is positive thinking all it’s cracked up to be? the power behind feeling vs. trying

Think positive! Be on the bright side! See that glass? It’s not half-empty, it’s half-full! Right?!!!

Oy. It can be exhausting just thinking about positive thinking. The benefits of looking for the good in every situation, catching thoughts that we label ‘negative’ and shaking a very stern finger at them, and intoning affirmations written by other people are touted by everyone from entrepreneurs to self-help gurus. But I was at a talk recently where the presenter made this very salient point: we can tell ourselves whatever we want about the good side of things, including ourselves, but if we don’t FEEL them, they’re no use. Nada. Zip. Zero.


We can’t trick our body into believing something it knows isn’t true. The body can’t lie. Detectives know this; lie detectors work because no matter what words we use, if our bodies don’t believe them, the evidence states otherwise: breathing rate, pulse, blood pressure, perspiration. No matter how many times we spout out affirmations like “I will do it,” or “I feel great!” or “I will succeed!”, if we don’t FEEL and know the truth of them, this kind of positive thinking is no use.

What is useful? Believing. Knowing. Feeling.

How did you feel the last time you achieved something that was difficult to master? Something that had you working to the edge of your skills to meet the challenge until you found yourself in what positive psychology front-man Mihály Csíkszentmihályi calls “flow.” This is the space where mindfulness arises naturally, where you feel present and grounded, focused and calm–and, most of all, happy. This is the space where you’re challenged just more than you think you can handle, by something you truly enjoy.

When was the last time you felt that way?
What were you doing? I feel very much in the flow when I’m writing, but not quite as much as when I’m drawing–this challenge is newer to me. I’m very in the flow when I’m teaching yoga, or a corporate lunch and learn; as a natural introvert who happened to somehow fall in love with lots of extroverted activities, I’m challenged pretty much every day. I guess that makes me lucky.

Here’s how this feels in my body. I sort of forget it’s there. I forget my mind is there, too. I feel kind of liquidy all over, with a softness to my otherwise hardened shell–a leftover from years of battles with major anxiety. My shoulders soften away from my ears, my breath deepens and finds it’s way all the way down to my belly and back up again on every inhale and exhale. My feet feel like they sink an extra inch into the floor–anchoring me. And I smile. A lot.

How did it feel in your body, the last time you were experiencing positive feeling, vs. positive thinking? What happened in your chest and shoulders, your stomach, legs and feet, the last time you were in your flow? What did you feel when you were actually feeling positive, rather than thinking positive?

This is where the power is.


Think back to a time when you were feeling fantastic: present, grounded, calm, strong–and happy. What were you doing? Get right into it, maybe jot down some notes. What did you see, feel, smell, taste, touch? Next: how does this feel in your body? What’s going on in your arms, shoulders, chest, stomach, legs, feet and face? How’s your breath? What’s happening in your brain?

Here’s the great part: You can feel that way at will. You can turn this–positive feeling–into your embodied mantra or affirmation. Practice it when you want, maybe daily even. It’ll start to re-program your physiology. So that the next time you spout ‘I feel great!,’ or ‘I’m going to succeed!’–you’ll mean it.

Much love,


Mar 20, 2012 · Comment

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