Positive Thinking Should not be Delusional
Sometimes when I hear the phrase, “You can do it!” I want to shout back, “No I actually can’t, and it’s okay!” if it’s something I have found I literally, truly can NOT do even after trying to the point of exhaustion.
The encouraging phrase that’s meant to be positive and well-intentioned becomes nothing more than a mere taunting when it’s not attainable.
I was born with hip dysplasia and have had several hip surgeries, body casts, a year on crutches in high school and now have an artificial hip (which I got at the early age of 36, 8 years ago), so this phrase makes me grit my teeth in frustration when it is casually cheered at me, as if just saying it would magically make my hip become capable of doing what a “normal” hip can do.
The phrase has the connotation also of saying if only I would try just a little harder, then I could do it because anything is possible!
Well, guess what? Not everything is possible, and accepting that is where the true positivity and freedom live for me. Wallowing in sugary delusion is not doing myself any favors. Victory sometimes lives in winning, but it can also live in embracing defeat and accepting where we authentically are with peace, power and quiet confidence while our focus on doing our best--not the perfect yoga instructor’s best-- never wanes.
I will never be a fast runner or great athlete, even though I push myself on a daily basis to do more. If I get hung up on that frustrating impossibility, I’ll miss out on being kind to myself and appreciating the reality of who I actually am and the goals I’m capable of reaching instead of obsessing over the ones I literally will never accomplish due to my disability.
Admitting you can’t do something is not giving up if you truly have tried. Admitting you can’t do something yet finding satisfaction where you are is not being lazy. It’s empowering and gives us permission to be our best selves instead of the version of ourselves we wish we could be.
Another encouraging sentiment that can be misleading with its simplicity is when people talk about following their dreams and quitting their day job, as if walking away were just that easy. I love that some people can take that leap of faith and hope for the best, but the reality is we all can’t land in our dream while there are bills to pay and bellies to fill.
Just saying “I can do it!” does not pay the mortgage or clothe our children. Putting some of our personal goals on the back burner doesn’t mean we have to feel sorry for ourselves or disappointed in what we label as shortcomings, but it also doesn’t mean we can jump ship and irresponsibly think the universe will dish out whatever we selfishly ask for.
Why not look at our current situation and instead of focusing all our energy on what our next step will be, re-frame it to see how today--this moment-- can be fulfilling? Maybe the true power lives in not putting your day job on the line in exchange for your dream, but learning to love your life where you are, realizing you are more than your day job, and your current job can be done with pride and joy as you work your way towards the vision in your head.
Sometimes when I’m at work at a desk job that I wouldn’t describe as my dream, I challenge myself to approach my job with the same focus and expertise that Michael Jordan applied to basketball or Mother Theresa applied to serving others. Why not put our best selves out there to find fulfillment wherever we are with whatever limitations we might have? It’s a disservice to ourselves to wait until we’ve arrived at our dream or extravagant goals to start being happy only then.
This doesn’t mean stop striving for more and just settle into less, but it means finding peace in the fact that we can’t always make big bold movements when other things need to be a priority over our own desires.
Not everything in this life is a possibility even if we have the right mindset and catch phrases, and admitting that does not have to be a negative thing.
I walk past a small vacant shop in our town daily and envision the healthy juice, smoothie and coffee bar I would create there. It would be full of plants from floor to ceiling, and in my head it would be alive with people from the community coming together to chat and hang out. I’d call it “Root” for the meaning of planting roots in the community and for all the plants I’d have in the cafe.
My dream of owning that place is vivid from the robin egg blue walls to the quote of the day I’d write on the sandwich board I’d put on the sidewalk. When I press my face to the window, my heart seriously starts to race.
It’s a reality to me and I want it to happen one day, but fooling myself into thinking I can run out and do that tomorrow when I have kids to put through college is not positive thinking--it’s selfish, delusional thinking.
Telling myself, “You can do it!” would be the wrong phrase to listen to right now because now is not the time for a risky move that could end up in more stress brought on by a selfish desire. I can’t run a marathon now and I can’t leave my day job to follow a pipe dream.
What I can do is enjoy the skin I’m in and I can provide a stable financial life for my kids from a day job while I slowly inch towards the goals in my head. I can still embrace where I am today because today is more than a mere stepping stone to get to tomorrow.
I absolutely know I am capable of big, amazing things and I am thinking of those things every day with the phrase “You can do it!” quietly playing in the background of my mind, but I also find comfort in the space of accepting today for all that it brings.
It brings a woman who truly can’t accomplish a lot of things she wishes she could, but it doesn’t make her a failure. It brings a woman who dreams big, but also focuses on the big dream today is with its small accomplishments, even when they don't check every box off in her list of fulfillment.
So yes, you can do it! You can, but sometimes you just can’t. And it’s okay.
What we can do on a daily basis is put our best effort forth in all that we do, base our goals on our unique abilities and circumstances, and invite all the twists and turns in along the way that surprise, challenge and grow us.
What about you? What can you do if you put in more effort, and what can you give yourself the breathing room to admit you just can’t do right now?
Can you start looking around more at what you do accomplish on a daily basis and give yourself some credit for it? Can you tuck some amazing goals in your mind while digging in deep to today? Can you shake hands with your realistic limitations while also trying to push them over with grit and determination?
That’s a lot to juggle, but if we can find the sweet spot of living in the middle ground, then reaching goals and pipe dreams becomes the icing on the cake of an already authentic life well lived today without spending all our time looking ahead.
To me, that’s easier than running without limping, so I’ll start there instead.