas. They are not saying you can manifest things out of thin air, or that thinking and vibing on certain levels has any effect on the space around you. Yes, there are people who make such claims – but usually they are the ones who are taking that piss.
What is Behind the Power of Positive Thinking?
Thinking does many things – but not around us – it achieves it inside us. For one, if you visualize a certain outcome our goal to yourself – it doesn’t start building by itself in the reality, but it starts affecting what kinds of choices you make going forward. If you visualize having a happy family around you and building a house – and you’re not just sucker-dreaming about it, but it’s what you seriously want – you take it into consideration every time you are presented some options. If you are invited out to hang out with some low-live drug addicts and party with them for 2 weeks – you make a little calculation in your head – does that bring you closer to what you want for yourself, even though it might be fun at the time, or does that stray you further away from it?
Having a goal or a thing in your head does that and nothing else – it impacts what kinds of choices you make, how you behave – more importantly – what kinds of deals and people you say NO to. By saying no to everything that would take you further away from what you want, you are narrowing down the path towards it – and eventually you might even get there – although, there’s never any guarantees. But you’ll have better chances anyway.
Not thinking Negatively is a start.
I’m not proud in admitting this but the first place I learned from starting to understand my thoughts better was thanks to psychology (oh wow, it actually did its job!). Cognitive behavioral therapy aims to help people understand their negative thinking patterns, helps tell the difference between a feeling and a thought (or a narrative, or a belief – that’s one of the most important things in stopping “feeling depressed” when in many cases we are “thinking depressed” (thanks to which our diet and other habits are hellish, too – and then, of course, we also feel heavy and worn)). I never did the actual “therapy” part of it – I find it stilly and useless, but the theoretical or philosophical part of it should be enough.
I recall back at the time I visualized myself as the captain of a space ship, I was the only human in the whole universe who was capable of steering it – and even I had to tinker and test things to get a good grip of it. To leave the steering wheel to someone else at this point would be catastrophic – no one would take it – or anyone that would, would crash land it, fatally so.
Clarity is Heavenly
I’d say everything changed the second I learned to tell the difference between what I uncontrollably feel, what are my automatic thoughts, what are my negative thinking patterns (and I didn’t have too many of those). The easiest tell is when we say shit like, “I feel like you’re trying to insult me.” Well, here’s the news – that is not a feeling, that is a narrative. That’s what you THINK is happening – and even when it might be right, not confusing it for a feeling makes the experience different. You certainly feel something in such moment – uncomfortable or helpless – other people indeed do have the power to put you in uncomfortable or helpless situations – situations in which they leave you no gratified way out – I’m never denying that.
Having that clarity means we become less confused. And when we are less confused, we can make better decisions. When someone leaves you in a shit position – you no longer anxiously try to negotiate your way our of it by trying to convince that person to show some class and respect – but you are collected enough to simply walk away without worrying whether it is the right or wrong thing to do.
Confusion is Hell
So, much of what appears to be recognize as negative thinking, seems to be this confusion – about what is real, about what we think is real – our little stories in our head about who feels what about us, the little conspiracies and theories about other people, and their conspiracies and theories about us – confuse that realm with the realm of reality or feelings – and it all gets messed up. You’ll live in a constant state of cognitive dissonance, you’ll be a nervous wreck, you’re suspicious of everyone conspiring against you and at the same time hope and pray to the universe that it isn’t true.
Part what makes that mash of realms so painful is also the idea that it is very important to know and feel correctly what others are thinking – as if they hold the keys to our fortune. As if they are holding on to the steering wheel of that spaceship of ours. Suppose it’s part of our desire to connect with people, to find our own tribe, the circle of people with whom we can completely let our guard down and have some sincere fun. That is a good desire, but in the wrong context and with confusion it starts playing against us very catastrophically.
I must say, before I learned to filter that stuff, I was pretty attached to being able to dance around my own confusion. It seemed sexy, somehow, wild and neurotic. But today I’d say it’s not a good way to live your everyday life – it’s a good superpower to resort to when the shit hits the fan – when some psycho is trying to break you, and you know you have this superpower – you can just spit in their face and laugh like a maniac. Having been there, done that – you’ll always have it, an invaluable piece of experience, a skill, if you will. I think when it comes do doing art – that state is a gold mine. Being able to get into it at will is like a secret brush. But not helpful at all when it comes to setting yourself up for the better things you might want in life.
It fucks up our ability to see things clearly – and when we don’t see things clearly – we are incapable of connecting. No matter how good or bad the person on the other side, no matter how ready or not they are to connect – when you’re a mess and stuck in your fantastic narratives – connecting with you is 100% impossible. So, take care of your end, and eventually you’ll meet people or things that have taken care of it on their end, too.
The metaphor for cleaning up and organizing is powerful in that sense – do that and you can tell up from down. And after that’s done, maybe you can also figure out what it is in your life – and not postcard dreams like dreaming the highlight of playing rockstar on stage performing for 40k people, or selling your millionth book, or sipping a cocktail on paradise island – these are not the kind of dreams Peale or the Secret had in mind, I’m afraid. But the kinds of dreams that end up making you grow as a person – so you can become the kind of person who lives the kind of life, attracts the kind of company that you’d like.
I can’t say I have done much of it like a stupid therapeudical exercise, I think all those lists and mantras are a little weird – I mean I have tried, but I did once and then never again – maybe it will be different when I figure out what that goal would be. But other, less grandiose goals that were up to me at least partly – well, I’ve got it. My life has improved – and it would not have if I had left myself in the confused state of mind that I was in.
That’s not to say that I am now immune to confusion. The lockdown started getting to me some month ago or so – the weather inside my head got real grim for a few days. But I’m in better company now, some good things have come to me (which would be impossible if I wasn’t at the right place at the right time – lesson: the best you can do is make sure you’re not at the wrongest place, with the wrongest people, doing the wrongest things – because this eliminates the good possibilities for good).