When Positive Thinking Doesn't Work..

Updated: Jul 30, 2019

I'm the first to preach positivity.


Mindset is key in this life. Let me give you the run down on positive thinking and a better quality of life real quick..


It's been proven that optimism improves immunity, boosts confidence, helps you to live longer, and can even make you more successful.


Dang, I want some of allllll that.


Take a look at the findings of this study;


In the December 2005 issue of Psychological Bulletin, scientists examined studies of over 275,000 people and found that the happiest people owe their success, in part, to their optimism and positive outlook. Dr. Lyubomirsky, head researcher from UC Riverside concluded, “When people feel happy, they tend to feel confident, optimistic and energetic and others find them likeable and sociable. Happy people are thus able to benefit from these perceptions.


I could honestly write 5 pages on the power of positivity, but I'll save that for my book someday ;)


The point here is that positivity is a necessary component of a happy and fulfilled life.


It doesn't always come naturally. Often, people are caught up in a pattern of incredibly negative thinking- and even worse is that they really aren't aware of it.


Sometimes it's pessimism related to people they surround themselves with, or sometimes it can be the actions of complete strangers. It can be about their life situation (job, family, etc.), or it can be the thoughts they have about themselves. Worst case scenario- negativity pervades every area and thought in their life.


On the flip side of positivity giving you great results in mind, body and spirit, negativity does the opposite. In fact, it can have very detrimental effects.


Stress from negative thinking creates changes in the brain that may affect your likelihood of mental disorders such as anxiety, depression, ADHD, schizophrenia and mood disorders.


Negative thinking inhibits your ability to achieve goals.


And of course, negativity disrupts your health causing low immune function which can cause myriad problems in the body.


Something I do in my practice is guide others in shifting their thoughts and belief patterns from negative to positive.


Working to create mindset shifts with my clients is one of the most rewarding parts of being a health coach. I am able to see and hear the newfound confidence and joy that is added to their life when we start to bring awareness around their thoughts and actions. The first step is always mindfulness.


All of this is wonderful, helpful advice and important inner work.

But, what happens when positivity just isn't cutting it?


As much as I love seeing the influx of health and wellness professionals, self-love advocates, and everyday people promoting the 'just be happy!' approach to life, it doesn't always work like that, does it?


I'm sure you can think of a time in your life that things felt so hard, weird, and crappy that you weren't even about to pretend positive thinking would be helpful for you. I definitely can.


And what about the real hard cases? Like the things you've never even had to think about?


The woman who just had her third miscarriage, the immigrant family who just got evicted because they couldn't find work, or the children in a foreign country who are literally starving right this minute?


Or what about the little girl who's being raped daily by her uncle?

Or the guy addicted to heroin that would give anything to be able to quit?

Or the mother who walks for hours to a well just to get clean water for her family?


I wouldn't be able to look them in the face and tell them to just keep thinking positively.


Here's the thing. You might not be addicted to drugs, have lost your baby, or struggle for clean water- but it doesn't mean you won't go through immense pain and hurt that's relevant to your life.


We can't deny the depression of our own biggest struggles, because someone else has it worse somewhere. It doesn't work like that. Your feelings are valid, just like theirs.


So what would I say to those hurting who have no capacity for constant positivity?


Three things.


And these are three things I'm writing about today, because I want you to hear them for when that

life-is-so-hard-I-want-to-lay-down-and-give-up kind of season in your life.

For when you can hardly get dressed.

For when you can't stop crying.

For when positivity isn't working.




1. Prayer


Okay, so maybe you aren't religious and so when you see the word prayer, you immediately think this isn't going to work for you.


But, there is medical and scientific proof that prayer works to improve people's health and mental well-being, so what have you got to lose? Definitely not hope..


I once read 'The Big Book'. It is the basic text of Alcoholics Anonymous. Someone who struggled with addiction recommended it to me. He told me that no matter who you are, the steps can apply to your life.


So, I read it. It was interesting and enlightening.

The one aspect that really stood out to me, was this step;


Step 2: Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.


When I read the chapter on this step it was explained that although you may not be religious, identify with any certain God, or have ever believed at any point in your life- this step of giving the power over to something above your control was essential to overcoming.


In this chapter, it gives many personal stories as examples of this. Many of the examples were people who were at first very resistant to the idea due to the way they were raised, previous beliefs, etc. But once they were able to come to terms with this 'bigger-than-myself' idea- what seemed to be miracles (overcoming unmanageable addictions) would happen.


My point here is that you don't need to change political parties, go to church on Sunday, or over-complicate it in any way.


Just pray.


'The proof of the power of prayer is overwhelming, says researcher and writer Tom Knox, a one-time atheist who became a regular worshipper after doing in-depth study of the medical benefits of faith.'

“What I discovered astonished me,” admits Knox. “Over the past 30 years a growing and largely unnoticed body of scientific work shows religious belief and prayer is medically, socially, and psychologically beneficial.”


Dr. Koenig — director of Duke’s Center for Spirituality, Theology and Health and the author of several authoritative books on faith and healing says, 'an exhaustive analysis of more than 1,500 reputable medical studies “indicates people who pray more have better mental and physical health.


Research at San Francisco General Hospital looked at the effect of prayer on 393 cardiac patients. Half were prayed for by strangers who had only the patients’ names. Those patients had fewer complications, fewer cases of pneumonia, and needed less drug treatment.


For me, prayer is like meditation.


It's a time to be still and surrender to that stillness.


And when I've gone through the worst of times, it's the time I can surrender all the depression I feel as well.


Jesus says "Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.'


So that's what I do. I give it up, and rest in that stillness.

I let God hold it for me, because it's too much to bear.

It's essential, or I feel as if I won't be able to function.


Prayer doesn't have to be well-spoken or thought out.

There is no agenda to it.

It is whatever you need it to be at the time.


Best of all, it is freeing.





2. The Little Things


Mostly when I write, it's because something that has happened to me personally sparks the thoughts.


Without getting into specifics, last month was the hardest I've had in a few years.


Each day I could just feel the negativity seeping through me, and it felt incredibly unmanageable.


One big terrible event happened, and then the next. And then the next one. And every time I felt that there couldn't be anything worse, I attracted just that.


It felt like I was the player in a video game that gets stuck in a dangerous spot, gets killed, and then every time the game regenerates them back to life, the very spot they are in kills them again before they can move.


I write this to show you that this next piece of advice isn't just an idea; it is something I was practicing every day.


It is a form of positive thinking.


Last month, each time I tried to use my usual positive mindset tricks, the negativity and reality of the situation over-powered it in my mind. I couldn't think about tomorrow being a better day, because each day had been so bad, that's the pattern I knew to expect. And I could only make it through one day at a time.


So I focused on the little things.


I was tired, anxious, and depressed.


Then I sat down to eat a peach.


I had a moment to just sit in the sunshine, and the peach I had was so wonderful.


It was perfect ripeness. So sweet and juicy. Soft, but not toooo soft. Ya know?


Also, the color of it reminded me of a sunset.


I love sunsets.


It was yellow and deep orange, with a slight pink hue when the sun hit it just right.


And for a moment, I felt happier.


I ate the peach, and marveled at how this tasty little thing had sparked some joy.


Life moved on after my peach moment, and I went back to feeling sad.


But, it made me realize the capacity of looking for the seemingly simple but significantly joyful moments in the days moving forward.


The next day it was a big hug from someone I loved. I focused all my senses on accepting the loving feeling of that hug. It briefly saturated me with real happiness.


Another day it was a a conversation I had in a coffee shop, where someone shared a personal experience of theirs with me. It made me happy to feel as if I was trustworthy enough to hear this.


It's hard to think about what life decisions need to be made, tasks to be done, etc. when you can hardly think straight at all from depression.


And this is why looking for the next good thing in your world helps to you keep moving forward.


These are the small stones you can land on while wading through the murky waters looking for the stability of dry land.


It's anything that pleasures your senses.

It's anything that you recognize as positive.

It's any little thing that will get you through.



3. Community


You are human. I am human. My neighbor is human.


Aside from all of the stunningly unique aspects of each of us, the cultural barriers, and the difference in opinions and beliefs- our human nature is a trait each and every one of us shares.


What is the most important thing we need from each other?


Each other.


Humans thrive off of community.


Loneliness can actually kill you.


Study after study proves the better relationships you have, the better quality of life you have.


So wouldn't it make sense that in the worst of times, community would be necessary?


For me, I tend to want to hide away when I'm struggling.


I don't really like people to see my problems out in the open.


It takes a lot of trust to let someone see the hard times, because when you open up to them you can't control how they might respond, and the thought of it all can be quite paralyzing.


But I've realized even when I've opened up and there is a lack of empathy, or the response I get isn't helpful or encouraging- it still feels like a big relief to speak it out loud to another person.


I say this to my clients all the time;

I firmly believe in the power of speaking your struggles and desires out loud.


This is the catalyst for change.


You can think about how different things could be, daydream about your goals, and pep talk yourself as much as you want.


But it's when you tell someone else that it solidifies those thoughts & hopes into the material world.


When you ask, you will receive.


Most of us are all yearning to be heard. To be listened to. To be understood.


This is one of the reasons social media has become so big;

because people know that at some level they are being seen and heard by others.


Your friends want to be there for you. Your family does love you enough to be understanding.

You can lean on someone else, so that you get the support you need to keep moving forward.


And when that friend or family member comes to their hardest moments, you can be there for them in that same way and know that is a healing step in their process; just like it was for you.


If you're reading this and thinking 'I don't have family, and I definitely don't have friends.'


I will be your friend.


You can always contact me through my e-mail and tell me what you're struggling with.


I will support and love you.


You deserve that.


We need each other.



As always, I hope this piece of writing helps you in some way.


Share it, for all of the people going through their hardest time right now.


And if it's that time for you right now, know that you will make it through.


Remember these three steps and take it one day at a time.


As harsh and hard as these times can be, it shows us that there are equally joyful and vibrant times in our lives to look forward of being apart of. Life is a big circle of experiences. Good ones are coming.


Health + Happiness,


Ashley