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Friday, October 22, 2010

The Benefits of Being Positive

I got a comment in response to one of my recent blog posts that my "posts are always so positive." I took that as a real complement, as being more positive is something I've been working on.

I always considered myself a fairly negative person, although it isn't something I gave much thought to. But my daughter commented to someone that she thought I was a positive person, always encouraging her to be positive, to try her best, to never give up, to see the good in a situation. Then that person told me that she, too, thought I was a positive person, seeing the humor in even dark situations and never giving up no matter how desperate, challenging or seemingly overwhelming the situation in which I found myself.

So I started thinking: If these two people think I have a positive attitude, maybe I really do. Is it possible that I had had a distorted or inaccurate view of myself all these years? I also realized that I use humor -- albeit a dry sense of humor -- to lighten the mood and help me deal with stressful situations. This was totally unconscious on my part. I didn't think "I need to make a joke about this to relieve my stress." I wasn't even aware that I was using humor to reduce my stress. Apparently I did a good job of finding humor, as my friend has told me that on more than one occasion, she was reading a message from me while driving (not a good idea), and started laughing so hard she had to pull over to the side of the road.

It's much easier to be negative and to complain than to be positive. It's easier, but it takes more energy and a far greater toll on me psychologically. I have reached the point in my life where I don't want to be around people who are always negative. It is so emotionally draining. Sure, I am negative sometimes, I whine and I complain and I have bad days. But I don't do this a lot, and I am aware when I do this and I make a point of stopping before it gets out of control.

I am amazed at how much our thinking and attitude influence our outlook on life. I have a saying on my computer monitor that asks "Who's in Charge?" People at work used to think this question referred to "Who's in charge?" of the office or the department. No, it was simply a reminder to me that I am in charge of how I feel, how I react, and of which emotions are most prevalent in my thinking at any given time. The quote is from a book by psychologist Wayne Dyer, Gifts from Eykis, a book about self-discovery.

It's really easy to be negative. But I find that when I am negative about something, my entire outlook goes south. It is so easy to generalize a negative feeling about one thing, and suddenly I'm negative about everything. Drivers are more stupid, traffic more frustrating, commercials more annoying, and I seem to hit every red light in town. Nothing goes right. I have to stop myself before I dig a hole that takes a lot of work to get out of. Self-pity does not become me at all.

These days, I try to make a point of "looking on the bright side" as much as possible. I'm not always successful, of course, but I do try. Sometimes, such as when I had a recent health scare, it is nearly impossible to be positive. But keeping busy and not focusing on the 'what if' scenarios helped a great deal.

Since my move to New Mexico, I am making a conscious effort to appreciate the natural beauty around me. Even on a rare 'down' day, I can find something positive: sighting a road runner, a beautiful desert plant, the gorgeous azure New Mexico sky.

I have been an advocate of self-discovery and personal growth for several years. I've taken day-long and weekend classes in how to discover the 'true' me, and how to let my true light shine. Taught by a woman with a Ph.D. in psychology, these were not just 'feel good' classes. They led to actual changes in me, in my thoughts and in my actions.

I think self-discovery is so important to our growth as humans. Every so often, we need to step back and take a fresh look at ourselves. As I learned, our image of ourselves can be very incorrect or out of date. I lived for decades thinking I was a negative person, when in reality, I'm just the opposite. How my self-image got so off base I don't know. I guess it doesn't really matter. What matters is that I now have a more accurate picture of myself. And that updated self-knowledge feels good.

I don't like getting negative or critical feedback, but I have found it useful to ask someone I trust a great deal about both my positive and negative traits. Honest, constructive feedback has proven useful in identifying areas that need improvement, and in motivating me to make changes, no matter how small. It's exciting and rewarding to make positive changes, to grow and develop myself, to reach out in new directions.

Even at my age, change is not only possible. It is rewarding and empowering!