If you have been studying personal growth materials for any length of time, you have probably heard it said over and over again that the name of the game is positive thinking. In other words, you must work to reduce and ultimately eliminate negative thinking and emotions from your life.
Well, yes. It’s a nice idea in theory, but the practical reality is something different altogether. Although it is definitely correct and useful to develop an overall optimistic and positive mindset, it may NOT be helpful to try to eliminate ALL negative thinking and emotions from your life. Quite simply, to try to do so is rather like trying to bail out the ocean from a leaky lifeboat, using just a coffee mug. The more you do it, the more there is to do, and the more hopeless the task seems to become.
From a purely human aspect of striving, it is an almost impossible task. Indeed, the problem with getting too hung up with the negative aspects of ourselves is that it can be a very dispiriting experience if you are expecting to see positive improvement, but it never really happens, or else you end up backsliding. Hence, too much focus upon the negative side of your personality can be rather like trying to dig the seeds up every day to see how they’re growing. Ultimately, they won’t grow at all.
Why do people have negative emotions and attitudes? Well, put simply, it’s the human condition, certainly in the unenlightened state. This is a big subject and one we cannot tackle here. Childhood experiences, genetics, influence of peers, even past lives (!) – they probably all play a part. However, what is for sure is that you are very unlikely to overcome the matter in the very near future.
Certainly, there are personal development gurus who claim that you can, and even give the impression that they have done so themselves. However, you don’t know them personally, and you are not there in every moment to see if they really have. Maybe their spouse might tell another story altogether! Even the major spiritual traditions emphasize how hard it really is to overcome the negative aspects of ourselves.
Christianity goes as far as to talk about Original Sin, i.e. that we are actually totally helpless to effect lasting change on account of the fact that we inherited this “sinful” condition at birth. We need the heavenly “Salvation” that comes from above, and which is effectively a “new birth”. However, even this only comes into effect in full force when the old body is shed off and the new spiritual body taken on.
Buddhism talks about achieving Enlightenment, which is an analogous concept, but which is tied in more to liberation from ignorance, delusion, and the shackles of the Flesh. Hence, if you think you are going to solve all your personality issues overnight by listening to a twenty minute self-hypnosis tape, or by doing some affirmations… Well, it’s unlikely to happen.
However, that does not mean to say that personal growth is a waste of time. You ARE supposed to accentuate the positive. Just don’t focus on any perceived lack of progress with the negative, or get frustrated with its continued presence. Use “moving towards” motivation, i.e. moving TOWARDS what you want, rather than “moving away from” motivation, i.e. trying to avoid and deny what you do NOT want.
Whatever you focus your mind upon has a tendency to grow in power. Hence, focusing on your negativities has a tendency to make them stronger. Focus rather upon what you wish to increase in your life, and let the negative side of your personality find its own place. In other words, make friends with it a bit, rather than treat it as an enemy. Regard it rather as you would an aching limb. You don’t hate it just because it aches!
Statistics show that optimistic people actually have a lower risk of heart disease than pessimistic people. Hence, even from a purely pragmatic health perspective, it IS better to be positive than negative in mental outlook! No doubt about it. Nevertheless, total liberation from the negative side of our personalities does not come without a total spiritual rebirth. This is not a matter of a few months or years of toil. Maybe it will take countless lifetimes for most people, as the Buddhists believe to be the case.
You do well to remember the Eastern perspective of Yin and Yang – the teaching that dark and light are inextricably interwoven and inseparable in this cosmos. That applies within our minds too. To try to separate one from the other, using standard psychological tools, is a pretty hopeless task. Only a new creation, entirely other than this world, can ever reconciles this paradox and live in harmony with it. That is the goal of the spiritual path. So, until then, be easy on yourself. Celebrate every advance, but don’t let any apparent negative personality aspects get you down. May it be so for you, .
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