I recently saw a Ted Talk on how we want to just get rid of negative thoughts and feelings, and how accepting them can actually be healthy, while ignoring them makes things worse. You can watch it here: Susan David: The gift and power of emotional courage.
I was reading a short, self-help book to review, and it got me thinking. We all hear that positive thinking can get us through anything. I generally have an optimistic perspective, and it certainly has served me well. Optimists even tend to live longer. But forced positivity--false positivity--doesn't do anyone any good, and I've never seen a self help book address this.
Often times when something bad happens, for example, a bad review, my brain's first impulse is to counteract the bad feelings with all the good thoughts you're supposed to tell yourself: that's just one person's opinion, bad reviews validate the good ones, you're reaching a wider audience, no two people ever read the same book, etc. But until I sit in the bad feelings for a bit, and throw myself a pity party, those thoughts don't mean anything. First I have to think that maybe my book is terrible. Maybe everything I've ever written is terrible, and I'm terrible. I have to sit there and feel that for a bit, and only after that wave passes can I hear the positive thoughts, and build myself up again.
So, here are my tips on being an optimist without denying negative feelings:
1) Learn to be optimistic, but understand it's a general life perspective, not a constant state of mind. Just because you're an optimist doesn't mean things will always be amazing.
2) Give yourself a reasonable amount of time to process your negative feelings, based on how large and complex they are. Set a time limit for yourself, after which you will pick yourself up. For example, I usually need the remainder of my day to be in negative town after receiving a bad review, and then I can pick myself up in the morning.
3) Embrace your negative feelings during that time period. Throw yourself a pity party. Cry. Listen to sad music. Journal about what you're feeling. Whatever you need to do, you've given yourself this time to do it, so don't hold back.
4) But once that time passes, don't linger on your negative feelings too long. Ask yourself if you really need more time to process things, or if you're just moping around. Sometimes, you won't be done feeling bad, and that's perfectly fine. But once you can move on...
5) Shake it off. I like to give myself a day, so I can sleep it off, and start fresh in the morning. You could also nap, or shower, or eat a refreshing meal. Just some way to cleanse yourself of the negativity a start fresh can work wonders.
6) Find the best way to pick yourself up. It's easy for me to tell you, "just put positive thoughts in your head again!" but it's not always that easy. You need to find a way to let those positive thoughts back in. Maybe that's a distraction, or getting a few things checked off your to-do list to get you moving again. Maybe it's telling yourself inspirational things, or listening to/watching inspiring music or speeches. Maybe it's a little reward for successfully shaking off bad thoughts. Figure out what works best for you.