The Problem with Positivity
Is That Upbeat Mindset Healthy or Superficial?
by Shannon L. Lee, founder of the Self-Awareness Institute
As we move through our day, we are constantly being influenced – both internally, by our thoughts, and externally, by our surroundings.  From the people you hang out with, to the books you read, to the news you consume – and especially the social media you browse – you are being constantly bombarded with both positive and negative content.  When this exposure is mixed in with our internal thoughts (our limiting beliefs, judgments of ourselves and others, fears, hopes, and dreams) this jumble of influences ultimately determines our overall mindset.

It is vitally important to include mindset as you focus on increasing your self-awareness and self-care, as your mindset can either propel you forward toward the life of your dreams or keep you where you are, feeling stuck and frustrated with your current situation.  It makes sense, then, that in order to make a significant difference in your life, you have to consciously improve your mindset.

Becoming more intentional about the content you consume – by eliminating more negative content and bringing in more positive – can have a dramatic impact on your mindset.  After all, it’s hard to be positive if you’re constantly consuming negative content that leaves you feeling anxious, depressed, angry, or fearful.  While shifting your focus from life’s negatives to its positives can be healthy and lead to a happier life, how we make that shift is important.  After all, painful and negative experiences can fuel our commitment to greater self-awareness and growth – and ignoring warning signs or being uninformed can leave us unprepared when difficult situations arise that we need to address.

Developing a positivity mindset has become a popular topic nowadays – mainstream media has countess articles on the power of affirmations, the benefits of meditation, and other seemingly perfect antidotes to the negative influences that surround us.  However, there’s a big difference between the naivety of a Pollyanna outlook (the equivalent of a child plugging their ears and humming to ignore something) and the empowered Adult stance of being informed and aware without being dragged into the pit of despair.  So, while positivity plays an overall helpful role, it ultimately depends upon what form of positivity you are employing.

What Is Positivity?

Positivity is simply the practice of keeping your awareness on the “good stuff” more than the “bad stuff” – looking on the bright side and keeping your chin up are commonly recognized characteristics.  The benefits of a positive mindset have long been documented, and (according to the Mayo Clinic) include:
  • increased life span
  • lower rates of depression
    • lower levels of distress and pain
    • greater resistance to illnesses
    • better psychological and physical well-being
    • better coping skills during hardships and times of stress
    • longer and more restful sleep
    Your relationships are impacted as well.  You are constantly attracting other like-minded individuals – if you don’t feel nurtured and elevated by your current circle, it’s time to re-polarize your peer magnet.

    The Problem with Positivity

    Some people bristle or cringe when they hear the term “positive mindset” – and rightfully so, when it’s used as a shallow, quick-fix mental band aid for anything painful or disturbing.  There’s a big difference between conscious, healthy (authentic or solution-oriented) positivity and superficial (toxic or stagnant) positivity.

    It’s easy to fall into the knee-jerk trap of superficial positivity.  It takes awareness and committed work to attain and maintain healthy positivity.  Note to the Ego: stoicism, denial, overgeneralization, and platitudes are not your friends!

    Superficial Positivity produces:
    • shame and guilt (not doing it “right” if not staying or feeling positive 24/7)
    • inauthenticity
    • isolation
    • suppressed emotions
    • ignoring problems
    • slower forward momentum and stunted personal development
    4 Types of Positivity

    Toxic Positivity is essentially discounting or stuffing the emotional content of a situation by faking happiness or offering clichéd platitudes.  This can take the following forms: giving empty reassurances instead of authentic empathy and support; making unfair comparisons; having unrealistic expectations; and minimizing your own or other people’s experiences with “feel good” quotes or statements.

    Stagnant Positivity is only slightly better – it’s basically premature positivity, where difficult feelings are acknowledged, but likely not fully processed or expressed.  You’re trying to put on a brave face, but you’re not taking healthy action towards your desired outcomes.  If you find yourself in this space, it’s extremely important to remember that affirmations alone will not change your life.

    Authentic Positivity is when you’re allowing yourself to fully feel all the “yuck” – including processing, releasing, and expressing your emotions responsibly.  Only after this is complete can you be fully present with the current situation, where you can explore possibilities and allow yourself to look for potential silver linings.

    Solution-Oriented Positivity is the healthiest place to be, and is only reached after you have moved through the Authentic phase.  You can be fully centered in your Adult and look at circumstances objectively and proactively (expect the best, prepare for the worst).  You understand your needs, explore your next steps, and seek support if needed.  Then you set your intentions and take action!

    Tips for Centering Yourself in Healthy Positivity

    Give yourself permission to explore and express difficult emotions, and learn to create the space for others to do the same.  Feelings are flags – use them to uncover what you truly want and need, then plan steps to move closer to your desired results.

    Surround yourself with other people who have or want a positive mindset, such as an accountability buddy, a support group, a mentor, or a coach.  Avoid the naysayers and Negative Nellies.

    Look for the silver lining, but listen for thunder.  This is all about being centered in your powerful Adult, while staying aware of potential challenges or red flags.

    Brush up your listening and communication skills.  People want to be heard, especially when under strain and stress.  Ask people how they are and sincerely listen to their response.  And speak up to request the same support for yourself when you need it.

    Play some uplifting music.  Remember that music has the power to both enhance our emotions and disrupt our Ego!

    Stop spreading negativity.  Focus on gratitude and compliments, rather than complaints.  Commit to random acts of kindness, and make a conscious effort to smile more (when it feels authentic).

    Here's a helpful chart with examples of superficial versus healthy positivity statements:

    Need help de-toxifying your positivity mindset?  For more information about self-awareness and support with your personal growth journey, consider joining the 14-Day Self-Awareness Challenge or attending the Self-Awareness Weekend.
    © 2021 Shannon Lee.  All rights reserved.
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