Written by: Visa Shanmugam, Executive Contributor
Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.
It’s no secret that developing and maintaining a positive mindset is essential to success. Most of us believe that our actions (how hard you work, how much you study, how much you work out) impact our success and results the most. It’s not. Your subconscious thoughts, beliefs, the energy you embody and the attitude that you have while taking action impacts your results more than the action itself.
In fact, I strongly believe that the thoughts that you think before taking a particular action impacts your results more than the action itself.
That’s how important a positive mindset is. BUT, positive thinking is not always easy to develop or maintain and that’s because of three major misconceptions and myths around positive thinking.
I am breaking down the three most common myths about positive thinking.
Myth #1 - Positive thinking DOES NOT mean that you always have to be happy.
This common misconception leads to a lot of frustration, as it’s impossible for anyone to be happy all the time. As human beings, we are designed to feel a wide range of feelings, from complete euphoria to utter devastation. From jealousy to contentment. From confusion to clarity. This is the beauty of being human.
What we need to realize is that there are no ‘bad’ feelings. All feelings are good and valid. But not all feelings make us feel good. There is a big difference. In this article, I will be referring to ‘bad’ feelings as negative feeling emotions (anger, jealousy, frustration, sadness, grief) and ‘good’ feelings as positive feeling emotions (joy, excitement, confidence, love).
I believe that a lot of us fall into the trap of denying ourselves of negative feelings in the name of positive thinking. This is detrimental to our well-being and the overall goal of building a positive mindset. A positive mindset is built when we allow ourselves to feel our true feelings.
I used to be scared of emotions such as sadness, grief, fear, and anger. These were unwelcome emotions because they made me uncomfortable, and the people around me uncomfortable. Happy emotions, on the other hand (joy, excitement, pride), are feelings that make everyone feel good. So it makes sense that we feel good sharing our positive feelings and emotions, but feel the need to hide our negative feeling emotions.
Have you ever observed your child or a friend crying and told them to “Stop crying. This is nothing” or we have tried distracting them with an ice cream or a Netflix binge? How many of us have felt deeply uncomfortable by watching someone grieve because we don’t know the right thing to say?
Telling others to stop crying, or to be happy, or distracting them with other activities has very little to do with helping them and more to do with helping ourselves. It sounds selfish, but we tell our children not to cry, because seeing them in pain and discomfort makes us deeply uncomfortable. Rather than sit with our discomfort, we tell our children to cheer up, so that we don’t have to experience any uncomfortable feelings.
In order to get good at positive thinking, we have to get good at experiencing ALL FEELINGS. When we avoid our negative feelings emotions, the effects are two-fold. First, we never begin our exploration for the root cause of them and second, we take away our chance at experiencing positive feelings emotions at a deep level.
You can’t know heat without experiencing the cold. You can’t know happiness, without experiencing sadness. In order to experience positive thinking, you have to give yourself and others permission to experience negative feelings emotions, without censorship.
Toxic positivity is the term used when we cover up our true feelings with fake happiness, because it’s what is expected of us.
When we cover up our true feelings and plaster it with positivity, you trap the negative emotions inside of you physically. If it’s not acknowledged, then it can’t be processed. If it’s not processed, then it can’t be released. If it’s not released, there is no room for the positive feelings to be deeply integrated into our being.
Myth #2: You Are Born to Think Positive or Negative
You are not born as a positive thinker or a negative thinker. Your family, friends, childhood experiences, and many other variables shape you into whether positive thinking and mindset come naturally to you.
You can go from a glass half empty kind of person to a glass half full. I am living proof of this. How? By becoming aware of the thoughts that you think on a daily basis.
We think around 60,000 thoughts a day, only 5% of which we are consciously aware.
The other 95% are subconscious and happen on autopilot. These are thoughts that you think all the time, which are so habitual that it’s impossible to separate where the thought ends and where you begin.
Thoughts like “I am not smart enough. I don’t have what it takes. I need to lose weight. I am not confident enough” are thoughts that we think are true about us. We have thought it so often that they must be true, right? Why else would we think it?
Not every thought you think is true. Most of the thoughts that we think are perceptions and beliefs, not actual truths.
Our negative thoughts are not our own. It was placed by someone else on to you or you interpreted it based on an experience.
A well-meaning friend, teacher, or a parent that was trying to help us become our best version. “You need to work harder” becomes “I am lazy”(belief). “You are chubby” becomes “I am fat” (belief). “You are dark” becomes “You aren’t pretty” (belief).
Negative feelings are easier to believe and hang on to because our brain is wired to focus on it. It’s easier to believe the negative things about us, than the positive ones.
Have you ever noticed that several people might give you compliments, but the one person that doesn’t or gives a backhanded compliment is the one you obsess over?
In order to cultivate a more positive mindset and thinking, it is vital that you learn to decipher what’s fact and what’s a belief. “I am not smart enough” or “I am lazy” and “I am too busy” is not a fact. It’s a belief. Beliefs can be changed. Facts cannot.
When you learn to differentiate your thoughts between facts and beliefs, then you have the freedom to pick whether or not you want to continue believing it.
You have the freedom to choose which thoughts you think repeatedly and which ones you let go of. If thinking “I am lazy” doesn’t make you feel good, then it’s a belief that you have permission to let go of and replace it with “I am willing to believe I am productive”.
It’s not always easy, but if you want to create a life that feels more joyful, meaningful and fulfilling, the thoughts you think are pivotal. Thoughts are easy to hold on to and easy to let go of.
You are the master of your thoughts. Your thoughts don’t master you.
Myth #3: I Can Only Feel Positive, When Others Feel Positively About Me
Fact: Positive thinking occurs when we learn to celebrate the small wins along the way
One of the biggest personal struggles I have faced in my life is learning to celebrate myself, without waiting for others to celebrate me. When we are children, we look to our parents, elders, teachers and caregivers to give us feedback on whether we are behaving appropriately or not. Am I behaving well? Am I making them proud?
We learn to feel good about ourselves when others find reason to feel good about us. Our self-esteem and self-worth become intricately tangled with what others think of us and how they feel about us. As we get older, we shift this responsibility from our teachers to our college professors, from our parents to our bosses in our jobs.
We wait to feel positive about ourselves until a third party has permitted us to feel positively toward us. “If they think I am good, then that must mean I am worth feeling good about”. One of the foundations of positive thinking is learning to feel good about who we are in the present moment, instead of waiting for others or a future version of ourselves.
I will feel better about myself when I have lost 10 lbs.
I will feel better about myself once I get into that school.
I will feel good about myself if I get this promotion.
We wait to feel positive, until we have the positive news in hand. This is backwards. Instead, learn to celebrate every small step you take towards the big goals that you are working towards, which builds positivity.
You worked out today, but the scales don’t show it.
Celebrate yourself anyway.
You interviewed for the job but didn’t get the interview. Celebrate yourself anyway.
You applied to your dream school but didn’t get admitted. Celebrate yourself anyway.
Celebrate the journey, not just the outcome.
In order to build a positive mindset, you need to be the first in line to celebrate your greatness. And there is greatness within all of us.
Visa Shanmugam, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine
Visa Shanmugam is a mindset transformation coach helping professionals reach their highest potential in all areas of their life through radical self-love and spirituality. She has overcome an auto immune disease, depression and deep cultural programming, to creating a life and career of her dreams, including her coaching business Becoming You LLC. Visa is an MBA graduate from University of Texas at Dallas and worked for Microsoft and Fossil.