Why Staying Positive Does Not Work

The Beginning of a Journey

Being constantly positive isn’t as great as it might seem. For a long time in my life, I was in a downward spiral. By this I meant suffering from clinical depression. I tried medication but a lot of it left me feeling numb. I did not like that vague, blank feeling so I would go on and off the medication off and on for years. There had to be another way. There had to be a different path. This is about the time I got onto the Motivation and positivity journey.

The Struggle with Positivity

I think that I was almost afraid of feeling either blank or depressed and so I pushed myself into this new method like I was being chased. I was going to stay positive. Nothing was going to bring me down. No matter what I’d always look to the positive and ignore the negative. That is, after all the subconscious message that motivation and empowerment experts were pushing. Be positive. Look to the positive. Therefore, ignore the negative.

After a while, that started to rub me the wrong way. It felt like I was forcing myself to be happy. It’s like when you smile for a picture then you go back to resting bitch face. I felt like I was putting on a show. Happy! Yay! Smiles! Yay! Staying positive.

Comparing Positivity to Tolerance

I started to compare it to the word tolerance used to describe reaction to persons in the LGBQT community. I had always found the use of the word tolerant horrible. Like, are they confused as to the meaning of the word?

When I think of tolerance, I think of working a 10 hour labour heavy day job, then immediately flying on a red eye flight with a crying baby who won’t stop. This person does not have a choice. They know that the baby does not know any better. What can they do? Go talk to the mom? She already knows. She is after all closest. Yell? That would just exacerbate the problem. So this person tolerates it because they do not have a choice.

The human race keeps forgetting that although words seem similar, no two words have exactly the same meaning and our minds know this. Connotation and nuance matter. I always thought that instead of preaching tolerance they should have been preaching acceptance.

What does Positivity look like?

Imagine you own a house. In front of that house is a flower bed. You’ve ignored that flower bed for years. Suddenly you are ready to work on that bed. You’ve weeded it, bought fertile soil and some expensive seeds to plant in there. To me, positivity is like pretending the weeds will never come back.

Not only that but, when they do come back, you pretend you don’t see them and only look at your nice pretty flowers. That is what staying positive all the time seems like to me.

Constant Positivity Equals Reactive

The human race is an emotional species. We feel. We feel deeply. Staying positive all the time is like trying to pretend that you never get upset and things never bother you. It’s like saying things never go wrong. That’s impossible. Things will go wrong, often. Staying positive all the time means that you are not ready for that eventuality and you will be taken off guard when it happens. What happens when we are not prepared or surprised? We react involuntarily – jumping, screaming, defending ourselves.

A Situation vs Human Response

When people are willfully blind to things around them, they miss out on opportunities to take control of a situation. This is because we cannot control our reaction. It is an evolutionary trait to respond defensively to an unexpected event. In the past, unexpected often meant dangerous and our instincts have been trained to respond thus.

Imagine that a situation — any situation is a yellow square. Now imagine that human emotion is a green triangle. Now imagine action as a hook or a link.

When a situation pops up unexpectedly, the human attaches that hook from the green triangle onto the yellow square. The link becomes a reaction instead of an action. Unfortunately, because the green triangle is not expecting the yellow square, it is limited in the emotions that are available. Fear, surprise, anger, defensiveness avoidance. These cause evolutionary reactions to the unexpected and because we were taken off-guard, we feel forced to attach these particular hooks to the yellow square.sitreact

Forced Positivity Equals Avoidance

What I am trying to say is that when we force positivity and something comes up we won’t feel in control of what emotions we attach to the situation. I equate force positivity with avoidance. Human beings love to avoid things. A man feels pain in his chest, he pretends it didn’t happen or was a fluke. A woman suspects her husband might be cheating, she pretends everything is alright.

We do not like to face unpleasant things so when we are encouraged to stay positive, it plays into that. This is why I jumped at this seemingly miraculous cure all. It meant that I could be “happy” all the time and not have to face what was really wrong.

The problem is that the weeds don’t care if you pretend to not see them. They are going to do what weeds do. Grow and rob your plants of nutrients.

The Solution is to be Proactive instead of Positive

Being proactive means to recognize that indeed things will go wrong and brace yourself for that. It means facing the problem, seeing it for what it is and breaking it down into something you can work at to solve. How can you fix a problem if you are pretending you don’t see it?

In a proactive situation the Green Triangle would be in control of what hooks it attached to the yellow square. It could even choose to not attach a hook at all. They would not be taken off guard because they would have insulated themselves in preparation for any eventuality.

That doesn’t mean that they would be able to predict the future or every possible outcome. That’s not possible. In fact I have a theory that life throws us curve balls deliberately when we try to predict what comes next.

Choosing Reaction

A lot of people believe that they do not have control over their actions when it comes to their emotional responses. That comes from a reactive mindset. We need to take ourselves out of that head space. By believing that we have no control, we are surrendering to that reaction.

There is not one action that we take that we do not approve of. We insult a person who did something annoying – that was a conscious decision. A mom yells at her kid because of something – that too was a conscious decision. These were reactions. Similar to staying positive all the time.

Lack of Control

The reason it feels like we have no power is because of a very simple fact. When an unexpected situation pops up, the mind goes into survival mode. This means that the back brain, the survival brain, kind of shuts off the front reasoning brain. That is the part of you that is you. The part of you that can differentiate between right and wrong and can assess a situation and determine the correct action.

When the brain hind brain temporarily lobotomize us, we aren’t really in control anymore and the brain resorts to familiar reactions. These are the actions that have carved connections in our minds either from previous reactions or from observing within our environment. So that mom who yells at her kid probably was yelled at as a kid too.

The Aftermath

Have you ever noticed in a high stressed situation you tend to go blank? Some people experience it as vague, blurriness or seeing white. This is that lobotomizing of your reasoning. Think about the last time that happened. You probably had a fight with someone or someone did something that caught you off guard and you said or did something you regretted afterwards.

That reaction of lashing out, that happens because you no longer have the power to reason – to make informed decisions. When your brain comes back online, the reasoning part starts to feel regret because that’s not you. That’s not who you are as an individual. That is what ignoring a problem does.

The Consequences

While you might not mean it in the heat of the moment, not only does it have ripple effects but it affects you emotionally. When your reasoning brain comes back you find yourself questioning your values. That’s not you. You don’t do these things. Why do you always react that way?

This can destroy relationships, end marriages and damage kids. Eventually the people who can’t understand why they have these reactions either just accept it as that is who they are or they resort to negative coping like drinking, drugs or destructive behaviour.

Reactions’ Relationship with Positivity

Staying positive has to potential to make all of this a reality. When we stay positive all the time, we do not prepare ourselves for any other eventuality. Life says it doesn’t care what we think or do, it’s gonna keep on chugging stuff at us. We ignore the bad and keep being positive but things keep popping at us until we hit that breaking point and we react.

You lost your job – stay positive. Something will come up. Your wife/husband left you, stay positive, you’ll be happy again. Your kid’s lashing out at school – stay positive, it will get better.

That’s just painting over a dirty wall instead of cleaning it. The dirt is still there, eventually the paint will crack and the dirt will show up again or new dirt will just pile up on top of the fresh paint.

The Proactive Action

As I said earlier, the human race feels. We aren’t made to be unemotional but sometimes if left unchecked, our emotions can be explosive and destructive. This usually comes from suppressing, ignoring and holding back. Eventually we hit the tipping point when we do these things and that pesky primitive reaction comes along.

I know that we like to pretend things don’t exist or affect our personal world or matter. Yes we are gonna die one day and that day could be any day. Some of us will get cancer. Some of us will be or are over weight. Lying to ourselves and pretending just does harm.

If we just faced the problem head on, our lives would be so much better. This is where being proactive comes in.

Instead of ignoring the weeds in the garden then getting upset when they overrun and kill the expensive plants, the gardener should prepare for the eventuality that they will appear and pick a method that they like best. Then when they do show up, there is no surprise. The hook does not have to be attached to the yellow square involuntarily making it a reaction. This time the hook is attached deliberately giving it its original purpose – Action.

Being Proactive

This means that you don’t avoid problems. You attempt to think of any major problem that might pop up and try to solve it. Not only that but when a problem comes up that you were not expecting, you deal with it instead of reacting. This is the hardest thing to do.

We are all used to reacting and giving up our control, so not giving in to that easy, familiar response can feel impossible but it is doable. When we do this, things become easier. We can how be genuinely happy because we have that sense of control that comes from knowing that no matter what comes our way, we will handle it. Not only that but we can handle situations more rationally and in the process save our relationships.

Proactivity defeats Depression

Depression essentially is a feeling of lacking control, of being trapped. A person who is depressed feels like they are in some kind of whirlwind – a tempest and they can’t get out. That lack of power plays heavily on the emotions and the person starts to spiral downwards

When this person starts to deal with the things they feel out of control in, suddenly their reasons for being depressed goes away and just like that they are now in control. Not only that but we put weights on our shoulders that shouldn’t be there. I hate my job but I definitely can’t leave it. That’s a fabricated trap. Who says you can’t leave the job? I assure you the managers or owners will replace you in a heartbeat. Why make yourself unhappy doing something you hate? if you are the owner of that business but hate it again, who says you have to do it? There are a thousand people who would buy that business off your hands.

Depression is so unnecessary. I’m not trying to make light of it. I felt like I had always been depressed. Bullied as a kid and unable to adjust as an adult but then I realized that I was the one deciding that I couldn’t adjust. Everything that was wrong and enforcing my depression was something in my control.

Being ready to be Proactive

Sometimes I imagine depression as drowning in shallow waters. The person is choosing to let themselves sink under the water instead of sitting up. The thing is that when you do not realize that the water is only a few inches deep, it can feel like you are in an ocean. Until the person is ready to realize that the shore is only a few feet away, they will continue to drown.

For a long time, I’ve tried to figure out what sparks that awareness, when the person becomes ready to see that they aren’t really drowning, that they can get up any moment and all I have gotten so far is that it takes a paradigm shift – a change in perspective. It can come from frustration, a crucible, a defining moment or from one moment to the next. I haven’t been able to figure out how to spark it deliberately. Some people manage to have that moment of clarity and for some it never comes.

The only way I can think of is through education. I’d recommend you read my article on the Self Barrier to get a deeper understanding on what causes these things but for now I’ll leave you with this.

Being Proactive

Being constantly positive will not fix your problems. Face them head on so that you won’t be taken off guard. Get a piece of paper out right now and write down everything that you feel is wrong and under each write up to five things you could theoretically do to fix it. Sometimes you won’t even need to write that many. Sometimes, the cure is just one thing. Do those things you wrote down and by doing that you won’t need to be positive all the time. Things won’t work out because you stay positive. They will work out because you handled your business.


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