I have mixed feelings about inspirational speakers, motivational posters, and other forms of paid encouragement and fee-based reassurance. Saying “mixed feelings” is more polite than using the phrase, “deep, abiding skepticism.” Sometimes, though, I have to admit to myself that my bias against feel good advice is misplaced. My prejudice against what too often seems (to me) fraudulent power of positive thinking gibberish can get in the way of allowing positivity to impact events and circumstances.
I do not subscribe to the idea that obstacles are purposely placed in our way to guide us around them to find greater happiness along another path. However, I believe one’s response when confronting obstacles and agonizing over difficult decisions shapes outcomes. I watched a motivational video this morning, at Facebook’s insistence, that presented an utterly unrealistic set of circumstances in which a woman returned to her “calling” after a her promising career was cut short by downsizing. Though the set-up was obviously manufactured, it caused me to think about my own experiences. Thinking about them made me remember how important it is to view obstacles and negative challenges as simply unpleasant opportunities to find alternate paths.
Attitude is enormously important to one’s ability to cope with pressure. I know first hand how easy it is to become dejected and to believe that hopefulness is sheer folly. That attitude feeds its own self-fulfilling prophecy. While it is hard not to feel wounded and angry and anxious, adopting an attitude of insistent determination that one will survive and get beyond the problem is crucial to overcoming the assault on one’s mental well-being. That having been said, I do not possess a magic formula for successfully adopting an attitude of insistent determination. It may be that one has to recognize the importance of that attitude, even without having the mental capacity to adopt it, so that when a window of capacity opens, one is able to leap through it.
My recollections of serious challenges—job loss, potentially deadly illnesses, financial setbacks, etc.—remind me that, in every case, once I finally recognized it was up to me to act aggressively to overcome the obstacles before me, I was able to make headway. Even though I could not force someone to hire me, I could not cure my illness or my wife’s, and could not manufacture money or snatch it out of an empty box, I could direct my energies toward finding resources that could help solve the immediate problem. There was no assurance, of course, that the problems would suddenly vanish. And they never did, at least not suddenly and not without the expenditure of significant energy and mental reserves. The ultimate outcomes were not always what I hoped, but they always were better than they would have been had I simply given up and shriveled into a corner to waste away.
So, positive thinking can be an effective tool. But like an electric drill without a power source, it is useless without the mindset and the action necessary to put it to work. I am writing this post as an admonition to myself to get my butt in gear. Putting on a happy face is insufficient. Take assertive, aggressive action. The fight is in me.
In reading back on what I’ve written, it’s as if it was written in code intended only for someone who is privy to the translation keys for the code book. My apologies. I know the code and I know where the book is hidden. The only question is whether I will follow my own advice.